Can You Drown a Turtle

Can You Drown a Turtle? What To Do If Your Turtle Drowns

Most turtles are aquatic or semi-aquatic animals. This fact leads many pet owners to assume these pets cannot drown. However, turtles have lungs and can drown if they lack oxygen supply.

Can you drown a turtle? Yes, turtles can drown if they are unable to surface in time and breathe. Unlike fish who can breathe underwater, turtles must take in air after every few minutes. If your turtle has drowned, take it out of the water, extend its neck and invert it to spill the water through its mouth.

This article will teach you about drowning in turtles, why they drown, and how to help a drowned turtle.

Can You Drown a Pet Turtle?


Yes, you can drown your pet turtle if it cannot get oxygen regularly. Though average turtles can hold air for as long as 45 minutes underwater, they will surface to breathe fresh air. To understand how these aquatic pets can suffocate by water, you should learn how they respire.

Humans have diaphragms that aid ribcages expand and contract while they breathe. Due to the hard shell, turtles don’t have expandable rib cages but have thin muscles in a buccal oscillation. These soft muscles are responsible for a normal inhale and exhale of air. However, some turtles can breathe underwater using their cloacal region.

Can You Drown a Pet Turtle

If your pet is stuck underwater or the path to the surface is full of obstacles, it might drown. If the pet is stressed or anxious, it’s also likely to use its oxygen supply fast. Baby pet turtles are less experienced in swimming and more vulnerable to drowning than adult turtles if swimming in deep waters.

How Do You Tell Your Pet Turtle Is Drowning?

There are several ways you can tell that your turtle is drowning. The first one is if the turtle is not moving and there are no reflexes from it. This is evident after hours of drowning when all its oxygen has been depleted. You’ll need to respond urgently to save the turtle. 

How Do You Tell Your Pet Turtle Is Drowning

Another visual clue is if the pet is stuck on something under the water. Despite holding air for a long time, a stuck turtle will likely panic and lose its oxygen quickly and drown. Also, if the pet is furiously flapping in deep water and doesn’t seem to be able to surface, it might be drowning and needs help.

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What To Do If Your Turtle Is Drowned  

Even though their respiratory system is more like those of humans, their CPR is different. One mistake people make is overturning the drowned turtle on its shell, which can be fatal.

What To Do If Your Turtle Is Drowned  

Follow the following steps to attempt to revive a drowned turtle:

  1. Step 1 Rescue the pet – First step should be removing the pet from the tank.
  2. Step 2 Extend the pet – Pull the pet’s head by its skull and stretch its neck.
  3. Step 3 Invert the pet – Hold the pet upside down with its mouth open for excess water to drip.
  4. Step 4 airflow – Place the pet on a flat surface and hold the pet’s front legs and stretch them back and forth to aid its airflow.
  5. Step 5 visit a vet – Take your pet to the vet to get oxygen after performing the above CPR. 

Interestingly, aquatic turtles can stay up to seven hours underwater. They sleep while holding their breath and only go up for air after waking up. At this time their digestion is slowed and so they require less oxygen for survival. But, in case it takes far too long without moving or flaps endlessly, it may be drowning and in need of help. 

Also read: Why Is My Turtle Always Basking?

How To Keep Your Pet Turtle from Drowning

It’s unlikely for aquatic turtles to drown in a natural environment. Some species are good swimmers, like the red-eared sliders who have less body density than mud turtles. To protect your pet turtle from drowning, check the following things.

How To Keep Your Pet Turtle from Drowning
  1. Water levels – The water level should be at least two times the length of your pet. Place baby turtles in shallow waters until they are used to swimming.
  2. Decorations – A water tank or aquarium should have a few decorations for pets to rest on while breathing. The decorations also help the pet on its way to the surface for air.
  3. Clear obstacles – Keep the water tank free from obstacles like nets and materials that can easily trap turtles. 

It’s interesting that aquatic turtle species spend much of their time in water. They swim swiftly and hunt their prey aggressively while in the water, yet they can drown. They must come above the water to breathe before going back again. You should observe the above measures to prevent drowning cases with your pet turtle. 

See also  Do Red-Eared Slider Turtles Bite? If Yes, Are The Bites Poisonous? 


In a life-threatening situation like drowning, every pet owner has a right to ask questions. This is to clear out doubts and ensure your pet is safe. The following are frequently asked questions on this topic and their answers.

1. Can turtles survive in deep waters?

Some species of turtles like leatherback can survive as low as 3000 feet and others can spend months underwater. However, most freshwater turtles can only survive a few inches underwater, like the musk turtles and yellow-bellied slider turtles. Most pet turtles at home can survive in waters just a few inches deep, where they can surface more comfortably.

2. Can a turtle sleep underwater?

Most turtle species can sleep underwater. They include painted turtles, maps, and red-eared slider turtles. While sleeping, the pet will regularly surface to take in more oxygen. A turtle tank should have decorations where they can sleep and easily surface for oxygen.

3. Can Sea Turtles Drown? 

Yes. These turtles can easily drown because they have lungs similar to ours or those of other reptiles. Although sea turtles know how to hold their breath for a long time, they cannot breathe while under the water. As such, you should ensure the environment is conducive for them to float and go underwater easily.  

Related: Do Turtles Need Sunlight?


Turtles have lungs that take in oxygen during respiration. These pets need to respire regularly to survive underwater. An aquarium should have lower water levels to ensure the pets breathe comfortably.

Pet parents sometimes confuse a sleeping turtle with a drowned turtle. However, if your pet drowns you can follow the above steps to try to revive them. Always keep the aquarium free from obstacles that hinder your pet’s path.

Can You Drown a Turtle

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