Why Do Turtles Die Suddenly? 5 Reasons


When you’re all set up to take care of your Turtle till you’re old and gray, it’s quite the letdown when your pet suddenly and inexplicably dies. Let’s find out today what could be the possible causes of death for a Turtle and what you should do about the situation.

Why Would My Turtle Die?

There are different reasons why Turtles suddenly die: some can be prevented and some are inevitable.

The common reasons why pet Turtles die are drowning, poor diet, wrong tank setup, illness, or old age.

Are you surprised? Let’s discuss why these happen.

What Can Cause A Pet Turtle To Die?

There are several possible explanations for a Turtle’s death depending on the circumstances surrounding it.

Cause #1: Drowning

Turtles, even the aquatic kind, can’t breathe underwater. They can hold their breath for a long time but they get their oxygen from the air.

Be careful with aquarium decor such as caves and stacks of rocks that can trap your Turtle while it’s underwater. If your pet gets stuck and can’t reach the surface in time, it might drown and die. This can also happen with Turtles getting stuck on strings or fishing lines used on those decorations and ornaments.

On the other hand, land Turtles can’t swim. They may drown even in a shallow pan of water if they can’t leave it.

Cause #2: Poor diet

Lack of nutrition, particularly Vitamin A deficiency, is a known killer among pet Turtles, drying up their bodily fluids and causing their cells to thicken. Their organs will find it hard to function properly, and a bacterial infection may ensue.

The onset of Vitamin A deficiency starts at around 6 months of life and will manifest as swollen eyes and respiratory infections. The downward spiral continues until the Turtle is no longer interested in food and eventually dies.

The answer to this problem is simple: variation. Omnivorous Turtles should be fed leafy green vegetables and some fruits. You may even try a carrot soak where you put your pellet in carrot water before feeding.

For carnivorous Turtles, you can give them crickets and worms. Staying on just pellets, despite its claims of being “balanced” is just not healthy.

Cause #3: Wrong tank setup

What newbies often get wrong for Turtles is the lack of a proper basking space. Turtles bask anywhere from 2 to 12 hours a day, so you should have a dry area under a lamp with a UVB bulb. This allows Turtles to regulate their body temperature. Failure to do so will lead to illness and death.

We discuss Turtle tank setups in our posts “Why Does My Turtle Want To Escape Out Of The Tank? 4 Startling Reasons” and “Can You Keep A Turtle Without A Filter?”. These will help you greatly in creating an environment that your Turtle needs.

Cause #4: Illness

There are instances when past trauma catches up and kills a Turtle suddenly. If you’ve adopted a Turtle not knowing its past, there may have been instances when it was previously injured by vehicles like cars or bikes, or by other animals like dogs. These are internal and hard to detect unless it manifests in behavior (lethargy, wounds).

Indications of other illnesses like shell deformation, cloudy eyes, wheezing, and mucus overproduction should be consulted with a vet.

Cause # 5:Old age

Despite their long life, no Turtle lives forever. Try to find out the age of the Turtle when you got it to help you. The next section may also give you some insight.

When Does A Turtle Die?

Turtles have slow metabolism. This shows both in the speed of their movements and the length of their life.

Why do turtles die suddenly?
When does a turtle die?

A natural Turtle life is about 30 to 50 years on average for most species. However, their lifespan is affected by many factors including the type of care in captivity or safety threats in the wild.

Here are some common kinds of pet Turtles and how long they’re expected to live a normal lifespan. Which one is your Turtle?

SpeciesKindLifespan
Red-eared SliderAquatic25 to 35 years
Mississippi Map TurtleAquatic20 years
Common Musk TurtleAquatic40 to 60 years
Diamond Terrapin TurtleAquatic30 to 40 years
Western Painted TurtleAquatic50 to 70 years
Eastern Box TurtleLand80 to over 100 years
Mud TurtleAquatic40 years
African Sidekick TurtleAquatic25 years
Spotted TurtleAquatic30 to 50 years
Yellow-bellied SliderAquatic40 to 50 years
Chinese Pond Turtle/Reeve’s TurtleAquatic10 to 15 years
Wood TurtleAquatic60 to 100 years

The wide range includes both years in captivity and lifespan in the wild. There is no one setting that increases a Turtle’s lifespan. Turtle eggs and babies have a higher chance of survival in captivity while adult Turtles live for longer in the wild.

When does a turtle die?
Why do turtles die suddenly?

Signs For Your Pet Turtle Is Dying.

Your Turtle’s lack of appetite and movement can just be hibernation (or brumation in Turtles). However, hibernating Turtles have their limbs inside their shell.

You might not notice your Turtle has passed away at first. Signs of death are sunken eyes, lack of movement (especially on the water), and foul odor. If it’s out of the water you might just see it with its head laying down on the ground.

If it’s floating on the water, push it down a little. If it sinks, it’s alive. Floating back up is an indication that it’s not.

On land, you can pull a leg gently to see if it reacts or not. You can also turn it upside down. A live Turtle will flail its legs and stretch its neck trying to right itself.

Try to revive it.

Yes, there have been instances when you can still revive a drowned Turtle.

  1. Remove the Turtle from the water.
  • While in an upright position, extend its neck gently and pull downwards. Pull its tail gently upwards and some water should come out.
  • Extend its front legs towards you and then push them into its body gently while keeping them straight.
  • Take the Turtle to the vet if it revives for proper follow-up care.

If you are interested in learning more about your fish behavior, check out the links below:

My Turtle Died What Should I Do?

When you find your Turtle unresponsive, confirm your suspicion by looking for the signs. There might be a chance to revive it if it looked drowned. But if you confirm death, you should dispose of its body properly.

A dead Turtle will start to stink (and attract pests) after 24 hours. We suggest not handling the body with your bare hands for sanitary purposes. Use rubber or plastic gloves and place the body in a plastic bag and seal it. Then place it in a box and bury it 3 to 4 feet underground in your yard.

Make sure you comply with state guidelines on burying dead pets. And please, be careful of utility lines and pipes where you make the hole.

Cremation is an option some choose. This gives them the chance to keep the shell or just mourn properly.

If you plan to reuse your enclosure or tank, it should be sanitized first.

Long Live The Turtle

People who plan to get a Turtle should get as much information as they can about the species before they decide to adopt one. This gives them knowledge on proper diet and care to avoid sudden deaths and mistakes.

If you put the effort into getting to know your pet and providing for its needs, you may find it may even outlive you that you have to pass the care on to the next generation.

We hope you continue with the hobby even with this sad experience and find a Turtle that will give you a lifetime of happiness.

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