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What are Parasites?

While turtles and tortoises are not prone to as many types of parasites of most mammals, birds, and reptiles, there are multiple types that can lead to serious issues and even death in your turtle if not treated appropriately.

Parasites that can impact turtles include nematodes, tapeworms, flukes and flagellates, among others.

Parasites such as nematodes, tapeworms, flukes and flagellates can infect turtles, causing a variety of symptoms that can lead to serious health issues without treatment.

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Symptoms of Parasites in Turtles

Some of the symptoms your turtle can experience are similar regardless of what parasite they are infected with. For example, should your turtle be infected with nematodes, they may experience weight loss, diarrhea, and in some cases may vomit worms.  If your turtle has a large number of flagellates present in his system, he may experience diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss and passing food that is not digested.

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Passing undigested food

Types

  • Nematodes are a common parasite found in turtles and tortoises. They are similar to the roundworm that infects many species of mammals. 
  • Tapeworms and flukes can also infect your turtle. Both have to find an intermediate host before infecting your turtle, which means that most turtles that are captive and well-cared for do not experience infection. 
  • Flagellate organisms which are protozoans are in numerous healthy turtles, though when high numbers are present they can lead to significant intestinal issues in your turtle. They are microscopic organisms that live in your turtle’s intestinal tract.

Causes of Parasites in Turtles

The majority of problems with parasites in turtles occur when the turtle is kept closely with other turtles or when his housing conditions are not sanitary.

A nematode can infect your turtle when he ingests the tiny eggs of the roundworm that have been left in the environment through the feces of an infected turtle. The eggs will hatch and the larvae will mature. The worms will reside in your turtle’s digestive tract, continuing to increase in size as well as to multiply.

Your turtle can be infected by tapeworms and flukes by ingesting their intermediate host. 

Your turtle may experience an increase of flagellates for the following reasons:

  • Deficiencies in his diet
  • Excessive high sugar fruit intake
  • A diet without enough dietary fiber
  • Turtles of different species in the same environment
  • Overcrowding
  • Overnight temperatures being too high 

Diagnosis of Parasites in Turtles

When it comes to parasites, your veterinarian will likely choose to analyze your turtle’s stool and look at his white blood counts. 

Should your turtle be infected with nematodes, your veterinarian will diagnose him either by getting a visual of the worms in the feces or vomit of your turtle, or through looking at a fecal sample with a microscope.

Tapeworms and flukes can be seen in the feces of your turtle either directly by the veterinarian or during a fecal exam.

Your veterinarian will be easily able to identify flagellates in your turtle through a microscopic examination of his feces. It is important to note that the organisms being present does not necessarily mean that your turtle is experiencing an infection. Your veterinarian will conduct an examination as well in order to determine if they are leading to issues in your turtle prior to administering treatment.

Treatment of Parasites in Turtles

For an infection by nematodes, your veterinarian will likely seek to administer fenbendazole. This is an antiparasitic medication and it will be prescribed in an appropriate dose for your turtle based on his weight.

For tapeworms and flukes, your veterinarian may recommend praziquantel, calculating the proper dose for your turtle based on his weight.

In treating flagellates, the most common medication is metronidazole. Your veterinarian will focus on trying to avoid killing off the good organisms in your turtle’s intestinal tract. After treating your turtle with metronidazole, your veterinarian may recommend feeding your turtle yogurt to bring the good bacteria back into his intestines.

Turtles should never be treated with ivermectin, which is an antiparasitic medication. Though it is very effective, in turtles it can be very toxic and lead to death. 

Recovery of Parasites in Turtles

It is important to follow the recommendations of your veterinarian during treatment of parasites in your turtle. In addition to administering medication, maintaining the housing environment and good nutrition of your turtle will be important in his recovery as well as helping him to avoid future infections. Regular physical examinations as well as checks of his feces will also help in preventing problems with parasites. Any turtle that is new to you should be checked for parasites before being placed with any other turtles.

Parasites Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Dipper
Red-Eared Slider Turtle
5 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

vomiting an diarrhea

Medication Used

non

on friday i was told to put my turtles out side (i have two turtles one female 5mon. an one lil male 5mon.) its was cold.too cold to have them out side so i started to worry as i went to school.They ended up being out side for 2 days becus we whent out of town.when we came home i ran out side to get them in to warmer conditions i fild a lil bag with hot water an used it as a heating pad for both but they were not responsive until 10 min. later i quarantine them both in to seperet tanks an gave a bit of food they both only pecked at the food.but 10 min later the female was eating the food the lil male was on the rock or in the water it eat but min. later it through it back up an just this morning it had dierea.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1604 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. The turtles may have sustained internal damage from being in those temperatures, and should see a veterinarian for supportive care. I hope that they are okay.

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