by Lisa Mori
Both terrestrial and aquatic turtles are commonly kept as pets. Providing proper nutrition and appropriate housing for your shelled friend is important to maintaining their health. However, despite your best efforts, your pet may become ill. While there are a variety of conditions that can affect turtles, here are a few common diseases and clinical signs you may see.
Vitamin A deficiency (hypovitaminosis A) is a disease commonly seen as result of an inadequate diet (iceberg lettuce, poor quality commercial diet). A lack of vitamin A causes changes in the epidermis (outer layer of skin) with signs including puffy eyelids with eyes swollen shut, nasal discharge, or tympanic (ear) abscesses.
Shell fractures are common and are frequently due to trauma. Traumatic fractures can occur from dog attack, being run over by a car, stepped on, or dropped. Additionally, fractures or shell deformities can also occur due to an underlying nutritional deficiency.
Egg binding occurs when a female is unable to pass eggs and needs intervention to clear the obstruction. This can occur due to malnutrition, underlying disease, or large egg size. Signs include straining, restlessness, or a profound decrease in energy.
Respiratory tract disease is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection, but also occurs with vitamin A deficiency. Signs include clear to milky white nasal discharge, increased oral secretions (bubbles in mouth), stretching the neck, noisy breathing, and decreased energy or appetite. Since turtles use limb movement to aid in respiration, you may see increased “pumping” movements with each breath. An aquatic turtle may float off-balanced as buoyancy will be affected.
Remember, you don’t have to wait until your turtle becomes sick to see your veterinarian. Just like cats and dogs, yearly wellness exams for turtles can help address husbandry or other issues before they become serious problems!