3 Common Health Problems in Domestic Turtles

As they are now one of the most popular pets, it's crucial to know about the most common health problems of domestic turtles.
3 Common Health Problems in Domestic Turtles

Last update: 16 April, 2020

Turtles are a popular exotic pet. They’re small and easy to look after, and some people are now choosing them as a pet over cats and dogs. There’s increasing knowledge about their care, but what are the most common health problems in domestic turtles?

3 common health problems in domestic turtles

Vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A is necessary to keep mucous membranes and skin in good condition. It can’t be synthesized in the body, and so it needs to be included in the diet.


Turtles with a vitamin A deficiency will have puffy, inflamed and swollen eyes, thicker skin around the eye and sometimes crusty eyes. Usually the cornea isn’t as bright and becomes opaque. Additionally, general functions worsen. Meaning, the turtle will appear lethargic, lose its appetite and lose weight.

The symptoms are similar to other illnesses such as bacterial conjunctivitis or corneal ulcers. So that you know the difference, a vet will do complementary tests.

Diagnosis and treatment

You need to check for a positive response to vitamin A injections every fortnight. You also need to treat eye symptoms by cleaning the eye and applying ointment.

Finally, changing its diet is important. Turtles need a specific diet. They can eat a special feed enriched with vitamin A, or they need to follow a strict natural diet- although this is more difficult.

If it’s carnivorous, feed your turtle liver once a week. If it’s a herbivore, it will need red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables.

A group of turtles eating an apple.

Ear infection

The reasons why turtles get ear infections are varied:

  • Inadequate hibernation that causes immunosuppression
  • Mouth infections or pharyngitis
  • Lumps around the ear
  • Vitamin A deficiency

Normally a low vitamin diet isn’t good enough either, especially in carnivorous species.


A turtle with an ear infection.
Source: DiagnosticoVeterinario.com

First, the area around the eardrum appears enlarged, forming a lump on one side of the head – or both, if both are affected. It feels hardened and its temperature increases.

By opening the turtle’s mouth and squeezing the lump, a pus-like discharge should appear. By knowing this, we should be able to differentiate between this and a possible tumor.

Secondly, the turtle will appear lethargic and have a loss of appetite.

Diagnosis and treatment

To diagnose it, a blood test and an x-ray will be needed to evaluate the middle and inner ear to see if they are infected. Once diagnosed, it will undergo surgery to remove the abscess, and will need a course of antibiotics for 10 days.

Cloacal prolapse is one of the most common health problems in domestic turtles

Cloacal prolapses are relatively frequent diseases in reptiles. There are several causes:

  • Calcium deficiency
  • Stomach flu
  • High phosphate levels
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Presence of foreign bodies

Therefore, additional tests are needed to diagnose it –such as stool analysis. These can’t be performed in the event of a prolapse. So you need to observe the symptoms and how they resolve themselves.


First, you can find cloacas outside the hole, they’re usually inflamed and swollen. This makes turtles lose their appetite and feel uncomfortable. It will also be unable to defecate and be in a bad state.

A vet holding a turtle.


Applying ice packs to reduce inflammation is the first step to treating this. As soon as the inflammation has gone down, the vet can reintroduce the prolapse through the anus while the turtle is still asleep. They have to lubricate the cloaca well, and place a couple of points to prevent it from happening again.

Final thoughts

Several diseases can affect the health of domestic turtles. Therefore, it’s important to know what they are and their first symptoms. Of course, the best thing is to have a good prevention strategy to look after your turtle well.

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