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What are Mycoplasmosis?

A known cause of rhinitis and upper respiratory tract disease (infection of the nose, nasal sinuses and windpipe) in turtles, mycoplasmosis can be chronic or occur intermittently. The condition will mainly affect the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nasal passages and nasal cavities. Both the mucosal and olfactory epithelia will be damaged, which can impact his sense of smell as well as certain behaviors of your turtle, like foraging and social interaction.

The most common cause of nasal discharge in turtles, mycoplasmosis will mainly affect the upper respiratory tract, to include nasal passages and nasal cavities.

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Symptoms of Mycoplasmosis in Turtles

Initially, mycoplasmosis will start with a clear discharge from the nose of your turtle that may last for weeks. In some cases, the discharge will dry around his nose, forming a white crust and some turtles may blow bubbles out of their nose. Should your turtle be suffering from mycoplasmosis, you may see the following symptoms:

  • Swelling on or near your turtle’s eyelids
  • Discharge from his nose and eyes
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Mucus in the nostrils may cause your turtle to keep his mouth slightly open 
  • Over time you may see a lack of appetite

Turtles may also have the infection without symptoms being seen. In some turtles, the disease can lead to the erosion of the nasal sinuses and cause a chronic infection called sinusitis.

Types

Mycoplasmosis is an upper respiratory tract disease, which will impact the sinuses and nasal area of your turtle. The second type of respiratory infection is lower respiratory tract disease. With lower respiratory tract disease, the trachea and the lungs of your turtle will be impacted.

Should your turtle experience upper respiratory tract disease and it go untreated, lower respiratory tract disease can follow. Symptoms of lower respiratory tract disease include:

  • Your turtle breathing with his mouth open as he is having a hard time pulling in air
  • Using his legs in an effort to pull in air through expansion and contraction of his body
  • A foamy discharge coming from his mouth
  • In cases of pneumonia, particularly if in one lung, your turtle may struggle with swimming and may remain near the water’s surface as he can’t hold his breath.

While herpesviruses and iridoviruses have been linked to respiratory disease in some turtles, when respiratory disease is due to either of those causes, lesions will usually be seen in the mouth of the turtle and there is typically organ system involvement.

Causes of Mycoplasmosis in Turtles

Multiple mycoplasma species have been isolated in regards to mycoplasmosis, including Mycoplasma agassizii and Mycoplasma testudineum sp. The mycoplasma will populate the cells that line the nasal passages of the turtle. When turtles are in close contact with one another they will pass the infection on. The condition is being seen in a greater number of species of turtles, to include gopherus, testudo, geochelone, box turtles, bog, and spotted turtles. It is thought that all terrestrial turtles are likely susceptible.

Diagnosis of Mycoplasmosis in Turtles

Should you notice a runny nose in your turtle, with or without the other symptoms noted, you will want to have your turtle examined by the veterinarian. Runny noses happen for other reasons than mycoplasmosis in turtles, like allergies, a foreign object being stuck in his nose or mouth, or other infections. Because nasal discharge is also a symptom of pneumonia, confirming the cause of your turtle’s runny nose is imperative should he have discharge for more than a few days. Treatment will be much easier should the infection be caught early, before he has lost his appetite.

After observing your turtle and conducting a physical examination, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing may be utilized, along with serologic testing, in order to diagnose your turtle.

Treatment of Mycoplasmosis in Turtles

Mycoplasmosis is very challenging to treat. It is thought that less than 20% of turtles are able to clear the organism, while for the rest, the bacteria will remain in their nasal cavity for years. Its presence means that the turtle will suffer from recurring symptoms annually or when particularly stressed.

It has been found that antibiotics can be effective at treating mycoplasmosis, however there is not an antibiotic that will clear the organism from the turtle’s body. Recommended antibiotics include fluoroquinolones, clarithromycin and oxytetracycline.

Recovery of Mycoplasmosis in Turtles

Should your turtle contract mycoplasma, he will be a carrier throughout his life. This means that he may experience the condition again and again, particularly after anything particularly stressful, like moving to a new home or hibernation.

If your turtle is diagnosed with mycoplasmosis, it is important that you follow the treatment recommendations of your veterinarian so that his condition does not worsen. It is likely that a follow up appointment will be necessary so that your veterinarian can see how your turtle is responding to treatment and ensure he is on the road to recovery.