What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a lower respiratory tract disease that can occur in your turtle. Respiratory infections are common in turtles and are impacted by respiratory or systemic parasitism, environmental temperatures, conditions that are not sanitary, disease, malnutrition and a deficiency in Vitamin A. Pneumonia can occur in one of two different forms:
Acute: Comes on suddenly and can lead to the turtle’s death within hours if treatment is not administered right away.
Chronic: The pneumonia will persist over a long period of time.
Due to their ability to handle an anaerobic environment, turtles are able to hide signs of pneumonia until the condition is severe.
A disease of the lower respiratory tract, pneumonia in turtles results from a fungal or bacterial infection and requires immediate treatment.
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Symptoms of Pneumonia in Turtles
If your turtle is experiencing acute pneumonia, he may show respiratory distress to include his gasping and breathing with his mouth open. He may also cough, appear to be disoriented and may even present as hyperactive.
Should your turtle experience the chronic form of pneumonia, you may observe chronic nasal discharge and respiratory distress.
In severe and ongoing cases of pneumonia, septicemia, which is a bacterial infection in the vascular system of your turtle, can develop. Symptoms of septicemia include struggling to breathe, appearing lethargic and uncoordinated, as well as convulsions.
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Nasal Discharge
Turtles can experience pneumonia as a result of bacteria or fungus. In fungal pneumonia, local or diffused granulomas are often seen. In bacterial pneumonia, gram-negative bacteria are most commonly seen and less often, mycoplasma spp, chlamydophila spp and mycobacterium spp are the culprits of the illness.
Causes of Pneumonia in Turtles
Pneumonia can result from a number of infectious diseases. Often, gram-negative bacteria are found in cases of pneumonia; these tend to be opportunistic infections occurring from the same bacteria that is present in a healthy turtle. Anaerobic bacteria can also result in the condition; in addition, turtles can experience fungal pneumonia. Infection with herpesvirus will often make the turtle more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections.
Aeromonas and Pseudomonas spp are often isolated in cases of pneumonia, however many infections are mixed. Infection is more likely in unsanitary conditions, when there are increases in humidity, when the turtle is not getting proper nutrition and/or when he is experiencing a Vitamin A deficiency.
Diagnosis of Pneumonia in Turtles
Should you notice any concerning symptoms in your turtle, you will want to contact your veterinarian, who will conduct an examination of him. The examination may start with the veterinarian observing your turtle before he conducts a physical exam, as this may yield helpful information in understanding what is going on with him. During his observations, your veterinarian will look at the following:
- Overall body condition of your turtle
- Apparent strength
- Whether he is able to dive or float asymmetrically
- Swellings in his ear
- Anything abnormal in his eyes (discharge, squinting, eyes sunken in)
- Nasal discharge
- Difficulty breathing/breathing with his mouth open
- Lameness or unusual use of his flippers
- Dry, flaky skin
Depending upon the results of the observations and physical examination, your veterinarian may consider taking radiographs (with anterior-posterior and lateral views), which can confirm a diagnosis of pneumonia by showing the presence of fluid in his lungs. Your veterinarian may choose to take samples of blood for examination.
Treatment of Pneumonia in Turtles
Should your turtle develop pneumonia, a tracheal wash should be performed before treatment begins if your turtle is able to handle it (sedation is a possibility). If the pneumonia is only impacting one lung, then treatment will focus on that lung. A sterile saline solution can be flushed through a catheter and then drawn back out. Treatment will involve injectable antibiotics, to include enrofloxacin, ciprofloxacin, oxytetracycline and ampicillin. The acute form of the illness has been found to typically be more responsive to treatment than the chronic form.
Any time that your turtle has a respiratory infection he should be kept at the mid to upper end of his optimal temperature. The higher temperature will stimulate your turtle’s immune system and help to muster respiratory secretions. Nebulization therapy may also be helpful.
An underlying Vitamin A deficiency which will require supplementation. Many turtles who experience pneumonia won’t completely recover until their Vitamin A deficiency has been resolved.
Treating fungal pneumonia is particularly challenging and often is not successful. In some cases, granulomatous nodules will require surgery and it may be recommended that Amphotericin B be delivered through a catheter directly into the lung that is affected.
Recovery of Pneumonia in Turtles
Should your turtle develop pneumonia, it is important that you follow the recommendations of your veterinarian (such as ensuring your turtle’s environment is suitable and clean) to help in his recovery. Your veterinarian may recommend follow up appointments in order to check on his condition.