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Signs of Turtle Sickness: Your New Turtle Healthy? Perhaps Not...

Turtles are endearing pets, however they are susceptible to becoming sick and you may not be aware of it.  Becoming aware of the “sickness signs” is very important to being a responsible turtle owner.
Turtles are peculiar animals in that they can adapt themselves to their surroundings and may be difficult to diagnose whether or not they are sick. For example a turtle in the wild may be stressed by predators and can adapt themselves even though they're sick to appear well.. Another problem is that a turtle's natural reaction is to recoil into a shell and shut down. This is a defensive action by the turtle is to keep it from being preyed on.
But a turtle owner must be alert of the patterns that are exhibited by turtles when they are sick. The signs a turtle is sick are: 
  • They have abnormal behavior such as pacing about or sitting in the pool and soaking way more than his proper
  • They won't eat
  • They have diarrhea
  • They have a green very stinky or odorous fecal matter or they may have a liquid discharge from their mouth
  • And finally they may have puffy eyelids or their eyes might be partly closed
When the turtle exhibits any of these behaviors it should be brought to a veterinarian immediately. Typically the reasons for these problems are because the cage is not being taken care of properly, the diet is insufficient, the water temperature is not correct or, the turtle has been attacked by some sort of parasite.
There are a wide range of problems that a turtle can run into such as mites and ticks, or bot flies.  They may also have a damaged shell or may have a superficial wound caused by the external predator such as a dog or a cat attacking the turtle.
The particularly nasty parasite to a turtle is the botfly, which actually lays eggs on the turtle shell or the turtle skin.  When they hatch, they can eat through the skin of the turtle and then lay more eggs underneath the skin of the turtle. The subsequent damage that occurs is because the larva actually start devouring the flesh underneath the turtle skin and causing extreme damage to the turtles muscle and fat layers.
Immediate care is needed for the turtle under such duress and only an expert veterinarian should be taking care of these turtles. Minor surgery will be required to get rid of the larva; they maybe buried deep into the turtle skin layers.
To identify whether or not your turtle has been infected by botfly you can see the eggs as tiny dots on the skin. These should be brushed off using a toothbrush and minor cleansing compounds. Turtles skin exhibit a swelling in the general area where the egg have been laid and usually a small hole be seen where they ate through the skin.
It is important to keep your turtle under good conditions such as regulated terrarium temperature environment, good eating habits, supplemental vitamin diets, and most especially clean water and environment.
If the turtle is being kept outdoors, care needs to be taken to evaluate the turtle health, and to make sure that it has not been compromised and attacked by parasites. Even a simple mosquito can cause extreme damage to a turtle especially if the botfly has been involved. The open wound caused by the botfly will attract mosquitoes and they can transmit diseases to the turtle causing the turtle to get sick.
There are five different signs that require veterinary care for a turtle they are:
  1. An Eye Infection
  2. Internal Parasites
  3. Middle Ear Infections
  4. Shell Rot
  5. Breathing Tract Infections
An eye infection is exhibited by the swollen bump near the eye or the turtle cannot open its eye. In either case the turtle needs immediate attention via a veterinarian.
The internal parasites can include worms or bot fly's. The bottom line is that the turtle needs to be rid of these parasites to be in a healthy condition. The veterinarian can prescribe drugs that will work well with the turtle’s digestive tract and circulatory system without causing the turtle to get sick.
Poor husbandry or improper terrarium conditions such as unregulated temperatures, tepid water temperatures, or even unclean water can cause the turtle to have an internal ear infection. This is exhibited by a puffy looking cheek near the eye.  Only a veterinarian should be addressing this particularly dangerous infection. It requires draining of the abscess and extended soaking to coax out the abscess material.
Shell rot is a direct result from bad terrarium environment or dirty conditions will give rise to elevated bacteria levels, which can attack the turtles shell. If the turtle has been compromised in its immune system because the temperature is not been regulated properly, these bacteria can attack the shell. The bacteria infect the laminate in the shell and cause the shell to fall apart. This is such a serious condition and requires extreme care.
Turtles are susceptible to respiratory infections just like you and I.  The turtle will exhibit a running nose and a discharge that comes out from the mouth. Just like in a person when a viral infection has subsided, bacteria takes over and causes the secondary effects. The secondary effects exhibit itself as pneumonia, which in essence accumulation of bacteria in its breathing apparatus. A veterinarian should be consulted to clear up the infection and very often a culture needs to be taken to identify what bacteria will react to the antibiotics that are being prescribed.
So to recap, it is important that the terrarium or the turtle tank or wherever you are keeping your turtle be in a good condition so that your turtle's health is not compromised. Having a turtle requires constant care: extensive but periodic. Having a turtle as a pet requires that it not be neglected.  An irresponsible turtle owner will destroy a turtle in a relatively short period of time. It is important to understand what it takes to take care of the turtle before jumping in and acquiring one.
One more piece of advice about turtles, is if it is a slow mover you may want to rethink purchasing it, because it may be sick.