Common health problems in water turtles

Water turtles are common among pets. Most species originate from the southern and eastern regions of the U.S. and some are from Africa and Asia. They inhabit water rich environment and sometimes have specific needs related to their origin and specific biology. Most of the medical problems are related to husbandry errors and as a rule, it is important to mimic their natural habitat and diet.

One of the most common problems is Vitamin A deficiency, which causes epithelial pathology and predisposes the turtle to respiratory as well as skin infections. Signs of disease include swollen eyes, open mouth breathing, inactivity, “side swimming” and not eating. Ear swelling may also be seen.

Calcium deficiency often results in soft shell and bones with facial and head deformity. It is common in young turtles. Egg-binding might occurred in adult females. Imbalanced diet and lack of Ultraviolet light (usually in natural sun light) are at culprit.

These conditions require aggressive medical treatment (antibiotics, calcium injections and supplements) and correction of the diet and vivarium settings.

Bacterial infec­tions may develop in stressed or injured turtles kept in poor hygiene. They can be localized or spread through the whole body, causing a deadly blood poisoning.

Many turtles will develop shell problems such as traumatic injuries, algae growth and shell rot. Shell rot may be caused by bacteriae, fungi or algae and can start with an external injury or result form an internal infection.

Parasites are very common in turtles, especially in wild caught ones. In nature virtually all turtles harbor parasites and live normally. It is the stress of captivity that alters the biological balance and allows parasites to multiply disproportionably and cause disease. The veterinarian can run several exams to diagnose and thereafter treat parasites.

Captive turtles tend to have overgrown beak and nails, which impair proper function. Periodic trimmings are needed to keep the optimal size.

Turtles can carry Salmonella, which can be transmitted to people and cause a severe disease. Children, elderly and other people with a compromised immune system are at higher risk. Since the turtle need not be sick and might be apparently healthy, a bacterial culture can be taken by the veterinarian to ensure that it is Salmonella free.

Every newly purchased turtle should be examined by the veterinarian who will run the appropriate tests and discuss proper husbandry.

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