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Turtles/central american wood turtle has bloody stools


Hi Jeanie.  My Central American wood turtle is at least 20-30 years of age and is about 5-6 inches. The turtle lives in a large aquarium (4ft X 1&1/2ft) with plenty of ventilation, humidity, access to clean water at all times (water bowl for drinking and water pan for soaking at will) along with dry areas.  I keep her enclosure at 90 degrees in the warmest side and about 75-80 on the cooler side with a lightless heat lamp intended for turtles.  She spends hot summer days (80+) in an outside enclosure. She has a UV lamp (not sure of brand and wattage but it was marketed for reptile care)that is on only during the day and some natural sun throughout the day and is completely dark at night. I don't use substrate only clean towel. Her primary diet is Nutro Max chicken, rice and veggie dinner along with fresh greens on occasion. My question is "she" (not sure of sex# has just yesterday started having bloody stools.  There is enough blood to turn her water a dark crimson red.  Is this likely a sign of a common disease? Organ failure? Is she likely suffering? Considering her age I'm not sure how to handle this.  She is currently still active and eating #although not as much food as usual# As you know vet bills for exotics can quickly get out of hand but at the same time I don't want to just allow her to suffer.  Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

HI Amy,

I'm so glad to hear that it doesn't seem to be terribly serious.  I hope the antibiotics do clear it up!  If you wouldn't mind, it would be nice to have an update in another week or two so I know how she's doing.  Thanks!

Hi Amy,

I would take her to a good herp vet immediately.  At her age, there may be something serious going on, but an exotics exam won't cost that much, and if she is suffering, the vet will be able to euthanize her for you.  To be honest, I haven't personally seen bloody stools before (prolapses, etc., yes), but obviously it's significant enough that at least a diagnosis should be made.

In the event that it's something easily curable (like parasites), there are a few changes I'd make to her care.  First, make sure that you're using a UVB (not UV) bulb in her indoor enclosure.  UVB is necessary for metabolism of calcium.  UVB doesn't penetrate window glass, so the only way she can get it naturally is if she's outside.  ZooMed Powersun is an excellent heat/UVB bulb, and what I use in my own enclosures.  BTW, turtles are very efficient at absorbing solar heat through basking.  It's safe to put her outside on sunny days even if the air temperature is as low as 70 degrees--she'll easily be able to bask and bring her body temperature up over 85 degrees.  Depending on where you live, she should be able to be outside from spring to fall.  

I would also start using substrate.  CA wood turtles need a very moist environment, which means that their substrate must be moist (this is more important than air humidity), and it's very difficult to do that with a towel.  I'd use a mix of coir, playsand, and sphagnum moss, being sure to water it down every few days.  It's possible that she has developed a bladder stone(s) due to dehydration and this is causing the bloody stools.  

Finally, you need to change her diet..  Nutro isn't a very good food for dogs and cats, never mind turtles.  It's much too heavy in grains and other ingredients that turtles shouldn't eat.  It's much better to rely on turtle pellets and whole meat items such as live insects, worms, etc., along with greens and fruit.  I'll add some links below that will give you good ideas for food items.

If you have questions, please post back--and let me know what happens.  I'm very interested to know what the diagnosis is, and I hope that it's something that can be treated easily.  


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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