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how do you treat a respiratory infection in a tortoise?

Treating Respiratory Infections in Tortoises [Home + Vet Solutions]

(Last Updated On: January 27, 2023)

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 the tortoise at home.

If bacteria cause a respiratory infection, a 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 bacterial strains.

Treating a tortoise for respiratory infections at home involves regulating its temperature, giving it occasional soaks, providing a clean and hygienic tank, and a balanced and nutritious diet.

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, like the nostrils, mouth, and windpipe. However, they can spread to the lungs and cause a mucus buildup, 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 the tortoise responds to the drugs, a vet may 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 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, 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 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 permanently damage a tortoise or even cause 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 can’t regulate their body temperature internally, so it 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 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 the tortoise’s bedding is hygienic and dry.

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, making it ineffective at fighting the disease-causing microbes.

Therefore, ensure that your tortoise eats enough healthy food to fight the illness. Proper and adequate nutrition will fortify your pet’s immune system and help combat the infection more effectively.

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

Natural Supplements

Providing all-natural supplements at least once a day strengthens a tortoise’s immune system, thus speeding up the recovery process. Aim for those targeting vitamins A and 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.

The vet may also recommend an intravenous antibiotic to support the treatment of more aggressive respiratory infections. 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 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 relaxes the tortoise, 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 produce a lot of mucus from its nostrils and mouth. 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 slightly 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.