Respiratory infections or pneumonia in turtles can be secondary to environmental conditions such as sub-optimal temperature, or environmental irritants though there are infectious agents that can cause respiratory infections, such as bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses.
Clinical signs might include oral or nasal discharge, bubble blowing, sneezing, open mouthed breathing, abnormal body posture, increased respiratory sounds like gurgling or wheezing, crusted nares (nostrils), open mouthed breathing or neck stretching. In turtles, you might also see exaggerated movement of the limbs, neck and head associated with each breath, which in a normal turtle is very subtle. If the lungs are consolidated or filled you may see listing in an aquatic turtle, e.g,. floating with one side up and one down. Turtles with a respiratory infection may also show systemic signs of illness such as lethargy (depressed activity or energy level), inappetence (depressed appetite), shallow or open-mouthed breathing.
Difficulty breathing or abnormal respiratory sounds could be caused by other conditions such as mechanical obstruction of the airways, nares or choanae with material, like pus, mucous or cage substrate or by abscesses in the mouth or tongue, hyperthermia, or exposure to toxins. So appropriate treatment depends a lot upon the examination by a trained veterinarian to find the cause of the problem.
Because respiratory infections and other disorders that present with similar clinical signs in turtles are potentially serious and life threatening, it is recommended that you make an appointment with a local reptile veterinarian. They will perform an examination and will probably recommend imaging, such as an x-ray, to evaluate the turtle’s lungs to look for signs of pneumonia and may prescribe oral or injectable antibiotics. With turtles with pneumonia, sometimes nebulization treatment is recommended (medication is administered in a cool mist via a device called a nebulizer).
To help find a local veterinarian with reptile experience, here is a useful website you can use to search for a local reptile veterinarian. These veterinarians are active members of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, which means they have interest and experience in treating reptile patients:
(please note this site may not work on older browsers like Safari)
Please note that since you are outside the US, you will need to choose Advanced Search.
Advanced Search: Step 1 of 2, Member status
Select/toggle honorary member, life member, new grad, active veterinarian, and associate.
Advanced Search: Step 2 of 2
Use the drop down menu in Country to select your country. Press Search.
In the meantime, while you are waiting for your turtle’s vet appointment, there are things you can do to help support your pet. It is extremely important to make sure that the environment is pristine, cleaned of waste, and appropriate temperature for your species of turtle. Having an easy to ascend basking area is important. In a semi-aquatic set-up, having sufficient humidity is not typically the problem, but having air that is too humid can be. So, making sure there is adequate airflow in the enclosures (and the room) is a good idea.
For aquatic turtles, it’s important to make sure their water is clean as elevated levels of waste can also predispose a turtle to a respiratory or skin infections. The best way to check if water quality is good is by testing the water for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels with an aquarium testing kit. Some pet shops will do free water testing but that isn't convenient especially if you need to do repeated testing. Home options for water quality testing in the UK include Interpet's Easy Test Complete Aquarium Dip Test Kit or King British's 6 in 1 Water Test Strips for around £12-15 per bottle. The strips test for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH and water hardness (KH and GH), so these would be your best value.
If ammonia and nitrite are measurable (normal values should be 0 ppm) or nitrates are above 20-40ppm, then you need to increase your frequency of partial (30%) water changes, tank cleaning/maintenance or improve filtration or a combination of all of these.