How Can You Tell If A Turtle Is Dead

How Can You Tell If A Turtle Is Dead? 8 Tell-Tale Signs To Look Out For

Turtles are resilient animals and can hold their breath for over 30 minutes while resting. When this happens, you might think your pet has passed away. Apart from checking breathing patterns, there are many more ways to check if it is alive or not.

How can you tell if a turtle is dead? One way to tell if your pet turtle has passed on is to check its body temperature. This is because if the turtle is cold to the touch and does not respond to external stimulation, it could be dead. You can also watch out for signs like hollowed eyes, foul odor, and changed skin tone.

But that’s not all! So, continue reading to discover more signs of a dead turtle and what to do when this happens.

How Can You Tell If A Turtle Is Dead?


Because of their tough and heavy carapace, it can be hard to tell if your turtle is dead or not. This is especially true when these cold-blooded animals hide underneath their shells and fail to make any movements. Nothing to worry about, though! Below are common methods you can use to tell whether or not a turtle has any signs of life.

How Can You Tell If A Turtle Is Dead

1. Cold to touch

During the colder months, a healthy turtle will shut down some of its bodily functions as it goes into a state of brumation. As a result, its body temperature may feel slightly lower during this period of dormancy. But if your turtle feels extraordinarily cold, it could be dead.

2. No turtle movements

If a freshwater turtle is alive and just hibernating, it will respond to your touch by moving or closing its shell. Some species may even make a hissing sound or wiggle their legs. Unfortunately, if your pet turtle does not make any movement and its legs are floppy, it could be dead.

No turtle movements

3.Check for breathing

Most turtle species can stay underwater without breathing for over 2 hours while resting. So, to check if your turtle is inhaling, simply hold something like a feather in front of its nose. You should not see any movement in the feather if the water turtle is no more.

4. Foul smell

As soon as a turtle dies, its body usually decomposes immediately due to bacteria and other microorganisms eating it. Consequently, the dead body produces gasses with an annoying odor.

5. Saggy skin with a different tone

Once the body of a dead turtle starts decaying, the skin starts losing its standard color gradually. You may also notice the skin looking saggy, sunken, and faded after a couple of days.

6. Deep, hollowed eyes

A turtle’s eyes may appear hollow or swollen because of dehydration. However, the sunken eyes could also signify that your box turtle has passed away once decomposition begins.

See also  Red Eared Slider Shell Rot: Signs, Symptoms, Recovery Treatment

7. Bloated body

When decomposition of your dead turtle’s body starts, gasses tend to be produced. Eventually, the gasses accumulate in your turtle’s body, causing it to swell or look bloated.

8. Ask a reptile vet

If you suspect your active turtle is just in hibernation and not dead, simply contact a reptile veterinarian. The vet will provide you with accurate information.  

Can You Tell If A Turtle Is Dead Just Because It Is Floating?

No, because sometimes a turtle will float up and down because of respiratory infections. In other cases, a lively turtle may also drift due to gas accumulation in its digestive system. This commonly happens when your pet starts eating a new type of food.

Can You Tell If A Turtle Is Dead Just Because It Is Floating

That said when your sick turtle dies, and the body starts to rot, your pet may eventually float in the water tank. This occurs due to the foul gasses that accumulate inside the turtle and spread an unpleasant smell.

Also read: Turtle Shell Rot

Do All Turtles Die With The Eyes Open?

No. When your turtle passes away, both eye sockets’ upper and lower lid shut down or fold together. And as the turtle’s body decomposes, the lids usually detach from the eyes, leaving the eye socket spaces empty.

Do All Turtles Die With The Eyes Open

This explains why a dead turtle would have sunken eyes. Now, if you come across your dead turtle when the eyelids have fallen off, you might think it died with its eyes open. But this is not the case.

What Causes a Turtle To Die?

Different species of turtles can die in the wild or in captivity for various reasons. For instance, if it’s a land turtle, it could pass away due to drowning since these species don’t know how to swim. Semi-aquatic wild turtles may also drown and die because they can’t breathe underwater. Other causes of death in marine turtles include:

What Causes a Turtle To Die
  • Old age
  • Poor turtle tank setup 
  • Respiratory diseases or bacterial infection
  • Incorrect and unhealthy diet
  • Untreated medical conditions

What Next, After A Turtle Is Dead?

Once you have confirmed your water turtle is dead, what then do you do? Here is a step-by-step guide on what you should do with a dead turtle.

A Turtle Is Dead

Step 1: Secure the turtle in a bag

Start by wearing plastic or rubber gloves before handling a dead turtle. This is because marine turtles carry the salmonella bacteria, which can infect you, making you ill. Then, get a plastic bag and put your dead turtle inside before sealing it.

See also  Do Turtles Have Periods? - Everything There Is To Know!

Step 2: Burry the turtle

Next up, find a box and put your dead turtle inside. Then, dig a 3 to 4 feet deep hole in your backyard and bury your reptile there. But before burying the turtle, check with your local state guidelines whether or not you are allowed to do this.

Step 3: Transport the dead turtle to a vet clinic

If your state does not allow the burying of pets in the yard, you can take your turtle to a vet for cremation. You just need to pay a small fee.

Transport the dead turtle to a vet clinic

Step 4: Contact animal control agencies

Alternatively, you could contact animal control agencies near your region. Some agencies will let you drop off your dead turtle at no extra cost.

Step 5: Look for a taxidermist

A taxidermist is responsible for harvesting turtle shells. So, you can look for one in your area to help dispose of the dead turtle after harvesting the carapace.


Now let’s quickly look at commonly asked questions regarding how to tell if a pet turtle is still alive or not.

1. How can I tell if a turtle is hibernating or dead?

A dead turtle will not respond to any touches. But if the turtle is brumating, it will move its limbs slightly when poked around the cloacal region. Also, if the turtle is dead, it will feel freezing compared to if it is hibernating. On the other hand, a hibernating turtle does not have a foul smell, sunken eyes, and loose skin.

2. Can I revive my dead turtle?

No. You cannot revive your turtle once it has passed away. However, if you suspect your marine turtle could be dead due to drowning, you can perform CPR to restore it. You simply extend its neck, tilt its head downwards, and open its mouth so water can trickle down. Then, pump its feet slowly in and out.

Related: Can You Train A Turtle?


When a turtle passes away, some signs of death you will notice are hollowed eyes, a bloated body, bad odor, and saggy skin. But to be entirely sure your pet is dead and not hibernating, a vet will be of much help. 

From there, you can decide to bury the turtle in your yard or have it cremated in a vet clinic. You could also let a taxidermist or an animal control agency dispose of the body on your behalf.

How Can You Tell If A Turtle Is Dead

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *