Red-Eared Slider Health Problems

Red-Eared Slider Health Problems

health problems


You can inspect your turtle for changes in their appearance every week. This will help you catch any troubles early on before they become a larger problem. When holding your turtle you should have each hand on the bridge of their shell. If their nails on their hind feet can reach your hands, you can put on hand under the turtle on their plastron and the other hand on the middle of the carapace or use a towel or gardening gloves to protect your hands. While inspecting your slider do not make a complete circle while turning the turtle over. Although it’s rare, it is possible to twist the intestines by rotating the turtle in a complete circle from one side, upside down and then to the other side before being turned right side up. If you turn the turtle sideways, always turn him back the same way. Also avoid quick turns. Do not keep a turtle on its back for longer than needed as this makes the turtle feel extremely vulnerable and can stress your slider.

Also pay close attention to your slider’s eyes, mouth, toes, tail and shell for any discolorations, swellings, lumps, cuts or abrasions. Check the mouth and nose for excessive mucus and bubbles and check the eyes to make sure they are clear and bright with no puffiness. You can also weigh your turtle every week as rapid loss can be a sign of illness or infection. You can use gram scales to weigh your slider which can be found at most retail or department stores.

Abscesses and Lumps

Small injuries can easily go unnoticed and these injuries can grow into abscesses filled with caseous (a cottage cheese like material). Reptiles do not form liquid pus as mammals so, so usually their discharge is in a semisolid form that looks like yellow cottage cheese. You can find this discharge on the legs, head, tail or between the hind legs and the bridge of their shell. If the swelling does not go away after a few days you should see your local vet. Although it is rare, sliders can develop tumors and other cancers and early detection is always ideal.


Salmonellosis is a serious disease of the digestive tract and this disease can dangerously hurt humans. In the height of the baby red-eared slider trade, several thousand children were stricken with Salmonellosis. This is why the sale of baby turtles became illegal in the United States.

There are simple steps to prevent an infection of Salmonella concerning the maintenance and handling of your turtle. First, after you handle your turtle, thoroughly wash your hands with an antiseptic scrub. Second, do not put your hands in your mouth while handling your turtle. Third, never kiss a turtle. There are organisms that live in the turtle’s water and these organisms can make your very sick, but this is all preventable if you follow those simple steps.

Ear Infections

Turtle have an inner ear that is similar to humans hence they can develop ear infections. If this happens you will notice the ear (the large circular scale on each side of the head) bulge out. This will require treatment by your local veterinarian. Most often your turtle will be started on injectable antibiotics and undergoes surgery to open the ear canal and remove hardened pus and debris. There will also be home care to follow this procedure as more antibiotics and instructions for flushing the surgical site and packing it with an antibiotic cream for a week or so. The turtle might have to stay dry for some of this time.

Egg Binding

Female turtle are capable to lay unfertilized eggs. Some turtles once reaching sexual maturity will lay once or twice a year for every year of their entire lives, while some turtle lay on random years or some turtles may never lay eggs. Wild turtles lay their eggs between the end of April and the beginning of July, so indoor turtles may follow this schedule as well. Female sliders can capable of laying eggs when they are around 6 inches in carapace length. Some will drop their eggs in the water or some prefer to dig a nest for their eggs. Although others will refuse to lay their eggs and become egg bound. An egg-bounded turtle needs immediate veterinarian care as this is life threatening towards your turtle. Treatment involves a dose of the hormone oxytocin or in more serious cases surgery is the only option and in some cases pieces of the female turtles shell may have to be cut and removed, then epoxied back into place after the eggs are removed.

Sometimes there is no warning that your turtle is carrying eggs and you might wake up one day to find eggs or egg shards in the habitat. A telltale sign that she needs to lay eggs is an odd shuffling done with the hind feet while the turtle is at the bottom of the tank. If your adult female slider is acting lethargic and has a decreased appetite, she also might be carrying eggs. If your turtle has been acting oddly for more than a week and you suspect she has eggs and will not lay them, then it is time for a trip to your vet office. Note that once your female slider lays her eggs; make sure there is cuttlebone available to chew on as this will help her replace some of the calcium used for egg production. Moreover, if your female turtle has never been with a male, the eggs will be infertile and will not hatch. Although, is the your female turtle did mate with a male, the females of some turtle species can store sperm for years after mating, hence the eggs will hatch into new baby turtles.

General Lethargy and Respiratory Infections

If your slider is basking all the time and prefers to stay on their basking platform rather than eat, there is a good possibility of a health problem. This is especially evident if your turtle is sleeping frequently on their basking platform with his head stretched out. If this activity is combined with a decrease or lack of appetite, a vet visit will be needed. Turtles are prone to respiratory infections, especially if they are kept too cold for long periods of time. If the eyes are swollen and the turtle has bubbles coming out of their nose or mouth or they are making a rasping sound with open mouth breathing, they probably have a respiratory infection. If this is caught early, it can be cured by simply raising the water temperature for a few days and adding more vitamin A rich foods to their diet (i.e. sweet potato or collard greens). However, more serious or prolonged cases usually need antibiotics.

Lopsided Floating

Turtles may develop an inability to float in their normal positions. This can happen when they float either with one side higher than the other or with the back end floating higher than the front end. If your slider is floating with one side higher than the other than this could be a sign of pneumonia. If the back end is floating higher than the front, the turtle may simply have intestinal gas, which can happen if you gave him a new food. If this happens, try feeding just pellets for a few days and the problem will usually correct itself in a couple days although; if this persists then contact your local vet. A turtle that has trouble staying underwater could simply be so underweight that he floats rather than swims. You should contact your local vet to see if there are any health problems or whether a special diet would be recommended to counter anorexia.

Neck Injuries

In rare cases of aquatic turtles, they will have a sharp edge on the nuchal scute directly over their neck. This may need to be filed down. Most neck injuries are caused by keeping multiple turtles in close quarters and one turtle can bite the neck of another to show dominance. If this happens, you will need to move the aggressive turtle to a separate enclosure. Once the aggressive turtle is removed, usually the wound will heal on its own, but deep wounds will need veterinarian care, topical medication or dry-dock time.


Your slider may contract parasites. Internal parasites can damage the lining of the intestines and even their lungs and will cause internal tissue damage as they travel through the body. This will also weaken your turtle as the parasites will absorb nutrients from your turtle’s system. External parasites will remove blood from their host which can weaken your slider and may transmit diseases as well.


The only common external parasites for your slider are leeches, which are the equivalent of ticks in dogs. Leeches can be attached to the skin or shell of the turtle. If you find a leech, apply salt to it, wait for a few minutes, and pull the leech off with some tweezers. Make sure the entire leech is removed and the head is not still attached to the turtle as this will probably lead to an infection. Finally, wipe the area with a disinfectant before returning your slider back to their enclosure.

Internal Parasites

Intestinal parasites are the most common parasite that is associated with turtles. A fecal float at your vet’s office will help detect parasites such as hookworms, tapeworms, roundworms, flukes and protozoans including Giardia and Coccidia. Tapeworms are fairly common and will look like small white segmented pieces in the water, like pieces of rice. If you see this try to grab them with a disposable cup or jar and take them along with your slider to the vet. The treatment usually involves antiparasitic, antibacterial or antiprotozoal drugs. If possible let your veterinarian administer these drugs as it is hard to give these drugs appropriately to your turtle. Haemogregarines is a type of blood parasite that is rarely seen in pet turtles. Wild turtles can live with this parasite, although if there are newly acquired from the wild, then the turtle may become so stressed that the inclusion of a blood parasite will possibility give the turtle anemia. A vet will perform a blood culture to confirm this and will prescribe antibiotics to treat the parasite.

Deadly Treatment

Ivermectin is a commonly used treatment for parasites in dogs, cats and horses. But this can be deadly for turtles of all species. If your local vet prescribes Ivermectin for your turtle, do not use it! Your vet is obviously not well educated about proper treatment for turtles. Moreover, if you are using Ivermectin for another pet, make sure you keep this far away from your slider.


Reptiles have a cloaca that is the common opening for the digestive, urinary and reproductive tract. So a turtle will lay eggs, defecate and urinate from the cloaca. In some cases the bladder, oviducts or penis of the turtle may slip from its normal position to move outside the cloaca, which is known as prolapse. This is a very serious condition that needs immediate veterinary assistance. Prolapse may also involve the colon, shell glands and the cloaca itself. In aquatic turtles this usually involves a female that is having difficulty laying eggs and strains too much. In males, this can involve a penis that might have been damaged by another turtle. Other cases causing prolapse can involve intestinal parasites, polyps or tumors. Also turtles with poor muscle tone and those who are not getting enough vitamin D or calcium may develop this as well. If your turtle has prolapse, make sure the area is moist or keep the turtle in its enclosure until you get to a vet. To transport your turtle, lay them on a damp newspaper in a plastic container or use plastic wrap to loosely diaper the tail area and tape the edges of the plastic to the top and bottom of the shell. Usually the treatment involves surgery and in severe cases, the affected tissue may need to be removed.

Skin & Shell Problems

All sliders have 13 inner scutes on their carapace on their shell. Occasionally, you might see a slider that has more than 13 scutes or less often, a slider with less than 13 scutes. This is thought to be the result of improper egg incubation conditions and thankfully has no impact on your turtle’s health. A healthy slider will need very little, if any shell maintenance. Some stores will carry shell conditioners although they are completely unnecessary. Moreover, fungal and bacterial infections will probably become worse from these products. If you think there is a problem with your sliders shell, then best to check with your vet before you purchase something off the shelf.

Shedding Scutes

Do not be alarmed if you find layers of scutes at the bottom of the tank or stuck to intake of a filter. Sliders will normally shed the top layer of each scute on their shell. If the diet is not right, the basking area is not optimal or if there are other health issues present, the scutes may not shed properly and there will be a buildup of unshed scutes. In more severe cases, your turtles shell may look like a pine cone. Time and correct husbandry usually solve this problem easily. However, sometimes a loose scute can trap water and debris between the old and new keratin. This will allow algae and bacteria to build up which can lead to shell rot. Therefore, if you notice a scute, try to gently lift up the edge of the scute to help its removal. You can also use a 3% hydrogen peroxide to try to lift off a partially shed scute. Although make sure you keep the hydrogen peroxide away from the turtle’s eyes, nose and mouth. Pour the hydrogen peroxide on some of the shell, let is sit for 5 minutes as the solution will help remove some of the algae, dirt or trapped bacteria at the edge of the scute. Then rinse well and scrub the shell with a soft toothbrush to remove any flaking keratin or debris. Some recommend wheat germ koi pellets if their turtle is having a hard time shedding scutes.


Wild turtles often have algae on their shells, although it’s a good idea to every so often scrub your turtle’s shell if the algae builds up. Excessive algae may pit the shell and may mask an unshed scute, early infection or other shell injuries. You can scrub the shell with a soft toothbrush and room temperature water.

Skin Shedding

It is common from time to time for turtles to shed pieces of skin. If your slider is stressed, they may shed even more skin. If your turtle is constantly shedding skin or if there are raw patches, it would be a good idea to check with your vet for a possible deficiency or overdose of vitamin A or an infection. Also make sure your enclosure has no sharp edges that your slider could be rubbing against.

Failure to Thrive

Sometimes hatchlings will develop this syndrome. The babies may eat and behave normally at first, although they gradually decrease in energy and eventually develop a soft shell despite the best lighting, food and care. These turtles tend to stay small and usually do not live over a year. These “failure to thrive” hatchlings are mostly the result of inappropriate housing before sale, severe dehydration during shipping or improper conditions during artificial refrigerator hibernation.

Shell Rot

Shell rot is a term used for any shell infection. A variety of organisms can cause shell rot including bacteria and fungi. In some cases more than one pathogen, such as two types of bacteria or a combination of bacteria and yeast, may be responsible. Usually the infection will start when there is a scratch or partially unshed scute will trap the bacteria. Turtles in filthy conditions or in a crowded area may also scratch or bite each other or a rough basking area may abrade the shell which leaves an opening for pathogens. If this infection goes undetected long enough, it can spread from the superficial layers of keratin to the bone underneath and even into the body cavity and blood supply. This is called septicemia or blood poisoning and will eventually kill your turtle. The sooner this is discovered the better, as it will take less time to heal and less aggressive treatment.

Superficial shell rot can be treated with a thorough cleansing and removal of harmful matter from the infected area with the application of a disinfectant, such as povidone iodine solution or a diluted chlorohexidine solution. Use a soft toothbrush to lightly scrub the area with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. Rinse the shell, apply the disinfectant to the affected area and then let the slider sit in a dry dock for an hour before rinsing off the disinfectant. Blot the area dry and apply a triple antibiotic ointment before placing the turtle back into the water.

More serious cases may need surgical debridement under general sedation at your local vet’s office, followed by injectable antibiotics. The turtle may need to stay days or weeks in the dry dock. If surgery is required, an antimicrobial cream used for human burn victims may be applied to the affected area daily until the healthy connective tissue begins to form. Cover the area completely with a think layer of this ointment. A veterinarian will need to prescribe silver sulfadiazine and antibiotics.

Shell rot most often appears as a lighter area of the shell that seems out of place with your sliders normal coloration. If you press the area, it might be softer than the rest of the shell and might have a foul smelling caseous material under the keratin. In severe cases, the keratin will lift easily and may come away with pieces of thick caseous material and even sometimes, infected bone. In rare cases, the infection might start below the keratin and travel directly to the bone, which leaves the shell with a perfect appearance but it will still have a foul smell and a soft area to the shell.

When shell rot heals, the area may harden and turn pale and look similar to bone before it is shed and a healthy new shell is revealed. In many instances, the new shell will be darker and rougher than the original.


Salmonella organisms make up a considerable portion of the normal intestinal flora of many turtles and when the turtle is stressed, the bacteria can become pathogenic to you. The turtle symptoms include enteritis, pneumonia, mucus covered/blood tinged/discolored stools, runny stools and loss of appetite. If these symptoms persist, then your turtle will need a visit to your local vet. This is usually treated with injectable antibiotics. This disease can also spread to other turtles, so will have to quarantine sick turtles and routinely disinfect everything used (hands, tools or utensils) after handling these sick turtles.

Soft Shell (Metabolic Bone Disease)

Turtles that lack calcium, vitamin D3 and/or UVB light can develop soft shell and bone deformities. This is often called metabolic bone disease (MBD). Also, too much phosphorus in your turtle’s diet can reduce the calcium absorption. Moreover, too much vitamin A can also inhibit vitamin D3 absorption. Some symptoms of larger turtles include a soft shell, deformed shell growth and the inability to stand on their hind legs. In severe cases,  the effects of this disease will not reverse and skeletal deformities and abnormal shell growth will remain for the rest of the turtle’s life.

Shell Injuries

Sometimes accidents happen that result in a cracked shell. Until you get your turtle to the vet, you can rinse the shell with a sterile saline solution to clear out dirt and then apply povidone iodine with sterile gauze. Your turtle may need to spend the night in the dry dock before you return him to his enclosure to make sure that the bleeding has stopped before he goes back into the water. Deeper breaks may need a partial patch or antibiotics, which will be determined by your local vet.

Swollen or Irritated Eyes

Turtles that have a respiratory infection will usually have swollen eyes. In the most severe cases, pus forms under the sealed eyelids. Sometimes the swollen eyes are a result of hypovitaminosis A (which is a lack of vitamin A in their diet). The good thing is that this problem usually correctly itself once the turtle is on antibiotics; however, a sterile saline solution may be used to rinse the eyes for a few days. Sometimes the eyes can become infected, especially if the water quality is poor. Very rarely will the tear ducts become inflamed and infected. Also sometimes turtles are known to bite each other on the eyes, so this is also a possibility as well.

Toenail & Foot Problems

Your healthy slider will never need their nails trimmed. Adult male sliders have longer nails than the female sliders, so this is normal and do not cut their nails. Sometimes if a slider has been kept in very poor conditions the claws might be overgrown. If you do have any questions please see your local vet. Occasionally your slider might catch a claw on their basking platform which can cause an injury or infection. Very rarely will a broken or injured claw lead to a bone infection in their foot. If the injury does not appear to be healing after a few days, then seek veterinarian assistance. Also turtles have been known to nip off the toes and tail tips of other turtles, so watch out for this as well.

Vitamin A Deficiency and Toxicity

Hypovitaminosis A is too little vitamin A and hypervitaminosis or vitamin toxicity is too much vitamin A. True vitamin A deficiencies are rare in today’s turtles because of improved commercial diets. The most common symptoms of a deficiency are puffy & dry eyes, excessive skin shedding, lethargy, decreased appetite and a compromised immune system. This deficiency can usually be corrected with a proper diet. The signs of an overdose are similar to those of the deficiency although they are more severe with sloughing skin and puffy eyes. The overdose can be extremely painful as they skin may slough off in raw patches and this may lead to death from infection and toxicity. The overdose is usually caused by injections of vitamin A, large amounts of vitamin supplements or regularly feeding your turtle large amounts of liver. This condition’s symptoms will decrease, if the levels of vitamin A in the diet are restored back to normal levels.

Dry Dock Time

If your turtle is recovering from any injury, infection or other problem they may need to spend time in the dry dock. This is a special type of hospital for turtles that allows them to stay dry and warm for a period of time. A plastic storage bin or tote will make an excellent dry dock tank. A towel or shredded newspaper would be good ideas to use for the substrate. Place a heat lamp on a screen over one end of the enclosure.  Then your slider will be able to bask under the light or move to the cooler end of the enclosure. A regular 75 watt light bulb is usually a good choice. Only put a water bowl in the enclosure if it is untippable, as the turtle is supposed to stay dry. Although it is very important to make sure your slider is properly hydrated and gets to soak at least once a day.