You are here:

Turtles/My baby turtle is making me paranoid


QUESTION: hello!

I've been looking around the Internet a lot since I've gotten my little eastern painted turtle. I wanna guess he's gonna be a year old in august, and me being a first time turtle owner, the little things he does are making me anxious.

he has everything a turtle needs (as of my knowledge) he has a take that's ten times his size, he has both basking/heating lights. the water is at 80-85 degrees, he has a basking spot, plenty of verity of dried food and fresh food, and i clean the tank once a week. i condition the water for him, and give him preventive eye drops.

but I still get concerned.

Yesterday, I saw him yawn, a big powerful one. I saw him do it once a while back, so I'm like. "aw, cute.". But 5 minutes later, he did it again.
his personality hasn't changed, nor has his will to eat. (He's a piggy, and also a happy active little guy) but he did it one more time today (It has been about an hour since then) I haven't seen any mucus come from his nose,or excessive bubbles. the very back end of his shell is still a little flexible, but I've been told that's normal until he's reached over a year old.
Is he doing this on propose to scare me? Or should there be a red flag? I should also mention that I have cut down on how much he eats, because he was getting a little tubby, so could he be complaining about that?

I just need words of comfort here, to talk to someone whose already had turtles.



There are a couple of things you've mentioned (or not) that are red flags or possible areas of concern, so let's go over them one by one.

First, exactly how big is the tank?  For a painted his age, I'd guess he's around 3"?  The tank should be at least 30 gallons.  An adult painted will need about 75 gallons (more for a large female, up to 100+ gallons), and it would be fine to put him into a tank that size now (and would save on having to upgrade equipment in the future).  

You didn't mention a filter.  I'm assuming you have one, but it should be size to handle at least twice the tank's capacity.  External cannister filters are best.  Water quality is extremely important, so don't skimp on the filter.  Also make sure you do regular partial water changes.

The water is much too warm.  If you don't have a water heater, this means that the basking area is also much too warm.  The water for a hatchling/juvenile should be about 76 degrees; for an adult it can be a few degrees cooler.  The basking area should be 88-90 degrees (measure on the basking area under the bulb).  There should always be at least a 10-15 degree difference between basking temperature and water temperature.  If the water is too warm, the turtle may not bask enough.  Make sure your thermometers are accurate, too.  Usually once you have temps adjusted correctly, they will stay within the correct trange as long as the house temps are fairly stable.

You didn't mention whehter you have a UVB bulb or not.  UVB is vital for turtles, especially hatchlings.  I'm a little concerned about the shell softness you mentioned.  It's normal for there to be some slight flex in the plastron (bottom shell) for about the first year, but the carapace (top shell) is general pretty rigid within the first month or two.  Lack of UVB, which allows them to properly metabolize calcium, can cause shell softening.  I would get a ZooMed Powersun to provide both heat and UVB.  It's a good bulb with reliable UVB output.  Other bulbs aren't reliable and I don't recommend them.  

Make sure his diet includes pellets, a variety of fresh animal protein, and greens (preferably not lettuce, but dandelion, kale, turnip, etc.).  The preventative eye drops are a waste of money.  As long as there's variety in the diet, clean water, and a good source of UVB, there should be nothing to prevent!  Many of the products sold for pets in general and turtles in particular are useless.  Some are actually dangerous.  With turtles, most problems are caused by poor housing (typically too small tanks), poor water quality, lack of UVB, etc.  Turtles are actually pretty hardy and can survive under bad conditions, but if you set them up properly they will rarely become sick.

The yawning may or may not be a concern.  Turtles do yawn from time to time, but of course it can also indicate a respiratory infection.  Keep an eye out for other symptoms, such as reluctance to swim, swimming lopsided, lack of appetite or lethargy, runny nose, wheezing, and stretching the neck out and gaping/yawning frequently.  Otherwise, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Please ask if you have more questions!  It does sound like you're mostly doing things right, but I wanted to cover all the basics just to make sure nothing was missing.  For more information, see the following:

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: oops. I meant to say basking & UVB light.

Thank you so much for telling me about the water temp, everywhere I looked I was told "80 degrees", and I do have a filter. Don't worry. Its the "Zoo Med Turtle Clean Filter 381' it cleans up to a 30 gallon tank. (I have a 20 gallon at the moment) I guess I just estimated he was 2 inches long.

I feed him 'Tetra three foods in one' (which are baby shrimp, krill, and pellets) also 'Wardley Reptile Sticks'. for fresh food (that's his favorite), I feed him meal worms, grapes, (OCCASIONALLY). Tomato, and I'll stop giving him lettuces :)

As for the shell, The whole shell is hard except the back end and even then its just a little flex. His UVB absorption was a little late because I was given the wrong information. I was told the heat lamp was what the turtle needed for the vitamins he needed, not UVB. But he's had the UVB light for a while now, his shell will be fine, right? I got him in April, so he went about a month or so with out a UVB light. Is that okay? I know its not good, but it won't leave him with permanent damage, will it?

the basking spot with the lamp is about 82 degrees F. the UVB bulb is the 'EXO TERRA REPTILE UVB'  

The eye drops.
My city water has high chlorine, and other things that could injure my baby's eyes. so even though I have water conditioner, I like the thought of the extra care. I also put in tablets in the water that are suppose to help with calcium and other vitamins. (like I said, first time owner).

One more thing, I read online that Turtles do that yawing thing when they're too hot. Is that true?

Thank you for getting back to me so quickly :)

You'll need a bigger tank soon.  Keep in mind that bigger is always better, and the filter should be able to handle twice the tank's capacity.  If you upgrade to a 50 gallon tank, you'll be set for at least a few years, and possibly longer if your turtle ends up being a male.

You do need to bring the basking temp up to 88-90, but make sure that you're measuring actual basking temperature and not air temp (so lay the thermometer on the basking spot directly under the bulb to measure).  I hate to say it, but the Exo Terra bulb is useless.  The UVB output is almost zero.  I have friends who regularly test bulbs with a solar meter, which is why the Powersun is currently the only bulb I recommend.  The lack of UVB most likely has not caused any significant damage at this point, and some would be reversible with good UVB, but you don't want to wait too long on getting a good bulb.  

The pages I linked have some good suggestions for food items.  I'd avoid fruit exxcept on rare occasions (once or twice a year) because their digestive systems aren't designed for fruit.  You can feed greens, veggies such as carrot (not too often), zucchini, peppers, etc.  You can also put water plants such as anacharis or duckweed in the tank.  I'd put a chunk of cuttlebone in for the turtle to nibble on, rather than adding any kind of vitamin tablet to the water.  Turtles know better than we do whether they need extra calcium, and cuttlebone allows them to use it as needed.  

If your tap water is safe for humans, it's unlikely to have anything that is hazardous to turtles, and the water conditioner is enough.  9 times out of 10, any eye problems are due to either lack of UVB or poor diet, and both problems are easily correctible--but not with eye drops.  Proper setup + good diet = healthy turtle.  As I said before, most products sold for turtles are unnecessary and/or hazardous.  Turtle kits?  Waste of money, and way too small anyway.  Shell conditioner?  Unhealthy.  Most UVB bulbs?  Unreliable.  Don't ask me why they sell this stuff, but the reptile market is full of junk.  If your turtle develops eye issues, look at tank size/filter first, then diet, then UVB.

Excessive yawning is almost always RI.  If they're too warm, they will typically be lethargic and not eat.  If the basking area is too warm, they will also avoid basking.

There's a lot of bad information on the web, so be careful.  Austin's Turtle Page is good, and so is  Joining a turtle forum or two is also a good idea, as long as you're aware that there is usually a mix of people with long-term experience and people who are new to turtles.  Learn as much as you can, use common sense, and have fun!


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts




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.

©2017 All rights reserved.