I have a baby red-eared slider who has been struggling a little since a few days after getting him home, approx 1 month

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Customer: I have a baby red-eared slider who has been struggling a little since a few days after getting him home, approx 1 month ago. First he was dealing with blindness. I got him some eye drops and his eyes have consistently gotten better. All along, though, he had not been eating and slept most of the time. In fact, he did not eat at all since we got him so this was my biggest concern. We took him to the vet last week and they gave us some Critical Care Omnivore powder to try and feed him by syringe. They also suggested meal worms which at this point are a no-go. I've been trying for several days to get some of the slurry into him but could never get him to open his mouth. Well, today he started opening up! This was exciting at first and I started squirting the slurry into his mouth whenever he opened it in effort to get as much nourishment in as I can. However, I also read that a RES opening and closing its mouth can be a sign of respiratory infection so I have stopped. For lack of a better term, I don't want to shove stuff down his throat if he's already having trouble breathing. I can say that his eyes today have also been the widest I've seen them since we first got him. Also unsure if this is a sign of progress or if it's related to possible infection. Another note, the water heater finally came in the mail today. I have been trying to keep their water as warm as I could but I know temperature may have something to do with these troubles. I'm kind of stuck and I want my little one to feel better.
JA: The Vet will know if the Red-eared Slider can have that. A lack of appetite can seem worrying. The Expert will know how to help. Does the Red-eared Slider seem to be in any pain?
Customer: It's hard to tell. He's been more lethargic most of the time but when he stretches and starts moving "quickly" I can't tell if it's new found energy or if he's in pain in any way
JA: What's the Red-eared Slider's name?
Customer: Ralphie
JA: Is there anything else the Vet should know before I connect you? Rest assured that they'll be able to help you.
Customer: I think I might have covered it all
Answered by Dr. Caryn – Vet in 17 hours 7 months ago
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Dr. Caryn – Vet
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2,238 satisfied customers

Specialities include: Reptile Veterinary, Herp Veterinary, Exotic Animal Medicine, Amphibian Veterinary

Customer
Update: He started a squeaking sound as well and does now seem like he could be laboring to breathe. Idk if it's just Google making me nervous but should I take him back to the vet.

I am sincerely ***** ***** there was a delay in someone responding to your question. (Experts are independent contractors and as such are online based on their own schedules.) However, I am available and can assist you if you still need veterinary advice.

Hello and thanks for posting your question on JustAnswer.com. My name is***** and I have been a licensed and accredited veterinarian in the US for over 22 years, specializing in aquatics, reptiles, amphibians, avian and other exotic species. JustAnswer is a question and answer service, not a veterinary telemedicine or emergency service. On this platform veterinarians can provide insight and advice based on the information you provide, but as this is not considered a legal client-patient relationship and we cannot examine your pet, we are unable to provide definitive diagnoses, prescribe medications, provide medical records or sign documents for your specific pet. For any of those you would need to make an in person visit with a local veterinarian. If your pet has a serious illness or life-threatening emergency, I strongly recommend you obtain hands-on veterinary care with a local veterinarian or veterinary emergency service as soon as possible. I am happy to chat with you via the JustAnswer app via text. For US based clients, if you are interested in a phone call instead that is an option you can choose for an additional charge. In the meantime, I am putting together some questions and/or suggestions to help with your pet’s concern.

Thanks again for posting your question, I’m sorry that your red eared slider turtle Raphie is under the weather: recent history of eye problems/blindness, not eating, lethargy/weakness (sleeping a lot). I have some questions that will help me get a better idea of your pet’s environment and what may be going on with them:

-How old is Ralphie? Okay if you don't know exactly but is he a baby, juvenile or adult?

-What is the current enclosure set-up, e.g.,

-What is the air and basking spot temperatures?

-What is the water temperature?

-Is there a basking spot of sufficient size for them to fully haul out, dry off and warm up?

-What are the most recent water quality parameters (specifically ammonia and nitrite, though pH is also helpful as well) and what type of filtration do you have on your tank?

-Do they receive any access to UV light?

-What do you normally offer him to eat? Do they receive any calcium or vitamin supplements?

-Have they been pooping regularly and has it looked normal?

-Any other signs such as difficulty breathing, increased yawning or neck stretching, bloating, shell lesions, swollen eyes, discharge from nose/mouth/eyes, etc.?

Thanks very much for providing additional information, it is very helpful for me to try and figure out what is going on with your turtle and the history information will help me to do that.

So I am concerned by the persistent lack of appetite, lethargy, eye problems and now squeaking and possible labored breathing. If you are seeing him open mouthed breathe as well these are all highly suggestive of a respiratory infection. I do recommend taking him to a reptile experienced veterinarian for a hands on assessment.

To help find a local veterinarian with reptile experience, here is a useful website you can use to search for a local reptile veterinarian:

https://arav.site-ym.com/search/

(please note this site may not work on older browsers like Safari)

These veterinarians are active members of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, which means they have interest and experience in treating reptile patients.

With any sick turtle, it is always a good idea to start by checking that their environment and husbandry are proper for their species. Taking a physical measurement of the temperature gradient within the enclosure (air temperature in the main enclosure and warmer basking spot temperature) and measuring water temperature for semi-aquatic turtles is also recommended. Double check that the basking area is at the appropriate temperature and is large enough for the the turtle to fully haul out, dry off and warm up. Making sure the UVB bulb is appropriate for the size of the space and has been changed regularly. Even if they are still producing visible light, UVB bulbs have a limited lifespan and need to be changed every 6-12 months, depending upon bulb type. Making sure diet is varied and nutritious and appropriately supplemented with calcium and multivitamins is quite important. Therefore, I am attaching a care sheet about your pet’s species for you to review at your convenience, in case any of their husbandry parameters need to be amended.

For example, if the environmental temperatures are too low, since turtles are cold-blooded, this will negatively affect their metabolism, appetite, digestion and immune function. So start by checking the air, basking and water temperatures in the enclosure and, if it's too low, adjust your basking light or submersible aquarium heater to achieve the proper environmental temperatures.

Red eared slider recommended temperatures:

Air temperature 75-80F (24-26.7C) with warmer basking area on rock or log out of the water at 85-95F (29.4-35C) where they can fully haul out. Water 75-85F (24-29.4C). Water requires a heater.

In the meantime, I will give you some information about what may be causing these signs, a care sheet with recommendations about environment and diet as some common medical conditions are unintentionally caused by improper husbandry (such as too low temperatures, humidity, UVB lighting or calcium and vitamin supplementation) and some suggestions for home care and support of your ill turtle or while you are awaiting a visit to the veterinarian.

Respiratory infections or pneumonia in turtles can be secondary to environmental conditions such as sub-optimal air or water temperature, or environmental irritants though there are infectious agents that can cause respiratory infections, such as bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses.

Clinical signs might include oral or nasal discharge, bubble blowing, sneezing, open mouthed breathing, abnormal body posture, increased respiratory sounds like gurgling or wheezing, crusted nares (nostrils), open mouthed breathing or neck stretching. In turtles, you might also see exaggerated movement of the limbs, neck and head associated with each breath, which in a normal turtle is very subtle. If the lungs are consolidated or filled you may see listing in an aquatic turtle, e.g,. floating with one side up and one down.

Turtles with a respiratory infection may also show systemic signs of illness such as lethargy (depressed activity or energy level), inappetence (depressed appetite), shallow or open-mouthed breathing.

Difficulty breathing or abnormal respiratory sounds could be caused by other conditions such as mechanical obstruction of the airways, nares or choanae with material, like pus, mucous or cage substrate or by abscesses in the mouth or tongue, hyperthermia, or exposure to toxins.

So appropriate treatment depends a lot upon the examination by a trained veterinarian to find the cause of the problem. Because respiratory infections and other disorders that present with similar clinical signs in turtles are potentially serious and life threatening, it is recommended that you make an appointment with a local reptile veterinarian. They will perform an examination and will probably recommend imaging, such as an x-ray, to evaluate the turtle’s lungs to look for signs of pneumonia and may prescribe oral or injectable antibiotics. With turtles with pneumonia, sometimes nebulization treatment is recommended (medication is administered in a cool mist via a device called a nebulizer).

There are other abnormal causes for appetite depression and lethargy in turtles include improper environment (such as temperature too low), mouth rot (infectious stomatitis), trauma, infection (viral, bacterial, parasitic), nutritional disorder (metabolic bone disease, Vitamin A deficiency (hypovitaminosis A)), urogenital disease (bladder stones), reproductive disorders, respiratory infection, indigestion or maldigestion, and gastrointestinal impaction.

The bottom line is that if your turtle is otherwise acting and looking normally and the appetite depression is temporary then it may be normal. However, if the turtle is a baby or juvenile, or is displaying any other signs of illness such as weakness, lethargy, sunken eyes, skin discoloration, abnormal defecation or urination or the depressed appetite persists more than a few days, a visit to a local veterinarian with experience in reptile medicine is warranted.

It’s especially important if your pet is under the weather to make sure that their tank and water are clean, food is fresh and prepared hygienically and that the temperature is appropriate and that your UV-B bulb is in proper working condition. Here are some additional recommendations of how you can support your turtle while you are awaiting their veterinary appointment:

-Healing and normal metabolism are linked to proper environmental temperature. For an ill animal I recommend keeping air and water temperatures closer to the upper end of their optimal range, so air around 80F, basking spot around 95F and water around 85F.

Recommended temperature range for pet red eared slider turtle:

Air temperature 75-80F (24-26.7C) with warmer basking area on rock or log out of the water at 85-95F (29.4-35C) where they can fully haul out. Water 75-85F (24-29.4C). Water requires a heater.

-Keep them warm. If they’re not moving around much on their own, place them in an area of the tank that near the upper end of their warm zone, but not on top of a hot rock or under the hottest basking area as they can overheat or get burned. If they are too weak to get in and out of the water on their own, then keep them in a warm, dry area of the tank or in a dry box within the enclosure where it is warm. Air temperature in the dry area should be at the upper end of their normal air temperature, so 80F for a red eared slider turtle.

-Offer food, even if not eating. If your turtle is having difficulty reaching or getting to their food, put the food dish next to them or you can also hand or tong feed them. Place a favorite food item gently against their lips and if they are hungry, they will bite at it. If not, don’t force it.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to force feed an uncooperative turtle. They are likely not eating because they are not feeling well. So finding and resolving the underlying cause (environmental or medical cause) will help to restore their appetite. I am also concerned that he has been opening his mouth recently allowing you to squirt in the syringe feeding slurry, this is not normal behavior and you are right that this might be due to an underlying respiratory infection. While you can still attempt to syringe feed him, take care to avoid squirting the food on top of his glottis, the opening to the airway at the base of his tongue.

-If they are too weak to swim or to get out of the water on their own, then keep them dry docked (out of water) but to prevent or treat dehydration, you should give your turtle a soak in a shallow dish of clean warm water for 15-30 minutes twice a day. Shoulder depth and monitored during the soak so their head does not submerge. If they are weak or lethargic, you can tip the container up at one end to help prevent the head from submerging. Water temperature for the bath should be at the upper end of their normal water temperature, so 85F for a red eared slider turtle. Dry them off after the bath so they don't cool off too much.

-It is also a good idea to re-evaluate your current husbandry practices as some common disorders are inadvertently caused or predisposed by deficiencies or imbalances in diet, UVB lighting, calcium/vitamin supplementation, temperature or humidity.

-For aquatic turtles, it’s important to make sure their water is clean. The best way to check if water quality is good is by testing the water for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels with an aquarium testing kit such as Tetra EasyStrips (complete test strip kit)
or many pet stores will do this testing for free. If ammonia and nitrite are measurable (normal values should be 0 ppm) or nitrates are above 20-40ppm, then you need to increase your frequency of partial (30%) water changes, tank cleaning/maintenance or improve filtration or a combination of all of these.

I should be notified if/when you respond with additional information so we can connect about your red eared slider turtle Ralphie but, in the meantime, I hope this information is helpful and I wish you both the best. Thanks again for posting your question to JustAnswer.com. Sincerely, ***** *****

Customer
Thank you so much for your guidance! I contacted the local vet to see if I should bring him in again for antibiotics but I'm taking all of your great advice and am going to try my best to help the little guy.
You are most welcome! I do hope little Ralphie feels better soon! Sincerely, ***** *****
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