Pet turtles drown if they get stuck underwater and are not able to come out to the surface for breathing air. Turtles can get stuck under water if their legs get wrapped around an underwater plant or tank decoration, or they get stuck under a submerged object. It is also possible for the turtle to drown after choking on debris.
But there is a lot more to the drowning of turtles than just this. And that is what we will discuss in this article. So keep reading…
How Turtles Actually Drown?
Turtles cannot live entirely under the water. They are not fish and do not have gills. They are reptiles with lungs, and they breathe air.
A turtle can hold its breath underwater for a very long time.
Depending on its activity level, a turtle can hold its breath for several hours or longer.
When the turtle is in a resting or sleeping state, it may hold its breath for up to seven hours. Some turtles even hibernate for months.
But it still needs to come to the surface for air occasionally.
If something prevents it from reaching the surface, it can get stuck underwater and eventually drown.
This can happen due to an obstacle that stops the turtle from surfacing for air.
When a turtle gets stuck underwater, it can get agitated and panic. This may cause it to use up its stored oxygen.
And to get oxygen, the turtle may breathe excess water into its lungs. This increases the risk of drowning.
Using up oxygen quickly may also lead to anaerobic respiration, causing the turtle to produce lactic acid in place of the oxygen.
The buildup of lactic acid can become toxic. In these cases, the turtle can asphyxiate and die within minutes.
Besides getting caught into something and panicking, your turtle may also drown if it accidentally flips over near the water and cannot get back up by itself.
Another potential cause is not being able to get out of deeper water.
Some turtles may travel into the deeper water in search of a basking spot and get tired out.
Without any energy to return to the surface, turtles may drown.
Okay! That explains how turtles drown.
But how do you know if a turtle is actually dead after drowning?
How to Know If Your Turtle Is Dead?
If a turtle is inactive for a long time, you might wonder whether it is dead.
Do not turn the turtle upside down if you suspect that it has drowned.
The turtle may have just a little bit of air left in its lungs and turning it over may deprive it of oxygen.
Here are many ways to know if your turtle is dead:
- Dead turtles that have drowned may float to the surface. This is due to the gases that build up after death, making the turtle buoyant. However, some turtles may simply float along the surface because they choose to.
- To check if the turtle is still alive after a suspected drowning, set it on a flat surface. Push and pull on its legs, which may help push water out of the lungs. At the same time, pushing and pulling the legs should cause a living turtle to hiss or retreat into its shell. Turtles rarely like being disturbed, and the stimulation may get a response.
- If the turtle still does not respond to your touch, put on a glove and apply pressure to the area between the tail and cloacal region. Living turtles should respond by trying to escape or extending their heads.
- The odor is another indicator. As a dead turtle begins to decompose, microorganisms that feed on the tissue produce foul gases. If you detect an offensive odor coming from the tank, your turtle may be decomposing.
- If nothing happens after multiple attempts to get your turtle to respond, try placing it back in the water or in a shallow dish. Again, a dead turtle typically floats due to the gases produced by the microorganisms feeding on the carcass. If the turtle sinks to the bottom, it may still be alive. Just remember that it is also possible for the turtle to choose to float so this test is not foolproof.
- When performing these various tests, you should also look for visual clues of life. Turtles can hold their breath for a long time. While their breathing rates are slower compared to humans and warm-blooded mammals, they still need to breathe. Look at the area between the tail and rear legs or between the neck and front legs. You may see small movements as the turtle inhales and exhales. The movements are from the lungs’ pumping.
- If there is no movement, you can try holding a feather directly in front of your turtle’s nose. Even the faintest breath should cause the feather to move. Hold the feather in place for at least ten minutes.
These steps should allow you to determine if your turtle is still alive.
If you are still unsure, as a last resort, visit a local veterinarian.
Alright! Now let’s talk about…
How Long Does it Take for a Turtle to Drown?
Depending on the situation, turtles may spend minutes, hours or months underwater. So it is difficult to say exactly how long it will take for a turtle to drown. However, difficulty in reaching the surface to breathe air is often the cause of drowning.
Turtles tend to come up for air every few minutes. Part of the reason for this is the temperature.
Turtles are cold-blooded, or ectothermic, reptiles.
Cold-blooded reptiles rely on external heat sources to keep their bodies warm.
Their metabolisms are also affected by the warmth of these heat sources.
When the air or water temperature is cold, the turtle’s metabolism slows down.
When the air or water is warm, the metabolic rate increases. With a faster metabolism, more oxygen is needed.
In one study, researchers found that the average turtle can hold its breath for about 35 minutes.
However, the duration depends on the turtle’s metabolism.
At your home, the temperature is often much warmer compared to the turtle’s natural habitat, especially during the day.
That is why your turtle may only spend a few minutes at a time below the surface.
At night, the temperature in your home may drop, causing the turtle’s metabolism to slow and increasing the amount of time that it can survive underwater.
If you stay up late, you may notice that your turtle spends two or three hours underwater.
There are also species of turtles that can hold their breath for up to seven hours at a time.
Hibernation is another way that some turtles may spend longer time underwater.
During the colder months when food is sparse, some turtle species bury their bodies at the bottom of the lake or river where the substrate and waters are cooler.
The cooler temperatures dramatically decrease the turtle’s metabolism and need for oxygen and nutrition.
The turtle can then spend over a month in hibernation.
Now that you know how long it might take a turtle to drown, let’s now talk about…
How Long Does A Turtle Have After Drowning?
A turtle can have a few hours to come back to life after drowning. Drowned turtles can appear dead for a long time but may come back to life after a few hours or even the next day.
So do not panic!
The turtle can still be alive after even 12 hours of drowning.
This is because their body system may just shut down.
Try to revive the turtle if you think your turtle has drowned.
Here are few ways in which you can try to revive your turtle…
How to Revive a Drowned Turtle?
When you think that your turtle has drowned, do not assume that it has already died. It may be unconscious or struggling for air.
Turtles can go without oxygen for several minutes to several hours, depending on the temperature and their metabolism.
Even if it has inhaled excess water into its lungs, it may still have just enough oxygen to keep it alive for a short while.
Remember to never set the turtle on its back in these situations. Flipping it over may eliminate the only air it has left in its lungs.
To try reviving your turtle, remain calm. You should also be prepared to take your turtle to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Here’s what you can do In the meantime to revive a drowned turtle:
- Take the turtle out of the tank and hold it vertically with its head pointed down.
- Grasp it behind the ears near the base of the head and pull to extend the neck.
- With your other hand, grasp the tail. Pull the tail up and point the head down. Water should drip out of its mouth.
- After the water stops dripping, set the turtle on a flat surface.
- Pull the front legs toward you and then push them back. This pulling and pushing action helps pump the lungs.
- Pump the front legs a few times and then repeat with the rear legs. Continue doing this for several minutes. Hopefully, this should dispel the water from the lungs, allowing your turtle to take a big deep breath to regain oxygen. But do remember that even if your turtle starts stirring to life, you should still plan on taking it to the veterinarian.
If the turtle still remains lifeless, there is one more technique that you can try.
- Place the turtle on your palm with its head pointed down and use your other hand to extend its head.
- Swing your arms side to side. This should get rid of any remaining water.
- After performing these steps, contact your veterinarian or visit an emergency vet clinic. Even if you revive it, your turtle will likely need a checkup and oxygen may need to be administered. Delivering pure oxygen can help stimulate the turtle and get it to expel the remaining water from its lungs. One of the reasons to take your turtle to the veterinarian is to rule out the possibility of pneumonia. If bacteria from the water remains in the lungs, the risk of pneumonia is higher and deadly to turtles. Antibiotics can help reduce the threat of pneumonia.
Let’s now talk about some…
Can Baby Turtles Drown?
Yes, baby turtles can drown, just like adult turtles.
The chances of baby turtles drowning are a little more than that of adult turtles because of their weak bodies and inexperience.
The primary reason for baby turtles to drown is the basking dock.
If a baby turtle cannot climb up the ramp and gets tired, it may drown.
Also, baby turtles can drown if you have a large tank with deep water.
In deep water, baby turtles will find it difficult to reach the surface for getting oxygen.
If they cannot get out of the deep water, they will get tired of swimming and eventually drown.
Besides, another reason for drowning is getting stuck underwater in certain parts of the aquarium, like behind a rock, aquarium driftwood, tank decoration, under the plant, or some submerged object.
When your baby turtles cannot release themselves from the obstacle, they become restless and lose air at a higher rate than usual. This increases their chances of drowning.
In addition, baby turtles can drown if they accidentally flip over near the water.
Turtles laying on their back are vulnerable. If they cannot right themselves, it may lead to their drowning.
Other Related Questions
- Can Turtles Drown While Sleeping? It is unlikely that turtles will drown while sleeping. They might drown though if they get stuck underwater and are not able to come out of it to breathe air after they wake up.
- Can Turtles Drown In Too Much Water? Turtles cannot drown in too much water. However, if a turtle goes too deep in the water and has no energy left to come up to the surface, then it can drown underwater.
- Can Red Eared Turtles Drown? Yes, Red Eared Turtles can drown underwater just like any other turtles.