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Cause and Treatment Respiratory Infection in Turtles and Tortoises

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Respiratory Tract Infection

Turtles and tortoises can both develop respiratory tract infections in either the lower or upper parts of the respiratory system.

In most cases, the upper respiratory infection is going to be more common than a lower infection. Do not compare the common flu or head cold to a respiratory infection, as this ailment can be very severe if not treated.

Stress, improper husbandry, pathogens (bacteria and fungi), other illnesses, and even improper quarantine of new pets, can cause a respiratory illness, but the exact cause may be hard to pinpoint.

What's important is that when you start to notice any slight changes in your tortoise or turtle's behavior and habits, you consult a veterinarian.


Lower Respiratory Infection


The causes of a lower respiratory tract infection is generally going to be a bacteria, such as E. coli, or a fungi, such as Aspergillis or Candida. Other potential causes of a lower respiratory infection may include retroviruses, herpesvirus, or vitamin deficencies, such as vitamin A.

In some cases improper husbandry may also be a cause. If the temperature is too low or too damp, the tortoise's immune system may weaken, which can make the tortoises susceptible to a respiratory condition.


The symptoms will vary from slight to extreme, depending on how severe the condition. Most reptiles, turtles and tortoises included, will not show signs of illness until it's more developed.

  • Gaped or open mouth
  • Trouble breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nasal discharge

Upper Respiratory Infection


The cause of an upper respiratory infection in a turtle or tortoise may include the Mycoplasma bacteria, other bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

A big concern is also improper husbandry, such as temperatures that are too low or an overall environment that is too damp.


  • Discharge from the nose and/or eyes
  • Puffiness around the eyes
  • Difficulty opening the eyes.
  • Grooves developing around the openings of the nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss.

Treatment for Respiratory Infection

Whether you think that your tortoise or turtle has an upper or lower respiratory infection, you'll want to seek veterinary assistance to confirm the ailment. A vet may take discharge samples, x-rays, etc to confirm the illness, but if if the tortoises is visibly exhibiting signs such as gaping mouth, labored breathing, and discharge, the vet may automatically begin treatment for a respiratory illness.

You want to make sure that you follow what the veterinarian says. If you do not follow the instructions, your turtle or tortoise may not pull through.

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Your vet may prescript an antibiotic, a vitamin shot (if the turtle/tortoise appears vitamin deficient), and possibly a cream for puffy eyes. Common antibiotics may include Terramycin, Tylosin, and Baytril.

If you have any other turtles or tortoises, you want to go ahead and have all of the animals checked and treated. This illness is transferable to your other reptiles.

Go ahead and disenfect and fully clean the tortoise habitat. Bump up the temperatures 5-10 degress F and take all necessary measures to ensure a full recovery

If your turtle/tortoise is not eating, you may want to consider putting a little bit of baby food and vitamins in lukewarm water when you soak the animal, as they are prone to drinking the water while soaking. Always place a fresh bowl of water in the enclosure on the warm side to create a spa-like environment.

Caring for Turtles and Tortoises

Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. Consult a reptile veterinarian if you notice any abnormal behaviors in your tortoise that may lead you to believe that he has septicemia.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Jason Hill on January 29, 2013:

Wow, I didn't know that turtles could get respiratory infections! Great hub, very informative.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on September 14, 2011:

boedz, it's actually a Columbian, not a Brazilian red foot.

Spring Pace, you're absolutely right. The sooner the illness is diagnosed, the better the outcome.

Spring Pace on September 12, 2011:

I have a 8 year old sulcata I got when he was about 2 and had a respiratory infection, I caught it early and it still took many months to clear up, his clutch mate wasn't so lucky, didn't catch it in time and it passed. Proper husbandry is definitely the key for any species of tortoise or turtle, in fact any reptile.

boedz80 from INDONESIA _ SINGAPORE on September 04, 2011:

NICE>>> cherry head turtel..your picture

Nspeel from Myrtle Beach on September 03, 2011:

I have always had a turtle since the time I was like 4 I am glad to see I am not the only one. Today I was also using Adwords looking for good tags and baby turtle pictures has paying top clicks I was amazed. Voted up and useful

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