Turtle Septicemia

Septicemia in turtles is bacteria in the blood, that causes infections in the body of your pet turtle. These infections travel through the bloodstream and can cause a number of unwelcome symptoms, it can cause organ damage and if not treated properly, it can be fatal.

What is Septicemia

Septicemia is a blood infection that will ravage through the body of your turtle. There are different bacteria types that can cause septicemia in your turtle, including pneumonia, parasites, and more.

Septicemia can impact the entire body. If you house more than one turtle together, you must isolate the infected turtle, as this can be contagious between tank mates. When the infection makes its way through the body, it takes over the organs, causing organ damage and worse, death.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of septicemia can help you ensure your turtle gets the urgent and immediate veterinary treatment it needs.


Red eared slider pink skin

Pink skin in a red-eared slider

If your turtle has septicemia it can display a number of different signs and symptoms, these include:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Red or pink patches, discoloration on the shell
  • Seizures
  • Weakness


There are a number of causes that can result in septicemia if you are not careful. Some of them cannot be helped, while others could be prevented.


If your turtle has shell rot, mouth rot, or another infection, then it is easy for dangerous bacteria to enter through wounds, making their way into the bloodstream.


It’s not uncommon for turtles to injure themselves moving around their tank. A sharp piece of the substrate or a decoration with a sharp point can all cause an injury to your pet. Injuries can cause infections and in turn, can turn into septicemia.


Parasites are common in most pets, including your turtle. Turtles are very prone to ringworm, which they get by eating the eggs around their environment and from other turtle’s feces. Severe parasitic infections can cause bacteria in the blood.

Poor Water Quality

If your pet is living in dirty water, the water is able to harbor dangerous bacteria and can be dangerous to your pet. This is why you want to ensure your turtle always has access to fresh and clean water.


Stress can be dangerous in turtles, as it lowers their immune system, making them prone to infection and septicemia. Stress can be caused by a number of things, including:

  • poor water quality
  • insufficient food
  • loud noises or vibrations close to the tank
  • a new tank
  • your turtle is new to your home
  • temperatures too low
  • excessive or rough handling

Dirty Habitat

A dirty habitat isn’t only going to harbor dangerous bacteria, but it’s going to stress out your pet and make it sick, which in turn can be fatal to your pet.


If you can get your pet to the vet quickly, the vet can put an aggressive treatment plan in place, which has proven effective on many turtles with septicemia.

It’s important not to ignore the symptoms and ensure you seek veterinary advice immediately and treatment if your pet injures itself or becomes sick.

Treatment is only offered when the condition is caught in the early stages. Severe cases can be fatal with many turtles being put down as a result.

Topical Antibiotics

If your turtle has an injury that is the cause of the bacteria entering the bloodstream, then an antibiotic cream will be given, which must be used as prescribed by the vet.


When your pet has blood poisoning, it’s lethargic and doesn’t eat or drink, which means it could be dehydrating. It’s not uncommon for the vet to put your turtle on fluid therapy to improve hydration.

Oral Antibiotics

The type of antibiotics given is determined by the type of infection your pet turtle has. Oral antibiotics are easy to administer by simply mixing with the food.

Dry Docking

Your vet may recommend dry docking for a while, which is when your pet is removed from the water and allowed to dry in warm conditions. This allows the skin, airways, and shell to dry off to encourage faster healing.


In order to reduce the risk of your pet turtle experiencing septicemia, there are a few things you can do.

If you have just had a scare with this condition or you want to ensure you do what you can to avoid your pet having this condition in the future, here are some of the prevention methods you can use:

Keep the Habitat Clean

It is essential that your turtle’s tank is kept clean at all times. This means doing daily inspections and removing any leftover food, debris, and poop.

Once a week, you will want to replace some of the tank water and provide clean water. Even if the water looks crystal clear, add some clean water, as the water can still hold nitrites and ammonia.

Every two to three weeks you will want to do a complete clean, which involves removing your pet, the substrate, and accessories. Scrub the tank and accessories with a turtle-safe tank cleaner and allow to dry before replacing with fresh dechlorinated water, substrate, accessories, and your pet.

Water Quality

It’s essential to provide your pet with clean and fresh water for swimming and drinking.

For swimming, your pet needs dechlorinated water, while it should be given filtered water for drinking. You can use tap water as long as you use a reliable water dechlorinator, such as the API Turtle Water Conditioner.

Prevent Injury Risk

Ensure you don’t add anything new to the tank without checking it for safety. An ornament with one sharp edge can be dangerous to your pet.

Choose your substrate with care to ensure the pebbles you buy don’t have any sharp edges which can cut your pet and cause an infection.

Parasite Control

Turtles are prone to ringworm, caused by them eating the eggs. Parasites can be harmful to your turtle, targeting the stomach and causing infection or worse, septicemia.

Keep a close eye on your pet’s poop, looking for worms inside the poop. If you see anything, take your pet with a poop sample to the vet for analysis and diagnosis.


Low temperatures can increase your pet’s risk of infection. Ensure you keep your water and basking temperatures at optimum to keep your turtle happy, healthy and comfortable.

In red-eared sliders, for example, optimum water temperatures should be 75ºF to 78ºF with a basking area of 90ºF to 95ºF.

Monitor temperatures using a digital thermometer with remote waterproof probe, enabling you to monitor with effectiveness and accuracy.


Septicemia is dangerous and cannot be ignored. Knowing your pet well, so you can quickly identify when there are signs and symptoms to take note of is the first step to helping ensure your pet always get timely veterinarian treatment.

This condition can be treated effectively when caught early, though prevention is always better than cure.

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