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Respiratory Infections

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Respiratory infections (RI) are common and deadly illnesses that affect many captive turtles. It is a contagious illness that can spread to other turtles and often requires medical attention. Improper basking and water temperatures as well as exposure to drafts and breezes greatly increase the chances of contracting RI. There are varying degrees of RI, including pneumonia, and the symptoms may also differ.

The most obvious symptom that can signal RI is if a RES is listing. Listing refers to swimming in an irregular manner, such as swimming in circles, unevenly or lopsided and even swimming upside down. Listing is caused by fluid in the lungs; more specifically, if fluid exists in one lung or there is more fluid in one lung than the other. Your RES requires immediate veterinary assistance if they exhibit this symptom. They may have RI but not this symptom. The sooner that they are examined, the better the chance they can recover. They would likely be administered Baytril or another anti-infective. A vitamin injection, antibiotics and an x-ray may also be used or suggested.

There are other possible symptoms that can signal RI, especially if they occur frequently. These may include breathing difficulties, coughing, sneezing, open mouth, yawning, wheezing, lethargy, loss of appetite, mucus from the nose (runny) or mouth and bubbling at the nose and mouth. If your RES exhibits any of these symptoms, then raising temperatures, quarantine and a water change would be the immediate actions to take. Ambient air temperature and water temperature should be raised 10 degrees F. Eliminate any drafts and cold air around the tank. Pneumonia may develop which in many cases is fatal. If your RES continues to exhibit a symptom or develops more, then consult with a qualified vet immediately.

Breathing and Other Respiratory Behaviors

Below is a list of unusual breathing symptoms you may notice your RES to produce. Irregular breathing does happen occasionally but if it occurs frequently and in the presence of other symptoms, then it could be a sign of respiratory infection. This type of breathing should be monitored and not ignored. The following are possible conditions and recommended actions:

Bubbles coming out of the nose and/or mouth

This can normally occur when underwater. If it occurs frequently while out of the water, then it is a possible respiratory infection; take basic measures and carefully observe.

Wheezing sounds

This can occur if a turtle is overweight or is expending a lot of energy. If it is loud and happens frequently, it can be an indication of breathing difficulty. It can also be a symptom of RI; take basic measures and carefully observe.


This may occur occasionally, but if it is severe or frequent, then it is a possible respiratory infection. Make sure that your turtle is not choking on anything. If anything is expelled that was not previously food, then try to collect it and have it examined. In any case, take basic measures and carefully observe for other behavior/symptoms. If visual symptoms appear, then it might be an early indication of mouth rot.

Open mouth breathing

This occurs occasionally, usually during basking. If it is frequent or accompanied by wheezing sounds or mucus, then it is a possible respiratory infection. Take basic measures and carefully observe. If conditions do not improve, then please contact a qualified veterinarian.


This may occur occasionally, even underwater. It should not be a frequent event and should be fine without the presence of mucus. If it is severe, frequent and occurs with other symptoms then it is a possible respiratory infection. Take basic measures and carefully observe. If conditions do not improve, then please contact a qualified veterinarian.


This is usually normal and often happens when a turtle is basking, though it can also occur underwater. If it is frequent and there are other symptoms present, then it is a possible respiratory infection. Take basic measures and carefully observe these symptoms.
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This page updated: 2011/01/28 Copyright © 2005-2011 Red Ear Slider. All rights reserved.