Does My Box Turtle’s Runny Nose Mean He Has a Cold?


Box Turtle Closeup. Make a turtle cold less likely with the right habitat conditions and food.

I can get colds too. Keep me healthy to make a turtle cold less likely
Cropped version of photo by Audrey @ Flickr;
licensed under CC BY 2.0

Box turtles can get respiratory infections, just like you can. So yes, his runny nose could be a sign of a turtle “cold.”

It’s not quite the same cold you get. Technically a cold is a certain kind of viral infection. But many different kinds of viruses, bacteria and even fungi can infect your turtle’s nose and respiratory system.

Symptoms of a Turtle Cold

When your turtle has a cold, her symptoms are very similar to your cold symptoms. These can include:

  • Runny nose or bubbles coming from the nose
  • Swollen eyes or bubbles from the eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing (she may wheeze or breath through her mouth or stretch her neck out with each breath); often caused by fluid collecting in her lungs
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of energy (moving around less than normal)

If you see any of these signs, keep a close eye on your pet and start some home treatments right away. If they don’t get better, or they get worse, see your vet.

Causes of Turtle Colds

Your turtle’s cold is an infection in his respiratory tract. This infection can be from bacteria, viruses or fungi. Usually it’s a bacterial infection (most commonly either Pseudomonas or Aeromonas).

Now, we’re surrounded by germs all day every day, and most of the time those germs don’t make us or our turtles sick. But certain conditions can make it more likely that an infection will take hold in your boxie. These include:

  • Vitamin A deficiency. Cells in the respiratory tract change when there’s not enough of this vitamin. These changes make it hard for them to stop germs from growing.
  • Cold air. If you keep your home cold, it’s especially important to use the right heat lamps. And keep your turtle’s home out of drafts.
  • Malnutrition. Without the right foods, your pet’s immune system may be too weak to fight off infections.
  • Unsanitary habitat. Germs will grow in food or feces left in the habitat. When there’s more germs around, it makes it more likely that they’ll infect your boxie.

All of these things are within your control. No, making sure your pet has a clean home at the right temperature and eats the right food is not a guarantee he’ll never get a cold. But it does make it less likely.

Treat a Cold in a Box Turtle

Many box turtle parents treat mild cold symptoms themselves. Much like a human cold, a turtle cold often just needs a little extra care and some time for your pet to fight it off.

If you have more than one turtle, you’ll want to put the sick one in a hospital cage/isolation tank. Just like humans can easily catch each others colds, so can turtles. Keep the temperature in the hospital tank at the high end of a box turtle’s temperature range.

In general, the recommended temperature gradient for boxies is between 70° F to 80° F, with a basking area around 85° F. So a gradient that’s around 85° F on the warm end and about 75° F on the cool side should work. You can check with your vet too, if you want to be sure.

High temperatures work kind of like a fever in humans. It helps your boxie’s body fight the infection. It also helps keep the mucus thinner, so it’s easier for your pet to clear it out by sneezing or coughing.

Also make sure he’s getting enough UVB exposure and eating a nutritious diet.

Gently wipe off any mucus around his nose and mouth with damp gauze or tissue paper.

If he’s not getting better in a few days, you’ll want to see your herp vet. Your pet might need antibiotics.

A mild cold can turn into pneumonia or even septicemia. These can be fatal, so don’t wait too long to get help.

Your vet can take a sample of the mucus in your boxie’s nose or mouth to see what’s causing the infection. This will help in choosing the right antibiotic. Antibiotics can be injected or turned into a vapor for your pet to breathe.

Your vet may also test to see if your pet has a Vitamin A deficiency. If yes, you may have to give him supplements or cod liver oil. Do not give Vitamin A unless you know he’s deficient. This vitamin is fat soluble, so it collects in the body fat. Too much Vitamin A can cause other problems.

If he’s not eating and losing too much weight, you might also need to force feed him. But only do this with a vet’s recommendation. It’s not easy and a vet can show you how to do it.

Preventing Turtle Respiratory Infections

This is much easier than treating one!

  • Keep your turtle habitat out of drafts.
  • Make sure temperatures are in the right range.
  • Keep humidity levels in the right range.
  • Make sure her diet provides enough vitamin A.

Your pet could still get a cold even if you do everything right. But if her body and immune system are strong, she’s more likely to be able to fight it on her own or with only a little help from you.

Box turtle eating strawberry

And remember, some illnesses are more complicated than others. If you’re not sure about something, or your pet is not getting better, your vet is always the best source of information specific to your pet.



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