Home » Treating Respiratory Infections in Tortoises [At-Home + Vet Solutions]
how do you treat a respiratory infection in a tortoise?

Treating Respiratory Infections in Tortoises [At-Home + Vet Solutions]

Tortoises are prone to respiratory illnesses, which can be life-threatening.

Fortunately, most respiratory illnesses in tortoises can be treated successfully. In severe cases, this will require a vet’s intervention, but there are times when you can care for your ill tortoise at home.

If the respiratory infection is caused by bacteria, your vet will administer antibiotics like Ampicillin, Enrofloxacin, Oxytetracycline, or Ciprofloxacin.

This may be supplemented with antiviral or antifungal medication and nasal drops for more resistant strains of bacteria.

Treating a tortoise at home involves regulating its temperature, soaking it often, providing a clean tank, and balancing its diet with supplements.

Respiratory infections are infectious and can be transmitted through close contact with infected animals.

What To Do If Your Tortoise Has a Respiratory Infection

Untreated respiratory infections in tortoises can cause health complications, such as

  • Respiratory stress
  • Organ damage
  • Death

Most infections begin in the upper respiratory organs such as the nostrils, mouth, and windpipe. However, they can spread to the lungs and cause a buildup of mucus, leading to pneumonia.

According to The Veterinary Journal, most respiratory infections are caused by Mycoplasma bacteria.

You need to check for early signs of respiratory infection, such as:

  • Runny nose
  • Swollen eyes
  • Breathing difficulties

Is A Vet Necessary?

Taking your tortoise for a check-up allows the vet to run lab tests to find out whether your pet is coming down with an infection that’s:

  • Bacterial
  • Viral
  • Fungal

The vet may also perform an X-ray to observe whether there are any physical changes in your tortoise’s lungs. Once the precise cause of infection is known, your vet might prescribe oral antibiotic treatment to clear up the disease-causing microbes.

Some of the antibiotics for treating respiratory infections in tortoises include:

  • Ampicillin
  • Enrofloxacin
  • Oxytetracycline
  • Ciprofloxacin

Depending on how your pet responds to the drugs, your vet may also prescribe antiviral or antifungal medication to support the treatment. In some cases, oral antibiotics alone may not be sufficient to treat a respiratory infection because some microbes are resistant to these drugs.

In this case, the vet might administer a fast-acting injectable antibiotic. These injections are administered at intervals of 48-72 hours to counteract the slow metabolism of a tortoise. The veterinarian may also administer nasal antibiotic drops using a syringe to clear the microbes inside your tortoise’s nostrils.

Remember, a tortoise undergoing treatment for a respiratory infection still carries the disease-causing microbes within its body. So, you need to keep it isolated from other healthy tortoises to minimize the risk of transmission. Otherwise, all of your tortoises may get ill.

The illness may also be re-transmitted to the original tortoise, slowing or preventing its recovery.

how to cure tortoise respiratory infection at home

How To Treat Tortoise Respiratory Infection at Home

If your tortoise shows early signs of respiratory infection, there are ways to promote fast recovery. These steps can be performed at home and are often the aftercare suggestions your vet will recommend.

If the condition worsens or the tortoise doesn’t recover within a week or two, you’ll need to see the vet again. Failure to do so could lead to permanent damage to your tortoise or even death. At-home treatment is best used in conjunction with a visit to the vet.

Temperature Requirements

If your tortoise is exposed to low temperatures for a long time, it’s likely to get respiratory infections.

Tortoises cannot regulate their body temperature internally. Instead, their body temperature fluctuates depending on the temperature in their surroundings. When environmental temperatures drop below the optimal levels, their immunity may be affected, making them vulnerable to infections.

Therefore, to boost your pet’s natural defenses and aid its recovery, you must raise the temperature of its enclosure to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

You should also ensure its basking area maintains a temperature of 93-95 degrees Fahrenheit. This will help regulate the tortoise’s internal temperature and allow its immune system to better fight off the infection.

Clean Enclosure

As the Journal of Clinical Microbiology postulates, environmental factors can significantly exacerbate mycoplasma respiratory infections in tortoises.

Living in unsanitary conditions can trigger latent microbial infections, causing symptomatic illness. This is because damp and dirty bedding provides ideal conditions for harmful fungi to thrive.

If your tortoise inhales the spore of these fungi, it’s likely to develop severe respiratory illnesses. For this reason, you must ensure your pet’s bedding is hygienic and dry at all times.

If your tortoise is recovering from a respiratory infection, keeping its enclosure clean helps prevent secondary infections and speeds up its recovery. 

Daily Warm Water Soaks

While tortoises need regular soaking to stay hydrated and healthy, it is especially important to do so when the pet is recovering from a respiratory illness.

This will help wash away discharge, keep the tortoise hydrated (and thus have a stronger immune system), and aid digestion. All of this works together to speed up recovery.

In particular, soaking your tortoise in warm water at least once a day helps drain excess mucus from its nostrils. This will make it easier to breathe and help prevent reinfection.

Wipe Off Nasal Discharge

The most common symptom of respiratory illness in tortoises is a runny nose.

If your tortoise has an infection, it’ll have mucus dripping from its nostrils and mouth. Make sure you wipe off the mucus regularly using a clean damp cloth to prevent buildup. This allows your tortoise to breathe more easily, thus reducing the strain on its respiratory tract.

Feeding Properly

Contracting a respiratory illness can reduce a tortoise’s appetite and cause it to feed less than it normally does. This can weaken your tortoise’s immune system, thereby making it ineffective at fighting the disease-causing microbes.

Therefore, ensure that your tortoise is eating enough healthy food as it battles the illness. Proper and adequate nutrition will fortify your pet’s immune system and help it combat the infection more effectively.

Provide it with dark, leafy greens and other foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Natural Supplements

Giving your tortoise all-natural supplements at least once a day strengthens its immune system, thus speeding up the recovery process. Aim for those targeting vitamin A, B, and calcium.

Mix the supplements with your tortoise’s food and offer it during meal times.


If you keep more than one tortoise, ensure that the infected tortoise is kept separate from others. Not only does this prevent the transmission of the infection, but it also minimizes stress on the sick tortoise.

Which Antibiotics Are Used to Treat Respiratory Infections in Tortoises?

Some of the commonly used antibiotics for treating respiratory infections include:

  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Enrofloxacin
  • Ampicillin
  • Oxytetracycline

These drugs are given orally during the initial stage of treatment. The recommended dose for a standard oral antibiotic is 5 mg for every kilogram of body weight.

In more aggressive respiratory infections, the vet may also recommend an intravenous antibiotic to support the treatment. These injections are usually administered at intervals of 48-72 hours.

Tortoises have a very slow metabolism, which means the uptake of drug compounds happens gradually. So, injecting too much of the antibiotic too soon causes a buildup of toxic chemicals.

how do tortoises get respiratory infections?

Home Remedies For Tortoise Respiratory Infections

You’re advised to take your tortoise to a vet for examination when you notice the signs of respiratory infection. However, home remedies can help your tortoise recover from a respiratory infection.

Temperature Regulation

You need to ensure the temperature in your tortoise’s enclosure is optimal. Ideally, it should maintain a temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Monitor your tortoise’s enclosure at different times of the day and night, and adjust your heat lamp accordingly if the temperature falls below what is recommended.

This reduces stress and allows the tortoise to relax, thus strengthening its immune system.

Clean Often

Ensure your tortoise is as comfortable as possible even as its body fights off the illness.

The chances are that your tortoise will be producing a lot of mucus from its nostrils and mouth. You should use a clean and damp cloth to wipe off the mucus to prevent a buildup and allow your tortoise to breathe more easily.


Soaking your tortoise in warm water can work wonders when treating respiratory infections at home. A daily soak in heated water allows the mucus to drain from your tortoise’s nostrils, thus preventing nasal blockages.

Ensure the soak temperature of the water is 85 degrees Fahrenheit. As you soak your tortoise, tilt its face down a bit to drain the mucus.

Vitamins and Food

Poor nutrition can weaken a tortoise’s immune system and increase its predisposition to illness. Vitamin A deficiency, in particular, can increase the risk of respiratory infections in tortoises.

As you provide your tortoise with care and attention, ensure it’s also eating vitamin-rich foods to bolster its immune system.

The best sources of vitamin A for tortoises include:

  • Parsnips
  • Collard greens
  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes

Increase the nutritional value of your tortoise’s diet by mixing in all-natural supplements in their food.

If you act quickly and seek guidance from a vet, you should see your tortoise recovering to full health.