Can Turtles Drown? | Learn How To Save A Drowned Turtle

Can Turtles Drown? If you have ever been able to perform scuba diving, you can see turtles swimming inside the blue ocean. Like whales, turtles can not breathe underwater, but they can hold it for long, so they have to come out of the water to breathe. From this, you can infer that they can drown if they do not come out of the water after a specific time. 

Many people believe that turtles breathe inside the water, but it is false because they inhale oxygen through their lungs, unlike fishes who respirate from their gills. Turtle owners frequently question, “can pet turtles drown”?. Yes, they can when they get themselves entangled in the plants and decorates inside the turtle aquarium.

What Are The Reasons For Turtle Drowning?

Turtles swim a lot, but they do not live in water. They are not aquatic animals like fishes, so they intake oxygen from their lungs rather than gills. Due to their ability to hold their breath for long, they can stay inside the water for a large interval.

How long do turtles breathe underwater? It depends on how much activity they perform inside the water. When turtles are just resting in the water, they can hold their breath for hours due to inactivity. You will be surprised to know that some turtles live without eating and drinking for months while hibernating. 

To breathe, they need to come up to the water top to inhale air to avoid drowning. If something hinders them from getting out of the water, it will result in drowning turtles. Mainly it happens when they get entrapped in the water plants and herbs.

When turtles get entangled in something inside the water, they panic and try hard to free themselves. It causes the turtles to utilize all the oxygen in them, forcing them to inhale water. Their bodies start to make lactic acid in this event which can be toxic in this situation, and the turtle will die within minutes.

Other than this, turtles can drown if they walk on rocks near water and get slipped and accidentally go into the water. Sometimes turtles go deep inside the water, searching for a basking point, but they fail to reach the spot and become tired. In this way, they can not come out of the water because their energy level does not allow them to move up.

How To Know A Turtle Is Dead In The Water Due To Drowning?

If your turtle is not moving and is in the water for too long, you may think it is dead. Never turn your turtle upside down if you doubt it is dead. By doing so, you will deprive the limited oxygen left in your turtle long cause it to die. The following methods help you identify if your turtle is dead inside the water. 

  • The corpse of the turtle will come out of the water. It will start to float because of the gasses built up after it dies. You can not be 100% sure if you see a turtle floating over the water because turtles do so to enjoy themselves. 
  • Take the turtle out of the water and put it on flat ground to observe its motion. You can pull and push its legs to see the reaction. Alive turtles do not want to be touched, so they react and retreat into the shell.
  • The cloaca is a sensitive part of a turtle’s body and is protected by the turtle’s tail. You can apply pressure on it to make the turtle respond. In response, it will try to escape or move its head rapidly.
  • The smell is another indicator that the turtle is no more. Microorganisms inside the turtle start to produce foul gases when it is dead. You can sense an offensive odor coming out of the turtle after you have put it out of the water.
  • As it has been mentioned, dead turtles float on water. You can check that by putting the turtle in the turtle tank. If it floats, then your turtle may be dead. Again I am saying that it is not foolproof because a turtle may be floating according to its own will.
  • You should also check whether your turtle is breathing or not, but it is a time-consuming test as turtles are capable of holding their breath for longer periods. Their breathing rate is low compared to humans and other animals. Notice the movement between the tail and back legs due to the inhale and exhale of oxygen.
  • If you did not get to know if your turtle is dead or not, then you can move the feather on the turtle’s nose. Even the fainted turtle will respond to this treatment. Do that for a minimum of 10 minutes. If the turtle gives no reaction, then it is not alive.

How Long Does It Take For Turtles To Drown?

It is difficult to answer how long turtles take to drown because they can hold their breath for minutes, hours, and even months, depending on the situation. Turtles drown because they can not get out of the water when their body demands them to inhale oxygen. As they are cold-blooded animals, they come out of the water to breathe fresh air. 

Unlike warm-blooded creatures like humans, reptiles, including turtles, rely on an external source to heat their bodies. To keep their metabolism optimal, turtles have to get out of the water to warm themselves as the water temperature is a bit cooler than the water turtles need. So, their metabolism slows down, and they require less oxygen than normal. 

While basking, turtles trying to get as warm as possible because they have recently come out of water. Similarly, their metabolism rate speeds up, resulting in more oxygen intake. A recent study shows that turtles can hold their breath for 35 minutes underwater.

Your turtle enclosure is warmer than turtles’ habitat in the wild, so they spend their marginal time in the water. The temperature of the surroundings is hot, causing the turtle to breathe frequently. During the night, the temperature goes down, and turtles can hold their breath for longer periods due to their slow metabolism.

Some turtles go into hibernation inside the water during winter and remain inactive till spring arrives. While hibernating, their metabolism is near zero, so they do not demand any food, water, and air during this time. From this, it is clear that turtles can live in water for months without breathing.

How Long Do Turtles Stay Alive After Drowning?

Turtles drowned have some hours or even a day to get back to life. You can think of drowned turtles dead, but in reality, they are alive. Due to drowning, their metabolism is shut down, so do not worry because you can revive it even after a few hours.

can turtles drown

How Do You Save A Drowned Turtle?

If your turtle gets drowned, do not consider it dead before thoroughly inspecting it because it can be in a coma due to less oxygen left in the body. Depending on the temperature and the turtle’s body metabolism, it can stay alive without oxygen for a few minutes to hours. Even if water enters turtles’ lungs, it can remain active for a while.

In this situation, please do not put the turtle on its shell as it results in deprivation of the remaining air in their lungs. Do not panic if you want to review your turtle. Be ready to take your pet to the vet for inspection as soon as possible. The following steps will help you to revive a turtle at home:

  • Take your turtle out of the water and hold it with both hands in a vertical position where its head is downward.
  • Stretch the neck by grasping and pulling its head near its ears. 
  • Use your second hand to grasp its tail and ensure the head is down. It helps your turtle to puff out water from its lungs
  • When you see that water is not dripping out of the turtle’s mouth, then place it on a flat surface
  • Extend the front legs of your turtle towards you and then push them back. By doing so, you will enable its lungs to start pumping air again.
  • Pump the front and rear legs for several minutes to ensure that the lungs are puffed out with every drop of water. It allows that turtle to breathe again and get back to life.
  • If these techniques do not work, you can contact the vet to examine your pet turtle deeply.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can Red Eared Sliders Drown?

Red Eared Slider Turtles are common sea turtles with a tendency to remain in the water most of the time. Like any other turtle, they must come out of the water to breathe because they inhale air from their lungs. If they can not come out of the water, they will drown because of the shortage of oxygen.

Can Sea Turtles Drown?

Sea Turtles’ natural habitat is water, and they can hold their breath underwater for the longest among all species of turtles. The question is, do they drown as well? Yes, they do drown. Sea turtles drown when they get stuck into fishnets or herbs, but they do not die and go into a coma. There is a 50% chance of their revival in these scenarios.

Can Turtles Drown While Sleeping?

Turtles go into the water for swimming and recreation, but when they have to sleep, they get out of the water. There are less chances that turtles will sleep under the water and drown. Usually, when they drown, they get into nets, herbs, and other things inside the water.

Final Words

Can Turtles Drown? Yes, turtles can drown. We know turtles spend a large fraction of their time in the water, but they can not breathe in it because they do not have gills. Once they fall into the water, they are not able to come out because they will be unable to float back actively.

A good diet, a warm environment along with turtle tank water filtration can give your pet a healthy and happy life. Although turtles can live and even thrive in an aquarium, they can drown if the owner does not keep their turtle tank clean or they provide it with enough oxygen.

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Hey, I've done my Ph.D. in Marine Biology. I'm a turtle enthusiast and have been owning turtles for the last 22 years and dedicated to sharing my experience to help you in pet turtle upbringing.