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Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 11456
Experience:  Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
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My slider turtle isn't swimming hardly nor eating, and

Customer Question

My slider turtle isn't swimming hardly nor eating, and constantly yawns. Has been for 2 or 3 weeks and it keeps getting worse seems like..
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Reptile
Expert:  Anna replied 1 year ago.


My name is ***** ***** I’m a biologist with a special interest in reptiles. I'm sorry to hear that Shelly is ill.

The most likely cause of these symptoms is a respiratory infection. While that seems similar to the common cold in humans, respiratory infections in turtles are dangerous. Without treatment, they typically progress to pneumonia, which is often fatal.

Respiratory infections respond well to prescription antibiotics, such as Baytril. I recommend that you make an appointment with a reptile vet as soon as possible. These sites have a directories which will help you find one near you:

I recommend seeing a vet as soon as possible so you don't risk losing Shelly. She is already critically ill. When a turtle is ill, warmer temperatures can give the immune system a boost, so make sure the basking area is 85*F to 90*F, and the water is around 78*F. You'll also want to amke sure all conditions are optimal for her. To help you with that, I'm sending along a care sheet I've written for sliders.

You can use the care sheet as a checklist to make sure everything is right. If you have more questions, let me know in a REPLY. I'll check back in the morning to see if you need anything else. I hope Shelly will reach a full recovery.


My goal is to provide you with excellent service – if you feel you have gotten anything less, please reply back, I am happy to address follow-up questions. Please remember to rate my service only after you have all the information you need. Thank you


Well-cared for sliders can live 30 years or more.

The Tank

It's recommended that a baby slider 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. Put the basking light at one end so the whole tank doesn’t get too hot. 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.

Temperatures and Basking Area

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 and unhealthy shells. 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 *F (24*C) , 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*F (29 to 32*C). Use a digital probe thermometer to be sure. You can adjust the temperature by raising or lowering the light fixture.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*F (26 to 28*C).

UVB Light

It's extremely important that you buy an additional light that produces UVB rays. A Reptisun 10.0 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, SunGlo, 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. To prevent MBD, turtles also need calcium. The easiest way to provide it is to place a cuttlebone in the tank. Cuttlebones are sold in bird departments of pet stores.


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. If the tank is too small, no filter can keep up with the amount of waste that turtles produce.


Feeding is an 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 lettuce like romaine, bits of strawberry or melon, etc.). Hatchlings should be fed every day. Older turtles should be fed 3 times per week. Overfeeding can lead to gout and kidney failure.

For Further Reading

This is among the most reputable sites on turtles.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
The closest available one to me is in Columbia, SC and as far as I know they are still under maintenance from the flooding these past 2 weeks. Is there any way I can order the medications and give them to her myself?
Expert:  Anna replied 1 year ago.

Turtles are very sensitive to medications, and the only safe ones are prescription only. There are two possibilities for you. Sometimes there is a vet closer than we think. If you'll give me your zip code, I can search some directories for you. The other option is to call a local vet and see if he/she would be willing to work by phone consultation with a reptile vet to treat your turtle. This is common practice in areas that don't have reptile vets. I hope one of these options will work for you.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I was able to contact our local PetCo and they referred me to a local vet who specializes in all animals so I was able to get Shelly an appointment first thing tomorrow morning. I just need her to hold it together for a few more hours, but her wheezing is getting more progressive, and I've clocked 10 seconds between each gasp... :(
Expert:  Anna replied 1 year ago.

That wheezing is very worrisome. I suspect she has pneumonia. That can be treated if she can hold on long enough. My thoughts are with you as you go through tonight. I'm hoping for a good outcome.

Expert:  Anna replied 1 year ago.
Hi Heather,
I'm just following up on our conversation about Shelly. How is everything going?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I found a local vet who specializes in reptiles. She is being treated for pneumonia so she gave her one vaccination Friday and she'll have a 2nd one tomorrow. Shelly is still struggling to breathe, and I've even taken her outside to get fresh air. She acts like it helps her breathe better, but I've caught her a couple of times flipping herself on her back in the water and even in her little crate I moved her into to avoid drowning, but Shelly seems discouraged towards getting any better. :( she holds her breath for several minutes at a time so I'm hoping that her next vaccination will subside all of these symptoms for good!
Expert:  Anna replied 1 year ago.

I'm glad to hear that she held on long enough to see the vet, but sad to hear that she has pneumonia. It can be difficult to treat. All you can do is continue what you are doing and hope for the best. You're wise to keep her from being on her back. Besides the risk of drowning, being upside down poses other risks. It puts pressure on the internal organs, including the lungs and heart. Being upside down can cause death even on dry land. You may want to consider keeping her in dry quarters temporarily when you aren't there to watch. If she's only flipping when in water, I suspect that is due to the fluid in her lungs. It makes it so they can't swim properly. That can lead to flipping. Thank you for the update.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Sorry I haven't kept in touch. Sad to say, but Shelly didn't make it :( I tried to keep her as comfortable as possible but I guess she was too small to fight pneumonia.
Expert:  Anna replied 1 year ago.

I am so sorry for your loss. You did everything you could. I was hoping for a better outcome, but it wasn't to be. I know words don't really help, but all I can do now is offer you my condolences. I'm sorry. Anna

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