Animal Information

CPR in Turtles and Tortoises. YES! They CAN Choke and Drown!

While turtles and tortoises do not need to breathe very often, they do still require oxygen. We had found Popeye unresponsive last month after an apparent tortoise brawl. After doing CPR for 20 minutes, he came back to life. However, he is still fighting to regain strength. What to do IF and how do you know your turtle needs reviving?

Perhaps the simplest way to determine whether a turtle is dead or is alive is to gently poke or prod him. Most living turtles will move, close their shells, or hiss in response to being disturbed. You can also pull a turtle’s legs or tail very gently because living turtles typically respond to this by withdrawing into their shells or wiggling their legs to free them.

Another technique is to apply gentle pressure to a turtle’s tail and cloacal region with a gloved finger. Most living turtles will react to this type of pressure by trying to escape.

Some may extend their heads when they feel this type of contact. If nothing else elicits movement or signs of life, place your turtle on his back. Most turtles respond to this by frantically trying to right themselves, flailing their legs and extending their necks.

What To Do If Your Turtle Can Be Revived?

  1. Grasp the turtle’s head behind the ears at the base of the skull and extend the neck completely.
  2. Turn it head-down / tail-up and open its mouth. Some water will possibly drip out.
  3. After the dripping stops, place the turtle on a flat surface (belly-down) keeping its neck extended.
  4. Straighten his front legs and pull them straight towards you as far as they can go.
  5. Keeping the legs straight, push them in as far as they will go.
  6. Continue pulling and pushing the arm which helps airflow through the animals’ system.
  7. Take the turtle to the vet so they can administer oxygen.

Could The Turtle Be Choking?

Some turtles and tortoises don’t handle smaller pieces well and end up struggling. This often happens when they pick up multiple small pieces of food and try to swallow them, resulting in choking

Is The Turtle Or Tortoise Drowning?

Because turtles have lungs and breathe air, they can drown. Believe it or not, there are reports of turtles and tortoises drowning in a shallow pan of water.

If you think your turtle has drowned, the most important thing to remember is not to turn the turtle upside-down.

They may have a little air left in their lungs, and turning the turtle upside-down could take away their last chance to live.

Turtles Breath With Thier Butts?

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Turtles breathe with what is called cloacal respiration.

Turtles use their lungs to breathe in oxygen, but when they are underwater they use cloacal respiration.

To accomplish cloacal respiration, the turtles pump water in and out of their pouches, which are called cloacal bursae.

This is the method they use when they are forced to brumate under frozen layers of water for months at a time, with some species such as Painted Turtles.

How Do You Know If It Is Too Late?

Offensive Odors

Like all animals, dead turtles begin to decompose rather rapidly. As microorganisms begin feeding on a dead turtle’s tissues, they begin producing foul-smelling gases. In many cases, the odor is the first clue of a turtle’s demise. It can take a day or more for a dead turtle to begin to smell, and in cool temperatures, it may take longer.

These gases can make a dead turtle buoyant. Accordingly, you can place a suspected dead turtle in a shallow tank of water to see if it floats or sinks. This test is not 100 percent conclusive, as the microorganisms living in a dead, cold turtle may not have produced enough gases to keep the turtle afloat by the time you do the water test.

Additionally, while living turtles usually sink when placed in a tank of water, they can float if they wish to. Use great care when trying this method with terrestrial turtles or tortoises, who often swim poorly and may experience anxiety from being placed in water.

Visual Clues

While turtles can hold their breath for very long periods, and they typically have much slower breathing rates than humans and other endothermic creatures, they must breathe eventually.

You can watch the area between your turtle’s rear legs and his tail, or between his front legs and neck, for subtle pumping movements caused by the movement of the lungs.

If you can’t discern movement, place a feather in front of the turtle’s nostrils and watch for signs that the feather is moving with the turtle’s breathing. Be sure to watch the turtle for an extended period before determining that he is not breathing.

Veterinary Assessment

If you suspect your turtle is dead or dying, consult a reptile-oriented veterinarian. By his experience and training, such a veterinarian is better able to determine the state of your turtle’s health. A veterinarian may prescribe medications or treatment regimens to help improve your turtle’s health if he is still alive.

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  1. Great experience. Which I did not know before. Your article has really benefited me. Which will help keep my turtle beautiful. This is a new idea for me. Thanks

  2. Mine dies today because I left him outside the florida sun for about 30-40 min , I made a small pool that I noticed even if he didn’t stand up he didn’t have water near his body only the bottom , he had an enclosure but it is tooo hot for a red foot tortoise. I am so sad I had him almost 1 year and I wanted him to obtain light from the sun but unfortunately he died.

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