Why Is My Turtle Floating [Important Signs]

Your turtle may be floating due to several reasons including normal behavior like basking or resting, or it could be an indication of a health issue such as gas build-up or a respiratory infection.

Ever watched your turtle float lazily in its tank and wondered, “Is this normal?”

Well, in short, yes, it’s completely normal for turtles to float. They’re natural swimmers and sometimes, they just like to float around for fun.

However, if your pet turtle starts to float a little too frequently or in strange ways, it’s time to dive deeper.

In this article, we’ll unpack the topic from the reasons for turtles to float, should you be concerned, possible illness, the causes, prevention strategies, and treatments to ensure your shelled buddy stays healthy. 

Reasons Why My Turtle Floating?

Seeing your turtle float can raise alarm bells, especially if it’s something you’ve not seen before.

But before you start panicking, let’s understand that there could be several reasons behind this. 

Recreational Floating

Turtles are indeed aquatic creatures who love to explore their aquatic environment.

Sometimes, for no particular reason, your turtle may simply float on the surface of the water just for the joy of it.

They might find it relaxing, a little like how we humans enjoy lounging on a pool floaty on a sunny day.

This is generally normal behavior, especially if your turtle is able to swim normally as well and doesn’t always float.

Digestive Problems

Like us, turtles can suffer from indigestion too. If your turtle has eaten too much, or if their diet is not balanced, they might develop gas, causing the turtle to float.

The accumulation of gas in their digestive system can push the turtle towards the water surface.

You might even notice that your turtle releases gas bubbles occasionally while they’re floating.

If this happens frequently, it might be time to reevaluate their diet and feeding habits.

Respiratory Issues

One of the common reasons why your turtle is floating could be due to a respiratory infection.

Turtles suffering from respiratory disease may find it harder to dive and could start to float at the surface more often.

If your turtle is floating on one side or if you see your turtle floating and also notice a discharge from its nose or mouth, it’s time to consult a vet.

Shell or Bone Diseases

Your turtle may also float if they’re dealing with shell or bone diseases, which can disrupt their balance and make them float.

These diseases can be caused by poor nutrition, lack of UV light, or unsuitable water conditions.

Changes in Water Temperature

Turtles are ectothermic, meaning they can’t regulate their body temperature like we do. Instead, they depend on their environment to warm up or cool down.

If you notice your turtle floating at the surface, they may be trying to get closer to a heat source, like a UV lamp.

Make sure your turtle’s habitat has a proper heat gradient, so they don’t need to float around to maintain their body temperature.

Improper Habitat Conditions

Finally, the condition of your turtle’s habitat can also cause the turtle to float.

For instance, if the water temperature is too low, your turtle may float in an attempt to stay warm.

Similarly, if the water quality is poor due to a lack of filtration, it can lead to health issues which may result in your turtle floating.

Why Are Baby Turtles Floating?

If you’ve seen your baby turtle floating on the water’s surface, it might seem adorable, but it can be concerning.

Baby turtles, just like their adult counterparts, sometimes float around for fun.

However, if you notice that your baby turtle is floating excessively, it could be a sign that something’s wrong.

For instance, if the water temperature is not suitable for them, baby turtles might float in an attempt to get closer to a heat source.

Remember, your little pet turtle needs the right conditions to thrive.

How to Check If My Turtle Has Floating Problems

A floating turtle doesn’t always signal a problem, but if your turtle is suffering from constant floating, it’s time to pay closer attention.

Unusual Floating Patterns

It’s essential to familiarize yourself with your turtle’s regular behavior. Not every turtle will float the same way.

Some might float occasionally for fun or to bask near the UV light, while others might not float much at all.

However, if you notice that your turtle starts to float frequently or if it cannot submerge itself in the water, this could indicate a problem.

Floating Sideways or Upside Down

If your turtle is floating sideways or if your turtle is floating on its back, this is a cause for concern.

Turtles should be able to control their buoyancy, and these positions can indicate that something is off with their health.

When a turtle is floating on its side, it could be due to gas build-up or even a sign of a respiratory infection.

If your turtle is floating upside down, it’s an immediate red flag and should be addressed with a vet as soon as possible.

Behavior and Appetite Changes

A floating turtle is not necessarily an ill turtle. However, if you notice changes in behavior like lethargy, loss of appetite, or if you see your turtle flipping, it might be a signal that your turtle is suffering from a health issue.

Respiratory Symptoms

Another sign to look out for is any indication of respiratory distress.

If your turtle starts floating at the surface more than usual and is also showing signs of breathing difficulties—like wheezing, gasping, or frequent opening of the mouth— it’s an indicator that your turtle is suffering from a respiratory problem.

Physical Appearance

Check your turtle’s physical appearance.

If your turtle seems to be floating more than usual and also appears swollen or bloated, this could indicate a gas problem.

Similarly, any discoloration or unusual spots on the shell could hint towards a shell disease, which might be causing your turtle to float.

Is It Normal for My Turtle to Float?

While turtles like to float around for fun, constant floating isn’t a normal behavior.

Turtles in the wild, as well as captive turtles, can control their buoyancy and will usually rest at the bottom of their habitat or bask on a rock rather than float aimlessly.

Floating due to gas or respiratory disease is a sign that your turtle needs medical attention.

Why Is My Turtle Floating Sideways?

If you’ve seen your turtle floating sideways, this could be due to gas build-up or a respiratory infection.

The gas can push your turtle, causing it to float sideways.

The same can happen with a respiratory disease, which may cause the turtle to float due to inflammation and fluid build-up.

Why Is My Turtle Floating on Their Backs or Upside Down?

This is where things start to get serious. If your turtle is floating upside down or on its back, it’s a red flag.

Turtles are not like dogs—they should not be on their backs.

If you see your turtle floating in such a position, it could be a sign of severe health problems, such as a serious respiratory infection.

Turtles Floating Due To Gas Problem

Gas problems in turtles can lead to them floating unusually. Here’s more on what to look for, the causes, how to prevent it, and what treatment involves.

Symptoms

Turtles with gas problems often have a bloated appearance, floating at the surface or floating on their backs, unable to completely submerge themselves in the water.

They might also be seen floating tilted towards one side. In some cases, you might notice your turtle releases bubbles of gas in the water.

Causes

Gas build-up in turtles can occur for a number of reasons.

Overeating or eating too quickly can cause gas, as can a diet that’s high in certain types of foods.

Turtles are messy creatures by nature, and if they’re kept in a habitat that isn’t cleaned regularly, the accumulation of waste can also lead to gas issues.

Another cause for your turtle to float due to gas can be an underlying health issue, such as a digestive or bacterial infection.

Prevention

To help prevent gas problems, make sure your turtle has a balanced diet and try to avoid overfeeding.

Regularly clean their habitat to keep it free from food waste and feces, and provide an ample space for them to swim and exercise.

Make sure that your turtle has access to UV light and that the water temperature is kept consistent, as these factors can influence digestion.

Treatment

If you suspect your turtle is floating due to gas, you should consult with a vet as soon as possible.

They can conduct an examination and possibly some tests to confirm the cause of the problem.

If your turtle’s gas is due to overfeeding or diet, your vet might recommend a change in feeding habits. If a bacterial infection is suspected, antibiotics may be prescribed.

Turtles Floating Due To Respiratory Infections

A respiratory infection can have a significant impact on your turtle’s health and behavior, including causing them to float. Let’s look at the symptoms, causes, preventative measures, and treatments for respiratory infections in turtles.

Symptoms

If your turtle is floating on its side or consistently floating at the surface, it might be a sign of a respiratory infection.

Other symptoms include a discharge from the nose or eyes, wheezing or gasping for air, and a reduced appetite.

Turtles with respiratory infections often appear lethargic and may show less interest in their surroundings. In severe cases, the turtle may be floating upside down.

Causes

Respiratory infections in turtles are usually caused by bacteria, and poor living conditions can make your pet more susceptible.

These conditions can include incorrect water temperatures, inadequate UV light, poor diet, and unsanitary living conditions.

Stress can also weaken a turtle’s immune system, making them more susceptible to infections.

Prevention

To help prevent respiratory infections, it’s crucial to ensure your turtle’s habitat is well-maintained.

This includes maintaining proper water temperature and cleanliness, providing an ample basking area with UV light, and offering a balanced diet.

Minimizing stress for your turtle is also essential. This means avoiding overcrowding and handling your pet only when necessary.

Treatment

Respiratory infections are serious and can become life-threatening if left untreated.

If you notice your turtle floating unusually and showing symptoms of a respiratory infection, consult a vet immediately.

Antibiotics are usually necessary to treat respiratory infections in turtles, and these should only be administered under the guidance of a veterinary professional.

Do Turtles Float When They Die?

It’s a common misconception that dead turtles float. However, that’s not usually the case.

Unlike fish, dead turtles do not float. They tend to sink to the bottom of their habitat.

So, if you see your turtle floating, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s passed away. It’s more likely to be a sign of a health issue that needs immediate attention.

Should You Worry About Your Turtle Floating?

While it’s normal for turtles to occasionally float around for fun, excessive or constant floating, especially when combined with other symptoms, is a reason for concern.

If your pet turtle is floating and showing signs of distress, you should get it checked out immediately.

What To Do If Your Turtle Starts to Float

Spotting your turtle floating unusually can be concerning, but don’t panic – it’s important to approach this calmly and systematically.

Observe Their Behavior

If your turtle starts to float, first take some time to observe its behavior.

Is it showing any signs of discomfort?

Is it floating on its side, or does it seem to struggle when it tries to submerge itself in the water?

Remember, turtles are aquatic animals and they do enjoy a bit of a float occasionally.

If the floating seems persistent or is accompanied by other concerning signs, it may be time to take action.

Check Habitat Conditions

Examine the conditions of your turtle’s habitat. Make sure the water temperature is appropriate for your turtle species, and that the UV light is functioning properly.

Check if the water is clean and the tank is not overcrowded. Here is our post on how to keep turtle tank water clear.

An improper living environment can often be the cause of health problems, including causing your turtle to float.

Review Their Diet

A quick review of your turtle’s diet could be helpful. Have you introduced any new food items recently?

Have you been feeding your turtle more than usual?

Sometimes, dietary changes or overfeeding can cause gas problems which might push your turtle to float.

Monitor For Other Symptoms

Keep an eye out for additional symptoms. For example, if your turtle is floating and also has a nasal or eye discharge, it might be suffering from a respiratory infection.

Similarly, if your turtle is floating on its back or upside down, this could indicate a more serious problem.

Consult a Vet

If your turtle’s floating behavior continues, or if it’s accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it’s time to consult a vet.

They can perform a thorough examination and advise on the appropriate treatment if necessary.

My Experience When My Turtle Got A Respiratory Infection

To illustrate how important it is to take action when you notice your turtle floating, let me share a story.

I had a charming female turtle, a little quieter than her male turtle counterparts.

One day, she started to float in the tank. Although a floating turtle is not always a cause for concern, she was also floating sideways and seemed weaker than usual.

Initially, I thought it was just being playful, but after a few days, she hadn’t improved.

By the time she was taken to the vet, she was diagnosed with a severe respiratory infection.

Despite the vet’s best efforts, it was too late. It’s heartbreaking to lose a pet, so please don’t delay if you suspect something’s wrong with your turtle.

So, in a nutshell, while seeing your turtle float in the water can sometimes be a part of their natural behavior, constant or peculiar floating is not normal and should not be ignored.

If in doubt, always consult a vet. Because even though turtles tend to be hardy creatures, they still need our care and attention.

About David Nitta

I am a lifelong lover of turtles and have dedicated years of research to understand and care about this wonderful creature. I regularly post blogs, mostly from what I read and my own experience, covering everything from turtle care, health, feeding habits, habitat setup, and so much more.