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Turtles/Red eared slider eyes and breathing


QUESTION: I have two sick red eared slider turtles, and their eyes are always shut all the time and they never swim. It looks like they have bubbles over their eyes. However, one of the turtles looks like it keeps a gasping for air and isn't able to breath. I really don't know what to do about their eyes and I don't know what's going on with my second turtle and it's breathing problems.

ANSWER: Hi Kenzie,

You need to get both your turtles to a vet. It sounds like at least one has a serious respiratory infection, and probably both.  It's not something you can treat at home.

If you can give me more information on how you keep them (tank size, filter, lighting, temperatures, and diet), I can help you figure out if there are changes you can make to keep them healthy. Just give me a few days to answer because I'm having surgery tomorrow and will be a little loopy for a while.

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

QUESTION: Hi Jeannie, thank you for getting back to me. I have 7 red eared slider turtles in a 65 gallon tank. There are two fairly large filters, two sun bathing rocks with heat lamps over the top of them, and I also have a heater in the tank which always keeps the tank at 79-80 degrees Fahrenheit. They usually eat freeze dried worms from my local pet shop, but I also like to cut strawberries up into little pieces and give them to my turtles. They seem to love them. Sometimes they will also eat tiny pieces of grilled chicken. They always seem to like those two things better than the worms, but they have no problem eating the worms. All the rest of the turtles are doing great, but I can't figure out why my two other turtles are so sick. I've called every vet within a 80 mile radius of my home, but none will take turtles.

Hi Kenzie,

That pic looks bad. I didn't realize you had so many turtles together, but the sick ones should be isolated ASAP, or you may end up with them all sick. If you can't find a vet locally, you may be stuck because treatment options are limited and it sounds like they need antibiotics (the one in the pic does for sure).

I can make a few suggestions to improve the overall environment and health of your turtles. First, they are severely ove crowded. You didn't say how big they are, but from the pic I'm estimating at least in the 4-5" range.  7 RES of that size need space equivalent to 200-300 gallons, and really that many turtles should be in a spacious outdoor pond. With overcrowding, you have water quality issues, but more importantly, the strongest turtles will hog the best basking areas, the best food, etc. The weaker turtles will be stressed and often become ill. Your sick turtles are probably at the bottom of the heap and just havn't been able to compete.

The water temp is too warm, so lower it to about 75-77 degrees. The basking areas should be about 90 (measure on the basking surface under the lamp). If the water is too warm, the turtle will tend to not bask as much as they should.  You didn't mention if there's a source of UVB, but if not, it's vitally important and not supplied in regular basking bulbs.  

Try to increase variety in their diet. They should be offered greens at least a few times a week, plus more variety in animal protein. I'll put some links at the end that will give some diet suggestions.

You can increase temps in the isolation tank a bit, but not too much because you don't want to overheat them.  See if you can get them to eat, provide UVB, and watch for improvement. They may get better without specific treatment, but the one that is gaping is really sick and I din't think his chances are good. Let me know if I can help more, and sorry for any typos. I'm recovering from surgery and typing on my phone.


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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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