info on parasites in turtles tank

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Symptoms of parasites

Parasites are quite common in wild caught chelonians, and yes even captive bred and born turtles. The most common causes of parasites, worms, etc.. come from unclean water sources in which your turtle lives in.

In the wild many turtles live with few ill effects caused by the internal parasites that they might be harboring. Unfortunately the stress of captivity (lowers the immune systems response), and small enclosures that cause the turtles to live in parasite contaminated water and substrates thus possibly re-infecting themselves over and over again can cause the parasites inside them to multiply at a faster rate than they would if the animal were living in natural conditions in its native habitat.

Reptiles can also pick up some parasites from eating food items that contain parasites. I\'m quite sure they eat food items in the wild that have parasites in them, but again the conditions of captivity can create an environment that causes the parasites to multiply much more easily.

Signs and symptoms of parasitic infection
Poor to no appetite (anorexia),
weight loss
No weight gain or growth seen in an Chelonian that appears to be eating well,
diarrhea or loose and frequent bowel movements
Lethargy (inactivity, sleepiness, not very alert, dull eyes).
A combination of several of the above symptoms is usually seen, and symptoms can range from being fairly mild- slight decrease in appetite and loose stools, to quite severe- extreme lethargy and dehydration caused by frequent diarrhea.

I believe that untreated parasitic infection is one of the leading causes of death in newly acquired turtles.

It is not uncommon for Turtles to have more than one type of parasite infection at a time ... perhaps nematodes and flagellates, and that is why our reptiles are often given doses of both Panacur and Flagyl at the same time.

Common Turtle Parasites
Nematodes: Generally, Nematodes are round in cross-section, are longer than wide, and are unsegmented. They come in many sizes, from microscopic to a yard in length. Nematodes are a significant cause of disease in turtles and tortoises. For every organ system in the body, there is probably a Nematode that lives there, or at least passes through. Though, they are in the same Class, Nematodes have extremely varied life cycles. Some require intermediate hosts, while others are facultative parasites. Some lay eggs, and others bear live larvae.

It is quite common to refer to the Class of Nematodes as Roundworms. This is a bit confusing since the term is used when referring to spaghetti-like intestinal worms. As a matter of fact, there are over 500 kinds of Roundworms or Nematodes, mostly infecting the intestines and stomach, but can migrate into the lungs and other body tissue.

Hookworms: Hookworms are small, thin worms and are difficult to see in the animals feces. They also have a direct life cycle, which poses significant risk to the animal. Hookworms latch onto the intestinal wall and live on blood, contributing to anemia, weakness, wasting away, and bloody diarrhea. The tortoise may die due to blood loss and shock where heavy infestations are present.

Roundworms: Roundworms are long spaghetti-like worms that can also cause serious problems in tortoises and turtles. They have an indirect life cycle. They can cause the animal to appear fat, when in fact the animal may be malnourished, and can cause acute diarrhea. Roundworms can cause death if enough worms are present as they can cause an intestinal blockage.

Protozoa: Have you ever noticed these worms in your turtle tank? Look Closely. The best way to rid your turtle tank of these is to feed your turtles in a separate tank. Protozoa are one-celled organisms and are microscopic. There are over 45,000 species of protozoa. Some protozoa are flagellates. Flagella are long, hair-like structures that can whip back and forth rapidly, propelling the organism. Other protozoa are ciliates. Cilia are much shorter, hair-like structures that often cover the organism. Although both these types of protozoa are found in chelonians, the most commonly found are flagellates.

Even though, flagellates may not be pathogenic and may aid in the digestive system; they can easily reach pathogenic proportions in a captive environment. This parasite is easily spread by the animal drinking contaminated water and being kept in poor hygenic conditions, as is often the case when the animal suffers the consequences of the pet trade. Protozoan infections can cause acute diarrhea, dehydration, and in chronic cases, the passing of undigested food because the infection can contribute to the destruction of the normal intestinal flora.

Hexamita parva: Hexamita parva is a highly contagious flagellate organism that invades the renal-urinary system. This organism poses a serious life-threatening risk to the animal. When the animal is suffering from this infection they void highly concentrated, ammonia-smelling urine, and the urine may be tinted with blood. In chronic cases, the animal will appear wasted and debilitated and may lose the ability to retract hind limbs. Any turtle or tortoise suspected of having this infection should be isolated and immediate veterinary care should be sought. If this infection is left untreated the organism will destroy the kidneys, causing renal failure and eventual death.

Entamoeba Infections: Entamoeba is a water-borne protozoan that can cause acute diarrhea or more serious invasive liver abscesses. This parasite is a single-celled eukaryote. They have a simple life cycle that consists of an infective cyst stage and a multiplying trophozoite stage. Transmission of this infection occurs when cysts in contaminated water are consumed. Infection can lead to amoebic dysentery, resulting form trophozoites invading the intestinal wall, amoebic liver abcesses, resulting from the spread of trophozoites from the intestine via the bloodstream. Generally, aquatic turtles are carriers of this parasite, but it can be highly pathogenic with other animals, especially with tortoises.


These are common parasites in both wild caught and captive bred turtles. In order to prevent these occurrences in your newly acquired turtle or long term pet, you should follow these steps.

1) Water Quality - Turtles need good clean water to prevent health issues from occurring. Their are 5 important things to water Quality which are: Filtration, Ammonia levels, PH levels, Nitrates and Nitrites. Although Turtles do not breath through there skin or have gills, they still need the proper water quality to ensure good health and less parasites. For a complete breakdown of water quality, Click here

2) Feeding - You are what you eat! ever hear that saying.....well common parasites are more than happy to make a cozy home in your turtles digestive system. Make sure you feed your turtles safely. I don\'t recommend feeder gold fish. This is how I received protozia in my tank. Why Feeder goldfish? because they are cheap, crowded in one aquarium, and full of disease due to stress and improper keeping. Also, if you go to your local pond and take some aquatic plants, make sure you clean them good before putting them in the tank. Chlorine in your tap water should take care of the majority of parasites.

3) Care - In general, keep your turtle in good condition. All aspects of care can be found at Austins Turtle Page and the Red Eared Slider Oasis.
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