Fungus is the most common disease of turtles and requires fairly specialized treatment. Treatment is not particularly difficult but does require patience and persistence. If fungus is detected early and the turtle is otherwise healthy, treatment is normally highly effective. Treatment becomes more difficult and less likely to succeed where the infection has entered the bloodstream, or where the turtle is ill or weakened due to other causes (poor diet, sub-optimal temperatures, etc).
Fungus is the number one killer of baby turtles. If you suspect your turtle has fungus, see our treatment guide here.
External fungal infections
Symptoms: These appear as solid white lumps, firstly around the toes and eyes then progressing to other areas on the legs and neck. The fungus may also begin at any area where skin or shell damage has occurred.
Treatment: Very mild cases may sometimes be treated simply by painting the affected area with a good quality aquarium medication and providing good water quality. It is highly recommended that you also add a little salt (5 to 10 grams per liter) and medication to the water. Most anti-fungal and anti-bacterial aquarium medications contain suitable ingredients for treating fungus and are safe for turtles whether painted on the skin or added to the water.
If your turtle is more severely affected by external fungus, or if you are unsure how severe the infection is, the best treatment for external fungus is a combination treatment. This consists of painting the affected area and providing the turtle with a medicated salt bath, and this treatment may also be effective for turtles with internal infections. Using this treatment for external fungus will ensure that any unnoticed sites of infection are treated and that the infection is prevented from spreading to the bloodstream.
Symptoms: The turtle may be pink in color under the legs and around the shell, or the underside of the shell may be pink. The turtle will generally be listless and not eating. External fungal infections may also be present.
Treatment: Internal fungal infections can be hard to treat successfully. We recommend giving the turtle a medicated salt bath as detailed below and paint any sites of external infection with an aquarium anti-fungal medication.
Medicated salt bath for turtles
The medicated bath can be given in the aquarium or in a separate container. Which is best will depend on the individual situation. If the aquarium is large or if you have more than one turtle, it is probably best to treat the affected animal seperately. If however the aquarium is quite small, or if the turtle is too large to treat in another container, treatment can be carried out in the aquarium. Even if treating in a separate container it is recommended that you gravel clean and water change the aquarium and treat it with some salt (3 to 5 grams per litre) and a half-dose of medication. This will ensure that any other turtles you have do not succumb to fungal infections, and provides the best conditions for the treated turtle to be returned to in order to avoid re-infection.
When a turtle has fungus, especially if it is young, it may be very weak. It is therefore best to prepare a shallow bath, with the water being just deep enough to cover the shell. In this way the turtle does not need to swim up for air. However, you want the turtle to stay mostly submerged whilst treating it, so this is the one time where you should not provide it with somewhere to get out of the water.
A temperature of between 24°C and 26°C is best while treating your turtle, but most important is that it not be too cold (ie below 20°C). Place the container or aquarium in a warm spot or provide aquarium heating if necessary. Since you do not need to feed the turtle at this stage (as it is unlikely to eat anyway), and since you will need to change some of the water regularly anyway, filtration is not usually necessary.
In the bath you should use 10 grams of sea or aquarium salt per litre, and the full recommended dose of an aquarium anti-fungal medication. Paint the affected areas of the turtles skin with the medication as well. At least half of the water in the bath should be exchanged daily – remember to add more salt and medication when you replace some of the water (but only enough to treat the amount of new water). Aside from changing the water, the turtle should be disturbed as little as possible. The length of treatment will depend on the severity of the fungus, 3 to 5 days is usually sufficient for treating external fungus, internal infections may need to be treated for a week or more. After a few days the turtle should seem more lively, and you can try to feed it a little food (try a few frozen worms or some dried shrimp). Examine the turtle for any signs of fungus. If it seems better you can return it to the aquarium, or refill the aquarium if this was used for treatment. Be sure to maintain good water quality with a little salt and medication to ensure treatment is complete. If the turtle seems clear of external fungus but is still listless, weak, or unwilling to eat, keep it in shallow medicated water. Tempt it with dried shrimp or frozen bloodworms until it begins to eat. If the turtle is very weak it may take several days, even weeks, to fully recover. Once the turtle is eating and free of other symptoms you can return it to the aquarium, or slowly increase the water level it is in if it is being treated in the aquarium. However, while the turtle is recovering, be sure to provide it with very good water quality (add some salt and medication to be sure), warmth, and plenty of resting places.