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Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 11417
Experience:  Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
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small painted turtle has very soft shell, mostly keeps eyes

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small painted turtle has very soft shell, mostly keeps eyes closed, has been very lethargic for days, hasn't been eating well. has only been fed Nutrafin basix floating turtle gammarus tablets. has some white rings on shell (not much). does still move a bit. local vet out of town and doesn't do turtles anyway. think right eye looks different than left, almost sunken a bit below eye. anything we can do? Eye was noticed first yesterday. White mark was noticed about 2 days ago. Soft shell was noticed today. Not eating well for several days - has eaten, but only a little bit.

Some additional information will help me to answer your question.

Have you noticed any bubbles from the turtle's nostrils? Any repeated opening of the mouth as if yawning?

What temperature do you ahve in the basking area and in the water?

What types of lighting and heating equipment do you have?

How big is the tank?

How long have you had the turtle?

Thank you.

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
<p>no bubbles or yawning motions.</p><p> </p><p>grandma changed water about 2 days ago and used room temp tap water that she had sit out one night first. that is what she always does.</p><p> </p><p>furnace is no longer on. is a gas furnace. not flourescent light. on a table but never gets direct sunlight. did bring out last summer, but still too cold to do that now.</p><p> </p><p>4" x 6 3/4" x 3 3/4" deep. does have basking area and was on it.</p><p> </p><p>turtle came to child about last June or early July.</p><p> </p>
Thank you for getting back to me. Turtles are more difficult to care for than most people would expect. They also can be expensive to get started with. They can live 30 years or more, when properly cared for. To complicate matters, pet stores often give out incorrect information on care, and then, well-meaning pet owners do not know what is best for their pets. I suspect this is what has happened to your family. It's not your fault, and I can tell you care about the turtle, but if you want to return it to health, there are some important changes you'll need to make. I'll start with care, then, we'll talk about the turtle's problems.

Your container is way too small. It's recommended that a baby turtle have at least a 15 gallon tank. By the time the turtle is 3-4 years old, it will need a 60 gallon tank, so it's best to get the biggest you can in the beginning. You can also use a large RubberMaid tote. That's not as pretty as a tank, but costs a lot less. Set up the tank so there's a land area and a water area. You want the water to be about twice as deep as the turtle is long. If the turtle is two inches long, you'll want four inches of water.

In order to have healthy skin and shells, turtles need certain types of lighting and need to be warm. Air and water that are not warm enough can lead to fungal and respiratory infections. Turtles must have a basking area where they can get out of the water, dry off, and bask in very warm light. The ambient air temperature in the tank should be around 75 (24*C) degrees, with the basking area warmer still. Over the basking area there should be some sort of lamp that will take a 40-60 watt incandescent bulb (or you can buy a ceramic light fixture made just for reptiles). If you live in an area that has farm stores, you can buy a metal light fixture made to keep baby chicks warm for just a few dollars. Don't buy the accompanying bulb, however. You need an ordinary incandescent bulb in the basking light. Hardware stores sell similar fixtures as work lights. The basking area should be kept at 85-90 degrees (29 to 32*C). Use a digital thermometer to be sure. You can adjust the temperature by raising or lowering the light fixture. In a small tank, set up the basking area at one end - you don't want the entire tank to become too warm. The lights that come with the covers on aquariums are not suitable for turtles. You'll also need a submersible aquarium heater that will keep the water 78-82 degrees (26 to 28*C).

It's extremely important that you buy an additional light that produces UVB rays. A Reptisun 10 is a good brand that does. If you choose another brand be absolutely certain it provides UVB rays. Don't take the word of pet store personnel, but read it for yourself. Full-spectrum, DayGlo, daylight, UV, or UVA are not the same thing. I'm putting a lot of emphasis on this because it's crucial to your turtle's health. Without this light, Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) will develop because your turtle won't be able to produce vitamin D. Vitamin supplements are not a good replacement for the proper lighting. MBD causes a very slow and painful death.UVB bulbs must be replaced every six months as they lose their effectiveness after that, even though they may still look fine. Light that comes through a window isn't sufficient because the glass filters out most of the rays turtles need to stay healthy.

Turtles are very sensitive to water quality. Even if you change the water every day, it can still contain harmful chemicals. A good filtration system is essential. Water changes are also needed even with a filter.

Feeding is another area where pet stores often give out bad information. Commercial food should make up only 1/4 of the diet. Animal products (cooked meat, earthworms, canned cat food) should make up another 1/4. The remaining half should be plant foods (dark greens, bits of strawberry or melon, etc.).You may want to look at these sites for additional information on care and feeding.

At this point, your turtle is suffering from a condition called shell rot, and probably also from MBD. It's urgent that you provide proper lighting and temperatures as quickly as possible. Once everything is right in your set-up, you'll be ready to help your turtle get well. The best thing you can do is take him to a reptile vet. Depending on what stage the illnesses are in, the turtle could need an injection of calcium, antibiotics, debridement of the shell, or other treatments only a vet can provide. This link will take you to a directory of reptile vets:

Some turtle owners do attempt treatment of shell rot on their own. It's fairly complicated and has a number of steps. For that reason, I won't give you details in this post. Here are two sites that give step-by-step instructions. They're different, so you can look at both of them and choose the one that you prefer.

If you try this, and don’t get results within a week, you’ll need to see a vet.

Sometimes families get a pet turtle without knowing about the equipment and care required. With the economy the way it is, the expense may be too much. If your family is in this position, give me your state, and I can refer you to reptile rescue groups who would take the turtle and care for it. Most families feel that is better than simply letting the turtle die. I hope this isn't your situation, but if you want to look into this option, don't hesitate to let me know.

If you have further questions, or want a list of rescues, just let me know by clicking on REPLY. There's no additional fee for such follow-up questions, and I'm happy to help. I hope you enjoy many years with your turtle.

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
thank you so much . we didn't know so much of this. little gracie died while you were helping us, but we still are so glad for all your help. Cindy came to the US from China 2 yrs. ago and wanted a pet so much. she has really loved her turtle. her dad will let her have another turtle and I (ESL teacher) will help the family follow all your directions.
You're welcome. I'm glad to hear you'll be helping the family. That's so sad that they lost Gracie. Please extend my condolences. I hope they'll have their next turtle for a long, long time.

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