Why Do Turtles Float? + Why They Float On Their Backs & Sideways

Image of a floating turtle

Turtles are charming creatures with complex bodies. So, there are certain things that you need to be careful about. A turtle floating in water is one concern that needs immediate attention. Otherwise, it may prove fatal. You might have sometimes seen your turtle floating in your aquarium. But is it normal? Why do turtles float?

Turtles usually float in water due to gastrointestinal problems, such as gas. The accumulated gas is not a severe issue as turtles can recover quickly. However, turtles sometimes float due to respiratory infections. This can lead to pneumonia, which can make turtles float abnormally in the water.

Turtle floating in water is not something to be taken casually. It can be due to simple reasons such as gas, or it can even be due to some severe respiratory infection. Let’s now see all the possible reasons due to which a turtle can float…

What Causes Turtles To Float?

Sometimes turtles float on the surface of the tank while sleeping, using their inflated throat as a flotation aid. If you find that your turtle is floating, you need to find out why it is floating. The best way to confirm this is by pushing the turtle a little in the water. If your turtle floats right back like a balloon, it is suffering. There is something wrong with your turtle that needs immediate attention.

Your turtle can float either due to gas or due to a severe respiratory infection leading to pneumonia. Let’s understand both the cases in detail.

Why Turtles Float Due To Gas?

Gas is the common reason for a turtle to float. If gas gets accumulated in the turtle’s body, it will become buoyant. You will then find the turtle floating or tilted sideways.

Gas can get accumulated due to certain medications or due to the consumption of some newly introduced food in the turtle’s diet. It is not a serious issue, and it gets rectified on its own most of the time.

Although floating due to gas accumulation is not a severe condition for pet turtles, it can be fatal to turtles in the wild. A turtle in the wild has access to a wide variety of food in the water. Gas mainly gets built up in the turtle’s body if it consumes marine debris. The debris causes indigestion by blocking its gastrointestinal tracts.

The unreleased gas makes the turtle float on the water. The turtle will then find it challenging to dive for food that is lower in the water. Lack of food intake or starvation can prove catastrophic to its health. Moreover, a floating turtle is more vulnerable to predators like sharks or whales as it becomes easy prey.

Why Turtles Float Due To Respiratory Infections?

Respiratory infections can cause turtles to float in water. If you notice your turtle floating on the top of the tank, it is a clear indication that your turtle is sick. It is suffering from respiratory problems and needs your immediate care.

Just like humans, turtles breathe air through their lungs. Respiratory infections arise in turtles due to viruses, bacteria, or fungi that go into the lungs and make turtles sick.

The initial symptoms that you can look out for detecting respiratory infections in your turtle include excess mucus in the mouth and nasal cavity. You can even notice some bubbles coming out from your turtle’s mouth or nose.

Turtles can also suffer from respiratory infections due to unfavorable habitat. Poor diet, lack of nutrition, lack of heat and UV light, and poor enclosure hygiene are some of the main reasons that can lead to respiratory infections.

If proper care and medication are not given in the initial stages, respiratory infections can lead to more serious issues like pneumonia. In the advanced stages of respiratory infections, your turtle will start to float abnormally in the water and will be unable to submerge itself in the water.

Your turtle will then become lethargic and will have swollen eyes. It will gasp for air as more and more fluid accumulates in its lungs.

Alright! Now that you know respiratory infections can prove to be disastrous, you must be wondering about the various steps that can be taken to prevent them.

Related Further Reading:

What Steps Can Be Taken To Prevent Respiratory Infections?

Respiratory infections can be fatal in advanced stages. So, it is better to take proper care of the turtle from the get-go. Prevention is always better than cure!

We have already seen that a respiratory infection can occur due to unbalanced nutrition and lack of heat and UV light. So, you need to diligently follow the below steps if you notice any warning signs of a respiratory infection in your turtle:

  • Vitamin A is vital for the prevention of respiratory infections. You can include foods that contain Vitamin A in your turtle’s diet. Foods such as cooked carrots, sweet potatoes, and dark green leafy vegetables are high in Vitamin A. These foods can be a part of your turtle’s everyday diet.
  • There should not be any drafts of air entering your turtle’s enclosure.
  • The aquarium water temperature should be warm. Respiratory infections develop in cold weather. Hence the water temperature should not fall below 50°F at any point.
  • Along with temperature, humidity plays a vital role in preventing respiratory infections. You can cover the top of your aquarium with a towel to increase humidity. The humidity should be close to 75%.
  • UV light is another essential factor. You can keep the UV light on for about 10 to 12 hours a day. Besides, basking outdoors once or twice a week for about 30 to 60 minutes is also beneficial.

Please note that the steps mentioned above are to prevent respiratory infections from occurring. However, if you find your turtle sick and suffering, you should not take any risk. It is always advisable to consult a veterinarian for your turtle’s well-being.

Why Do Turtles Float On Their Backs?

Turtles usually do not float on their backs unless something is wrong. So, if a turtle is on its back for a prolonged duration, it is a cause of concern. If you find your pet turtle floating on its back on numerous occasions, it needs to be taken to a veterinarian for a check-up.

On the other hand, if your turtle’s behavior and appetite are normal, its habitat might be the problem. Turtles float on their backs either due to respiratory infections or due to aquarium issues.

Turtles can suffer from severe respiratory infections due to deficiency of Vitamin A. In such scenarios, you may find your turtle swimming sideways, which will result in the turtle flipping over. In case of respiratory infections, your turtle will find it challenging to stay buoyant in the water and will flip over on its back.

Another reason for your turtle to float on its back is the aquarium setup. If your aquarium setup is incorrect, it can cause your turtle to flip over. A turtle usually needs ample space in the aquarium to swim around. So, you need a large aquarium. Also, the water depth is another thing to be taken care of. The water level in your aquarium should be deeper than the width of your turtle. Otherwise, your turtle’s chances of flipping over will be more, and it will find it difficult to right itself.

Apart from the respiratory infections and aquarium issues, another reason for your turtle to float on its back is aggressive tankmates. If you have an aquarium with multiple turtles, you may find one of your turtles flipping over frequently. This will particularly happen when you have a couple of male turtles and a single female turtle in your aquarium.

Your male turtles will then fight over the female turtle during the breeding season. The aggressive and strong male turtle will tend to flip over the weaker turtle. Also, the female turtle may get flipped over on its back in the process.

Apart from the turtles floating on their backs, you might have even seen your turtle floating sideways. So, let’s now talk about what causes turtles to float sideways.

Related Further Reading:

Why Do Turtles Float Sideways?

Turtles floating sideways can be disastrous sometimes. A turtle may tilt or lean sideways due to gastrointestinal problems. Gas is the main reason for a turtle to float sideways. This is not a major concern and is expected. As soon as your turtle releases the gas, it will be fine and will right itself without much difficulty. You can also seek medical advice and give your turtle the prescribed antibiotics. Your turtle will then be fine.

On the other hand, if you consistently observe your turtle bobbling sideways, it is a significant concern and can prove to be lethal. If you find your turtle floating sideways and it is not able to submerge itself in the aquarium water, it may be suffering from advanced stages of a respiratory infection.

There are high chances that your turtle may be suffering from pneumonia. Pneumonia is primarily caused if your turtle is exposed to cold water or kept in an unheated tank. Even the deficiency of Vitamin A can cause infections and lead to pneumonia if it is not treated immediately.

Do Turtles Float When They Die?

Just like any other animal, turtles decompose after their death. Gases form in their dead body, and they emit a foul odor. Turtles do not float immediately on the water after their death. Only after the gases form in their body, their buoyancy increases, and they float.

It takes about 16 to 32 hours for a dead turtle to float in the water. After its death, gases accumulate in its body, and it starts to rot and float.

Interesting Further Reading:

Parting Thoughts

A turtle floating in water is not something to be taken lightly. It can float due to gastro problems, such as gas. This can be treated at home without much worry.

However, if your turtle floats on the top of the tank, it is not a good sign at all. It may be due to a respiratory infection that is troubling your turtle. This needs immediate care and medication before it reaches advanced stages.

Respiratory infections can be prevented by taking the steps mentioned above in this article. If you still think that your turtle is not well, you should consult a veterinarian.