Pet turtle health problems

Pet turtles, like all living things, are… well, alive.

They can get sick, catch disease, bacteria, virus, parasites – and they too can have all sorts of health problems. Problems with their skin, eyes, respiratory functions, internal organs, shell, appetite, energy, and so on and so forth. Even though turtles are very hardy creatures, able to tolerate a wide range of conditions, they are not invincible.

Many times, pet turtles, other exotic pets and fish get sick because of the living conditions they are in. In all cases, providing the optimal living conditions for each animal is the key to keeping them happy and healthy. A less than optimal living condition weakens an animals immune system – which makes them more susceptible to sickness and affects a pet’s overall health. All that a pet owner might see is one or two symptoms – and more often than not, they want to treat the symptom and not the root cause.

So what all that really says is that most pet turtle health problems are caused by their owners not providing the optimal conditions that their pet turtles need. In other words, if your pet turtle is sick, first fix their habitat. Usually, their health will begin to improve and the problem is resolved.

The optimal conditions and habitat for a pet turtle

So what is the optimal living condition for a pet turtle? Well, that greatly depends on what kind of pet turtle you have.

There are hundreds of specific turtle species — many of which are illegal to be kept as pets since according to Wikipedia, 48% to 54% of all 328 species are considered a threatened / endangered species — and they each have their own specific needs. It is very important that you are able to properly identify your pet turtle species so that you can find out how to properly care for them. Do a Google search, ask a question online, etc…. The important thing is that a pet turtle is given conditions that are similar to the conditions it has in its natural habitat in the wild. Unless you live in a nature reserve, you will not be able to provide the exact same conditions in your house or yard, but you must provide as much similarity as you can. That is what a pet turtle’s habitat should be compared against (its natural home), and not what one person or yourself thinks it should be.

Generally, pet turtles are either aquatic or land turtles (tortoises). For aquatic turtles, many pet turtles require shallow water and some do better with deeper water. Aquatic turtles require (and this is a general rule of thumb) 10 gallons of water for every inch of shell. That means a 4-inch turtle shell needs 40 gallons of water and a 12-inch turtle needs 120 gallons of water. Many land turtles require a minimum amount of space in terms of square footage – which is why tortoises generally are not great pets for those in small apartment units. There are also many turtles that need both land and water, but in different amounts and depths. Also, many pet turtles require differing amounts of humidity, sun and UVB light (unfiltered sunlight provides UVB), heat, cooling and so on and so forth. Hopefully, this illustrates the importance of identifying the specific species of turtle you have. Find caresheets for your pet turtle and follow them.

And so to end, a pet turtle with a proper habitat setup is a healthy turtle.

There will be times when a proper habitat is provided but a pet turtle still has health problems. These are less common in the pet turtle hobby and a visit to a qualified vet is recommended.


  1. Can they live with other fish in the tank? I have two RES and I wanna get some fish to put in the tank with em, is that okay?

    1. absolutely! Just observe them to make sure that they get along well. And, don’t be surprised if the fish get eaten!

    2. The fusty time I got my turtle I put him in my fish tank. When he was young it was fine, but after a couple of months he grew in size and actually ate one of my goldfish that was about half his size. I actually saw half the body with the head floating in the tank and he was still picking at it. I personally wouldn’t recommend putting your turtle and fish together. I was so sad to see that one of my fish had to die like that.

  2. We recently rescued a found red slider turtle. We are still learning, and have a lot to learn. We want to put a couple of big rocks for now in his aquarium, but they are from outside. We did see and article that said to sterilize them in the same stuff that is used for baby bottles. Do you have any suggestions on what we should do with these rocks that we did get in our yard. We don’t spray weed killer. Thanks so much…Kathleen

    1. you need to ensure that the rocks don’t leech anything, minerals/chemicals, onto your turtle tank water. If vinegar fizzes on the rocks, don’t use them. After thoroughly cleaning the rocks (don’t boil them) and soaking them, go ahead.

  3. Hiya… Not sure if anyone can help…one of my turtles has got like white marks on her shell…not sure what it is….. any suggestions….

  4. turtles could get vitamin deficiencies too.
    these could sometimes result in red watery eyes sometimes.
    and the shell problems…?could be lack of calcium.there is absorbable calcium supplemnt u could leave in the turtles water.

  5. I bought 2, one-inch red eared turtles the other day, and they are currently living in a 2 gallon tank. Do I need to purchase a larger one? It has a small ledge they can rest on, but it has to have at least one inch of water above it or they cant get on it. Im in the process of buying a rock for them to be completly out of the water. Also, what type of material needs to be on the bottom of the tank? I would rather not come home and find two dead baby turtles on my hands…