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Turtles/RES turtle being treated for Septicemia



I have a RES turtle being treated for Sepsis. I have detailed the days below for history reference. Concerns/questions at the end.

Species: Red Ear Slider
Size: ~4inches
Age: over 5 yrs
Enclosure: plastic tub with two older RES
Accessories: N/A
Temperatures: Room Temp during all seasons, colder in winter
Water: Clean Tap
Diet: Reptomin pellets

An elderly relative has kept three RES turtles (two for almost 15 years and the third youngest one for about half that time). She has always dismissed information regarding proper RES turtle care, but has kept them relatively healthy by changing their water and washing them off on a daily basis, and talking and whistling to them as was her bond. They have always eaten Reptomin pellets. Recently, she decided she no longer wanted to continue caring for them once their food supply ran out. She could not be convinced to change her ways of caring for them, even making me return the turtle kit with lamps that I set up several years back. We understand that they were not care of properly, but the post is regarding Septicemia in smallest turtle.

On Wednesday evening, I found the smallest turtle moved outside in a tank outside without a dock. It was in the colder temperatures for the evening hours, and when I brought it back inside to feed her, I saw symptoms of septicemia (red underneath, extreme abscesses all filled with pink fluid, eyes swollen). I immediately placed her in a bowl under a heating lamp and took her to the vet in San Francisco Thursday afternoon. The vet is not an exotics specialist, but has treated turtles and treated sepsis turtles. The only exotics specialists I have found in the Bay Area are in Berkeley, but I have not gotten to speak with them.

The turtle got diagnosed and prescribed Ceptazidime (100mg/ml) injection shots every other day at 0.15mg per shot) and a topical ointment Silver Sulfadiazine (1% 25gr) to coat the abscesses. Her first shot was on Thursday afternoon. I renamed her Turt for Turtellini. Thursday and Friday, Turt showed improvements and was more active. Her abscesses were slowly deflating, her eyes that had swollen shut for a few hours early Thurs morning opened again and she would swim during the hour prescribed swim time. She did not really eat, but I managed to give her half a pellet each swim time.

Saturday afternoon, she was due for a second injection that I gave at home, my first time. The arms were to be alternated, so I gave it in her right arm (where there had been a deflating big abscess), between the scales in the muscle as told. I waited a bit, but let her swim shortly after to feed and hydrate. Two hours after injection time, I noticed minor bleeding from injection site. I called the hospital and they said apply pressure for 15 minutes. Since the bleeding stopped, I did not call again. Saturday night, 7 hours after injection time and about 4 hours after last observed activity, Turt was inactive and her head was slumping. Left arm and leg showed intermitten tremors (that later appeared in all four limbs over the course of two hours). I panicked and called three different 24hr hospitals in the Bay Area as soon as I saw her head slumping, but she had quickly come alert and active again. Her tremors continued, but did not exhibit in the morning. I was told that as long as she was not actively bleeding and the little tremors did not interfere with her activity otherwise, to wait and contact our local vet. Other observations from Saturday night: the abscesses, which had been improving, went from bigger to smaller, but pink to darker yellowish color.

Saturday and Sunday: Turt more lethargic than Thurs/Fri, but would swim and move around from time to time. *Turt has been kept in a separate bowl with paper towels under heated lamp and placed outside in the sunshine for 30 minutes each day.) Sunday night/Monday early morning, 5am, last observed to be active, eyes open and moving.

Today, Monday afternoon, she was due for her third injection. At 2pm, I found her stiff, completely retreated in her shell. Her head has not been this retreated thus far. Her arms are rigid and she is unresponsive. Completely unresponsive. I immediately called her vet. Vet said Turt may have gotten better before getting worse, and it is possible she is either not responding to the antibiotic or is reacting adversely (but the vet has not has any cases of an allergy so far giving this medication to other turtles). We decided that I could try to give it the third injection anyway, so I did. Turt did not respond even when given a shot.

Her eyes have sunken since 5am. She is fully retreated, but her left arm sticks out a little and is stiff when I try to move it. I have been on the internet every day since finding her sick. I have found zero resources on recovery stages from Septicemia (or even what happens after they get it, with out without treatment). Is she dying now? Was she getting better before getting worse? Did giving her the injection in the abscess arm and letting her swim, but not noticing that it bled, potentially cause her to get worse? I'm exhausted from all the research and little information I can find. I perused all of the posted Turtle questions answered by Mike before writing mine. I didn't find this website until today, and wish I had found it last week! All other turtle forums I have seen so far are YEARS outdated. I'm glad this site is so active.

*The bigger turtles are healthy, albeit stunted in size, and happily ate kale for the first time last night. Biggest turtle displayed fluttering for the first time as well. We have begun looking into a turtle rescue and finding a potential new home for them.

Thank you so much.

ANSWER: Hi Jennifer,

Can you send me a picture of Turt?  It sounds to me as if she has already passed (you may already know by now).  Septicemia is a highly fatal disease, even with treatment, so unfortunately this would not be an uncommon outcome.  

When you post back, set it to *private* and I'll give you my email so you can contact me directly.  I'm also in the Bay Area and may be able to help you locate resources.

Looking forward to hearing from you.  

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

QUESTION: Thank you for the most prompt reply. I suspected she may has passed since she is so rigid, but I was also looking for her limbs and head to be fully stretched out (vet said her head would likeliest "fall out").

I don't see an option to set to *private* like I did the first time I posted.

In my experience they do retreat into their shells when they die. In any case, I can't quite tell if she has passsed yet, but based on your description she either has or is very close. If there is no movement when a leg is tugged on, that's a pretty sure sign. Not to be crass, but you'll know for sure pretty soon.  I'm very sorry about the poor little thing.

There should be an option to set to private. Not sure why there isn't. If you want to give me an email I'll get back to you. I don't give out my email publicly, sorry!


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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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