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Physical Conditions

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The following section deals with symptoms that may be determined with a visual inspection. These may indicate potential or existing problems. Aside from prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of injuries and illnesses can promote a healthy turtle. Since these should be easily recognizable, you should immediately seek the correct and appropriate treatment. Although not all conditions can infect other turtles, some situations may cause a RES to be susceptible to unintentional harm from another turtle. It may be necessary to quarantine your RES until the situation has been resolved.


Although minor injuries may occur in the form of bruises, burns or scratches, a healthy turtle should not have any unexplained bleeding. Forms of bleeding may occur through the cloaca, eyes, mouth, nose, shell and skin. The presence of blood in waste or mouth should cause concern. If there is no obvious cause of the bleeding (e.g., a bite wound), you may need to have a vet do a thorough examination. Overall, a vet visit is recommended for any anti-infective medication and treatment.

Bleeding Mouth, Gums

There are a few situations where blood can appear around the mouth. Something your turtle tried to eat may have caused an injury, there may be a vitamin K deficiency or it can be a symptom of mouth rot (Stomatitis). Since it can be difficult to look into a reluctant turtle’s mouth, a visit to the appropriate vet is recommended to get the correct treatment.

Ear Abscess

A common condition that turtle keepers face is an ear abscess. It is an ear infection that is easily noticeable in the form of a lump on either one or both sides of the head. It may appear to be swelling or inflamed due to bacteria developing either from poor habitat conditions, previous respiratory ailment, injury, or some other unknown manner. This type of infection will not disappear by itself. It may cause the eyes to be swollen closed. It may also cause swimming and orientation problems. A vet visit is required to lance and drain the area so it can then be cleaned and disinfected. It is not a procedure that inexperienced keepers should attempt to try themselves.

Mouth Rot / Stomatitis

Ulceration of the exterior or interior of mouth area, including the tongue and throat, is a clear indication of mouth rot. Visual signs may be in the form of respiratory changes, such as excessive coughing or mucus and the presence of blood around the mouth. The appearance of blisters and a yellow or white substance around this area may also develop. This condition can be either bacterial or viral in nature. It is highly contagious and needs to be treated by a veterinarian immediately; otherwise stomatitis may result in a fatal consequence.

Bites, Bruises, Burns, Cuts and Scratches

Very minor skin and flesh injuries require no medical attention. Very clean water and full basking areas should help heal the skin in a matter of a few days; however the source of the injury needs to be addressed or removed. If the flesh is tender, then you can apply a treatment of Nolvasan cream or Neosporin and dry dock the turtle afterwards. In more serious situations where there is bleeding, torn flesh or a bite from another animal then you need to consult your vet. If the bleeding does not stop or if these wounds do not immediately heal, then you should consult your vet. They may suggest antibiotics and/or disinfectants for home treatment. If your RES is experiencing frequent and reoccurring injuries, there may be fighting occurrences between turtles or your tank is simply too small. Large decorations and unprotected water heaters may also contribute to injuries.

Egg Binding / Eggs in Water

If proper nesting conditions are not provided, a female turtle may become egg bound or lay some eggs in her water. A female can lay infertile eggs without a male present. If there are eggs in the water, they will not be viable after a few minutes and should be discarded. A female RES needs to be allowed to nest in order to lay her remaining eggs or she will retain them. Retained eggs or egg binding can cause disease, infection, organ damage and death. Symptoms may include not laying eggs, laying few eggs, lethargy, pacing, lack of appetite, prolapse, excessive digging motions, and kicking of the hind legs. An internal obstruction could cause binding and she will need to be checked by a vet for retained eggs. A simple X-ray may be required to provide conclusive information.

Additional Article
Reproduction - redearslider.com/reproduction.html

Eyes Closed or Swollen

Various types of injury or infection can cause a turtle's eyes to be closed or swollen. Dehydration, ear abscesses, chlorine/chloramines, scratches, bacterial infection, trauma, poor water conditions and poor nutrition are readily causes. Furthermore, this is a potential symptom of a Vitamin A deficiency (Hypovitaminosis A), metabolic bone disease or respiratory infection (RI).

The sensitivity of the eyes allows it to be an early detector of other inflictions. All of these conditions can be serious and unrelated; offering Vitamin A will have no effect if RI is present. The delay in proper treatment may even cause greater harm. Consider swollen eyes as a symptom of a greater disease. If other symptoms exist or form, then immediate medical care is required.

If your RES consistently rub their eyes after a water change, you may suspect high levels of chlorine or chloramines. The use of an aquarium water conditioner may help ease the situation. Home remedies for closed eyes may be small amounts of Vitamin A drops or the application of cod-liver oil onto the eyelids. Try to see if the turtle will open its eyes when dry docked. It is, however, best to seek the help of a qualified vet if there are other symptoms, the condition does not improve, or there is no explanation for the cause. Turtles may refuse to eat if they are unable to see. This can cause an onset of other serious medical conditions.

Additional Article
Eye Problems in Aquatic Turtles - tortoisetrust.org/articles/eyeprobs.htm

Fanning (What the heck was that?)

It is the appearance of a male turtle's penis. It comes out of the cloaca and is quite large and dark. The reproductive organ should go back in by itself. There would be a problem if it does not retract (penile prolapse) or if it injured by a scratch or another turtle. In those cases, immediately separate him and contact a veterinarian for guidance. Soaking a turtle in clean, warm water might help the situation.


A condition that should be easy to prevent and treat is fungal growth on the skin. Fungus may appear as a wispy white or brown patch and is clearly visible underwater. Inadequate filtration, poor water quality and lack of basking greatly contribute to this condition. Not to be mistaken for shedding, fungus must be treated before infections, such as septicemia, can take place. Early cases may be treated at home with commercial products, such as Repti Turtle Sulfa Dip. You should consult a veterinarian for an appropriate diagnosis and medication for conditions that are excessive or do not improve. See related condition, shell fungus and septicemia.

Nails Broken or Long

It is not recommended to cut, file or trim claws and nails. Long claws are sexual characteristics of a male and completely normal. Cutting them will cause unnecessary pain and infection. If they are injured or broken, provide clean tank water in a quarantined environment. If there is soreness, keep the area dry and apply Nolvasan cream or Neosporin and dry dock the turtle afterwards. If the area is still raw after a few days, a visit to the vet will be necessary to clean any wounds appropriately and to check for further infection.


The appearance of a turtle's intestinal organs, usually the colon and/or reproductive organ, through the cloaca (the opening on the underside of the tail) is a prolapse. Ingested gravel or some other impaction may cause this situation but may not necessarily be a factor. If the male merely exposes and retracts his reproductive organ, then it's referred to as "fanning" and is not a prolapse. If the organs cannot retract, then that turtle should be isolated immediately. Soaking a turtle in clean, warm water might help correct the situation. However, if it does not or if the organ(s) has been bitten, injured or scratched by another turtle, then a vet visit is immediately required. The area must kept clean and wet until proper medical attention is given.

Skin Shedding

Shedding is natural and normal for RES. Shedding skin has a thin, wispy and translucent appearance. Most often it is around the neck and the front and rear limbs. It is very easily visible underwater. Excessive shedding is not normal and is usually the result of water temperatures being too high, high protein diets, inadequate basking and fast growth. It could be a symptom of poor water quality or a developing infection. Proper diet and water conditions should be introduced to help avoid this.

Slow or Unequal Growth

Diet preferences, habitat conditions, parasites, previous illnesses and genetics can cause different growth rates. Captive turtles will nearly always grow much faster than wild turtles. Females will always be larger than males of equivalent age. Calcium, UVB, varied diets and correct environmental conditions are critical for regular growth.

If there are other tank mates (fish, turtles, etc.) then there may be unequal food distribution. In many cases when two or more turtles are fed together at the same time in the same environment (i.e., not in a separate feeding container), one turtle is usually able to grab more food.

Do not attempt to “make up” for lost feedings by offering more food than you normally would, which could cause excessive growth spurts and result in shell deformity. Offer regular and balanced portions for all your turtles. If conditions are correct and not too cold, but growth is still inhibited, then the turtle should be examined for illnesses or parasites.

Swollen Flesh

This may be a simple case of a RES that is overweight. A proper diet must be introduced to correct and prevent any additional problems such as pyramiding. If there is swelling in the rear of a female, it is possible there is egg retention. There is more information about egg binding in its respective section. If there are other symptoms, such as color or breathing changes, you may suspect the presence of an infection.

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This page updated: 2011/01/28 Copyright © 2005-2011 Red Ear Slider. All rights reserved.