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How Do You Know When a Turtle is Dying #Signs

Turtles care quite cute, and you love them the most. But, it is inevitable to find them dead one day. That can be devastating, but you cannot help it. Finding if a turtle is dead or hibernating can be a truly tough task. We just thought of helping you check out the clear signs to find how to know when a turtle is dying.

How to Tell if Your Turtle is Dying?

How do you know a turtle is dying? Like most of the aquatic and semi-aquatic animals, turtles tend to hide their illness and pain. You need to be careful in finding if the turtle is dying. A keen observation reveals that the right symptoms that indicate your turtle is dying include lethargy, lack of appetite, skin problems such as swelling in the eyes and other areas, bubbling and discharge and breathing problems. You may also notice swimming issues to indicate that the turtle is dying.

how to tell if your turtle is dying

Like we said already, turtles show no indication about the pain or illness they are undergoing. However, you can find a few symptoms to indicate that the turtle is dying or approaching death. A few of the possible symptoms to tell you if your turtle is dying are:

Lack of Appetite

If your turtle refuses to eat, it is a clear indication to indicate that it is facing some issues or is dying. A hibernating turtle will not eat, but if you find a non-hibernating turtle that refuses to eat, it can be an invite to a serious investigation.

Refusal to eat and lack of appetite are the signs of gastrointestinal issues and an internal infection. It can happen in a female turtle when it has issues laying eggs. This issue is called dystocia. If your turtle is not eating and losing weight, it is an indication that it is dying.

Skin Problems

Swelling of skin in several areas is yet another indication that the turtle is dying. Swelling, especially around eyes is the most common issue you would find. The swelling can happen in the eyes, shells, and even on the shell. Tumours can be yet another indication that the turtle is dying.

Infections can be indicated through the appearance of wounds, lesions, holes along with red irritations. Consult your vet if you find any issues.


A normal and active turtle that shows a lethargic attitude, that can be a clear indication to prove that the turtle is dying. A normal turtle should move around the tank and stay active. It should also respond to any stimulation like food, and light.

If you find your turtle is not eating and does not move much or it is not swimming, you will find that it may be dying. It is high time you should contact your vet.

Discharge and Bubbling Issues

Runny discharge from noses, ears and eyes are a few of the issues to indicate that the turtle is extremely sick and maybe dying. Swollen eyelids and ears, accompanied by pus-like appearance are a few skin ailments you need to pay special attention to.

Bubbling from the mouth is yet another indication to prove that the turtle is dying. The bubbling can be caused by a respiratory infection or any other similar condition. It can also be due to Vitamin A deficiency.

Swimming Difficulty

A dying turtle may face difficulties in swimming. A few scenarios can include swimming to one side, or trouble in floating correctly. A turtle incapable of swimming can be an indication of severe health conditions.

If you notice that your turtle is showing up a lot of disorientation when swimming, it is a good idea to consult the vet. Lack of interest in swimming or an inability in swimming properly can mean that the turtle is dying, or is severely ill.

Breathing Problems

Breathing problems can obviously be an indication that the turtle is dying. The respiratory diseases can range across from being mild to severe. Some severe issues you may come across can include sneezing and gasping.

A dying turtle may also gape. Gaping is breathing from the mouth, and this can happen when the turtle is facing respiratory discomforts of severe nature. It may even bring its neck forward to suck in more air.

Recommended Reading – How to if a Turtle is Happy or Not?

How Can You Tell if Your Turtle is Dead?

There are a few signs that indicate whether your turtle is dead. A hibernating turtle may look similar to a dead turtle, but there are a few ways you can be assured that the turtle is dead.

Here are a few indicators to prove that your turtle is dead:

  • Try Poking it – Almost every turtle responds to poking and prodding. If the turtle is alive, it will move, close its shell, or even hiss at you. The best way is to stimulate their legs and tail. If you find no response, however minor, it is a clear indication that the turtle is dead.
  • Bad Smell – Dead turtles begin decomposing just like any other animals. If you get a terrible smell, it should be a good indication to conclude that your turtle is dead. In fact, the bad smell should be the first and prime sign that the turtle is dead. You would begin feeling the smell within a day of death.
  • Put pressure to the Cloaca – Putting gentle pressure on a region between the cloaca and tail elicits a quicker response. If you find no response to this kind of stimulation from your turtle, it can be a clear indication to prove that the turtle is dead.
  • The Floating test – A dead turtle will invariably float in water. The dead turtle has gases in its body, and these gases make it more buoyant. However, this may not be a conclusive test to indicate a dead turtle. The gases may not have developed enough to make a dead turtle float as yet. Or it may also happen that a living turtle may decide to float by its intuition.
  • Breathing test – The test involves checking if the turtle is breathing. Unlike in humans and other animals, turtles do not breathe faster and finding their breathing may not be easy. You can perhaps keep a feather in front of their nostrils to check if the turtle is breathing or not.

How to Dispose of a Dead Turtle?

Disposing of a dead turtle can be a devastating experience on its own. But, no matter how much unfortunate it may be, you need to take care of the dead turtle and dispose of it in the best possible way.

Here are a few tips on how to dispose of a dead turtle:

  • Never touch it – Touching a dead animal – whether turtle or anything else, is not a wise call. It can be extremely unhygienic and can create severe health issues. Using gloves can be a good idea here. Make sure you use disposable gloves.
  • Bury it – If the turtle is small in size, burying it can be an easier option. There are a few precautions to follow when burying the dead turtle.
  • Check Local dead animal removal service – Some regions have a dedicated dead animal removal service. If you have any such service, you can ask them to dispose of your dead turtle. Check out with your local sanitation department and find if they have any dead animal removal service.
  • Contact your vet – If you do not want to hand over the dead turtle to the third-party service, and want to do it yourself, your vet would be in a better position to guide you on the procedure to follow. The vet can provide you with information on how to handle pet cremation effectively and efficiently.

Burial of Dead Turtle

Burial would be the best option to dispose of a dead turtle. They would be easy to bury if you have a yard or garden that can be used for the purpose. There may be specific rules that govern the proper burial.

  • Use a bag, preferably plastic, to wrap the dead turtle. Put this into a box and then bury it into a deeper hole.
  • Follow the guidelines on how deeper the burial hole should be. Most of the local guidelines stipulate the burial hole to be minimum 3 to 4 feet.
  • Make sure you avoid the powerlines and other utility services when digging the burial hole
  • Avoid the burial in places that are close to water bodies and other flood-prone areas.
  • It may be a good idea to use some paving stones and similar other options to avoid the scavengers from digging the burial hole and dragging the dead animal out.

Well, this is a very morbid subject that we are dealing in and may perhaps be something you would not be comfortable with. But, this is something you would find quite inevitable and unavoidable. Being in the know well in advance can prove to be extremely helpful when the situation demands it.

My Turtle Died, How do I Keep the Shell?

Losing your beloved turtle is truly difficult and a painful event. However, turtles have become unique because of their shells. If you do not want to say goodbye to your turtle even after it is dead, preserving the shell should be a better option.

How to preserve the Turtle shell after it is dead? The tips and tutorial here should be extremely helpful.

Preservation of Turtle Shell #Video

Here is what you need:

  • Kitchen pot or pan
  • Toothbrush
  • Rubber gloves

The Presearvation:

  • Before proceeding to preserve the shell, keep the dead turtle outside. Of course, you would feel that this will damage the turtle shell. But, no – the turtle will decompose, but the shell will stay intact. You can bury it somewhere after locating a moist area or leave it in the open.
  • Check the decomposition for a few weeks. It can take a considerable period of time till the body is completely decomposed and the soft tissues are completely gone. Even the smell will fade. It can take months, so be patient.
  • Clean the inside of the turtle shell. Make sure you are wearing the proper gloves. You can use a toothbrush or similar tool to remove the bones and other material attached to the shell from inside.
  • Scrub the shell using hot water and toothbrush. Clean it both from the inside and outside. A thorough cleaning will ensure that the shell will not get contaminated.

You can even cook your dead turtle from the very beginning if you want the process to be faster. You can simmer it a pot or pan soon after the turtle is dead. The soft tissues would fall apart. Please note that this can produce bad smells. Do this only if you have enough of ventilation.

The video here should be helpful in understanding how to preserve the turtle shell

Brumating vs a Dead Turtle – How to Differentiate?

A brumating turtle may often be seen as a dead turtle, and it can be quite confusing to find if the turtle is dead or just hibernating. When a turtle begins to bromate, the body movements slow down to a very low pace. To find if a turtle is just bromating or dead, you can check out for the signs of warmness and check if he warms up within a span of 24 hours.

Brumating is a process of hibernating. The behaviour is commonly seen in cold-blooded animals such as turtles whenever the ambient temperature goes below 50 degree F. Under ideal conditions, you would find the turtle pass an entire winter in this state. Brumating or hibernating is a very slow pace of activity where the turtle may even stop eating.

The major difference between a dead turtle and a bromating turtle lies in the fact that a dead turtle emits odour – in around 24 hours time. You should typically not disturb a brumating turtle as much as possible. Ideally, turtles dig a hole in the substrate and spend their brumation period in the hole.

Just in case you need to break the brumating phase of the turtle, it would be advisable to place him in a warmer place. Make sure that the body temperature of the turtle increases gradually over a period of 24 hours. If the turtle is alive and is into hibernation, he will slowly warm up and show the signs of activity.

A pet turtle can go into brumation if the owner does not provide proper care and does not provide a warmer environment to the animal.

Why Would a Turtle Die Suddenly?

The reasons for a turtle to die suddenly can include underfeeding, overheating, lack of hygiene and cleanliness, stress and illnesses. Further putting too much or too little water inside their tank, or grabbing and picking them up too often can be the cause.

#1 Underfeeding

Underfeeding can be one of the prime reasons why pet turtles die suddenly. Do note that there is no One size fits all feeding that can be planned for all turtle species. The age, species and time of the year are a few parameters that would decide how to feed your pet turtle.

Baby turtles need less food but will need frequent feedings. Older turtles need less food. But never ever reduce the food unless there is a strong reason as suggested by your vet. The species will also play a major role in deciding the food portions and feeding intervals. Understanding the proper food habits of the turtles and abiding by them can be an efficient strategy. The eating habits of the aquatic turtles differs considerably from that of land turtles.

Time of the year also has a bearing on how do turtles eat. Many turtle species hibernate, while it may not be applicable to every turtle species. Hibernation can be a sensitive time and should be handled with care. Food intake at this time is reduced considerably.

How to Stop Underfeeding?

Understand the food habits of your turtle throughout its life. Weigh the turtle at regular intervals and make sure to keep a record for the same. Consult your vet to find if your turtle is healthy or needs change in food habits.

#2 Overfeeding

Turtles can overeat. In the wild, the food is scarce, and they have a tendency to eat whatever is available to them at the moment to preserve energy. But, for the pet turtles, it would entirely be different, and overeating can make them become obese.

The shell does not grow. This an obese turtle may face issues with constricted blood flow and other symptoms like restricted breathing, discomfort in the movement and even death.

How to stop Overfeeding?

The modus operandi should be the same as for underfeeding. Weighing your turtle and keeping a record would be helpful in understanding its health conditions and thus address them in a proper manner. Your vet should be in a better position to guide you through the proper feeding schedule.

#3 Poor Diet

Again concerned with food habits, a poor diet can also kill a turtle. A balanced food will always help a healthy turtle and prevent it from suffering from nutritional deficiencies. Make sure your turtle is eating in the right proportions and at right intervals.

Low levels of nutrients in the food can restrict the blood flow, lower heart rate and even deprived energy levels. In addition to the frequency and quantity of food, you should also take care of how balanced the food is.

How to stop it?

Your turtle food needs to be 80 per cent veggies . Vegetables like kale, collard greens, and dandelions can be your best bet. You can even feed the things such as cauliflower, squash, and sweet potato, but all of them should be fed in small quantities. Fruits that contain sugar such as apples, strawberries and grapes should constitute not more than 20 per cent of the turtle diet.

#4 Unhygienic Conditions

Make sure that you need to provide a hygienic condition for your turtle. Keeping the turtle enclosure clean can be one of the excellent options. You should provide the same environment as Mother Nature provides them.

Dirty, damp and unhealthy conditions can be something that can cause severe health issues and subsequent death. A dirty enclosure can make the turtle die all of a sudden. The primary culprit, in this case, can be the dirty cage and bacteria.

How to prevent it?

Make sure you create a schedule to clean the turtle carriage and stick to your schedule. There may be differences when it comes to the actual schedule, but in many cases opting for a once per week schedule per turtle would be a good idea. If you have more than two turtles, it would be a good idea to opt for twice or thrice a week schedule to clean the insides.


The turtles don’t like getting stressed too much. If you do not provide an option to relieve the stress, the turtle may die because of the pent up stress. Noise can be one of the factors that can freak out a turtle.

There can be several reasons such as people talking loudly, motors screeching, dogs or other animals barking can all act as triggers to scare the turtle and put it under stress. They can also get stressed out when noticing a change. A change in the position of furniture, a new accessory or even a new person in the home are a few scenarios where the turtle can get scared.

Handling them too much can also create stress. Most of the turtles do not like being picked up. If you have to handle them, make sure you are gentle and move them slowly. Remember – Turtles are not pets, but the wild animals kept in captivity.

How to prevent it?

Understand the needs that the turtle has. While you may love blasting music, your turtle may not. Check out what turtles do in the wild to relieve stress, and that can perhaps be helpful in letting your turtle feel safer. Unlike the other pets like cats and rabbits, which can be petted to calm them down, turtles can get further stressed if you attempt to handle them.

The Closing Thoughts

Well, that was a purely a morbid post, and perhaps something that you do not want to think of when you are looking for information on turtles. But, that is something inevitable and cannot be avoided. You will need to be careful in handling your turtle if it is dying and dispose of a dead turtle in the most possible humane way.

We assume the tips share here would ideally help you go through this sad phase in your pet’s life with complete patience and care.

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