Can My Turtle Drown? (And How to Save The Drowing Turtle)

If you own a turtle, you would know that your little friend loves to spend most of the time playing and floating in the aquarium. However, a question might concern you whether turtles drown underwater or not? Don’t worry! We have compiled everything you need to know.

How Turtles Actually Drown?

As a responsible turtle owner, you should keep a sharp eye on your pet turtle, who has been in the water for a long time.

Young turtles can’t live completely submerged. This is because they don’t have gills, unlike fish. Rather, they are lungs-equipped reptiles that breathe air from the atmosphere.

Underwater, a turtle can hold its breath for an extended period. A turtle may hold its breath for several hours or longer, depending on its degree of activity. The turtle can hold its breath for up to seven hours when it is resting or sleeping. Some pet turtles even hibernate for months at a time.

When a turtle is trapped in water, it may get anxious and fearful. This could cause it to deplete its oxygen reserves. Additionally, the shelled buddy may breathe surplus water into its lungs in order to obtain oxygen. This raises the possibility of drowning.

Quickly depleting oxygen can lead to anaerobic respiration, in which your shelled buddy produces lactic acid instead of oxygen. Lactic acid can accumulate and become hazardous. The turtle can asphyxiate and die in minutes in these situations.

Thus, your shelled buddy may drown if it accidentally rolls over near the water and is unable to rise back up on its own, in addition to being hooked on anything and panicking.

Not being able to get out of deeper water is another possible factor. Some turtles may swim farther into the ocean in search of a sunbathing place and become exhausted. Young turtles may drown if they don’t have the stamina to return to the surface.

How Do You Know Whether A Turtle Has Drowned And Is Genuinely Dead?

What signs should you check for to see if your turtle is no more?

You can question if a turtle is dead if it has been idle for a long period.

If you think the turtle has drowned, don’t turn it upside down. Turning the turtle over could deprive it of oxygen if it only has a small amount of air left in its lungs.

There are several ways to determine whether or not your turtle is no more:

  • If a turtle drowns, it may float to the surface. This is due to the gases that build up in the turtle when it dies, causing it to float. Some sea turtles, on the other hand, may simply float along the surface.
  • Place the turtle on a level surface to see if it is still alive after a possible drowning. Push and pull on its neck and front legs, which may assist in the removal of water from the lungs. Pushing and pulling the legs at the same time should cause a living turtle to hiss or withdraw into its shell. Turtles don’t appreciate being disturbed. Thus the stimulus may elicit a reaction.
  • If the turtle continues to ignore your touch, put on a glove and apply pressure to the area between the tail and the cloacal region. Living box turtles should try to flee or expand their heads as a response.
  • Another indicator is the odor. Microorganisms that feed on the tissue of a dead turtle emit unpleasant fumes as it decomposes. So if you notice an unpleasant stench coming from the tank, your turtle may be decaying.
  • If your turtle doesn’t respond after several attempts, try putting it back in the water or a shallow dish. Again, the gases produced by the microorganisms feasting on the carcass cause a dead turtle to float. The turtle may still be alive if it sinks to the bottom.

It’s important to remember that the turtle can choose to float. Thus this test isn’t flawless. Nevertheless, you should seek visual clues of life while doing these numerous examinations.

Sea turtles have the ability to hold their breath for long periods. They still need to breathe, even if their breathing rates are slower than humans and warm-blooded creatures.

Examine the area between the tail and the back legs. As the turtle inhales and exhales, you may notice little movements. This is because the pumping of the lungs causes these movements.

If you follow these instructions, you should be able to tell if your turtle is still alive. However, if you’re still unsure, see a local vet immediately as a final resort.

Also Read: How to take care of a turtle?

Can Baby Turtles Drown?

Yes, baby turtles can drown. It is because of their frail bodies and inexperience; newborn turtles have a slightly higher danger of drowning than adult turtles.

The basking dock is the most common cause of drowning in newborn turtles. A newborn turtle that is unable to scale the ramp and becomes exhausted may drown.

Also, if you have a huge tank with deep water, newborn turtles can drown. Baby turtles will find it challenging to reach the surface for oxygen in deep water. They will become tired of swimming and drown if they can’t get out of the deep water.

Furthermore, being stuck underwater in some places of the aquarium, such as behind a rock, aquarium driftwood, tank décor, under the plant, or some submerged object, is a common cause of drowning.

When your baby turtles are unable to free themselves from an obstruction, they become agitated and lose more air than usual. This raises the likelihood of them drowning.

Furthermore, if a baby turtle unintentionally flips over near water, it can drown. Turtles that are resting on their backs are particularly vulnerable. If they are unable to correct themselves, they may drown.

How Long Does It Take For Pet Turtles To Drown?

Pet turtles can spend minutes, hours, or months underwater, depending on the situation. As a result, predicting how long a turtle will take to drown is challenging. Difficulty reaching the surface to breathe air, on the other hand, is a common cause of drowning.

Every few minutes, sea turtles will come up for air. The temperature is one of the reasons behind this.

Turtles are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, reptiles. To keep their bodies warm, cold-blooded reptiles rely on external heat sources. Unfortunately, the warmth of these heat sources has an effect on their metabolisms as well.

The turtle’s metabolism slows down when the air or water temperature is chilly—the metabolic rate increases when the air or water is heated. A quicker metabolism necessitates the consumption of more oxygen.

According to one study, the average turtle can hold its breath for roughly 35 minutes. The duration, however, is determined by the turtle’s metabolism.

The temperature in your home is usually significantly warmer than in the turtle’s native habitat, especially during the day. That’s why your turtle may only go below the surface for a few minutes at a time.

The temperature in your home may drop at night, slowing the turtle’s metabolism and extending the amount of time it can stay submerged. You may find that your turtle spends two or three hours underwater if you remain up late.

Another strategy for some box turtles to spend more time underwater is to hibernate. For example, some turtle species bury their corpses in the bottom of a lake or river where the substrate and waters are cooler during the colder months when food is scarce.

The turtle’s metabolism and need for oxygen and nutrients are drastically reduced when the temperature drops. The turtle can then hibernate for up to a month.

There are few studies on turtles’ breath-holding behavior in hot weather; much research has been done on hibernating turtles. However, a study conducted by C. Lenfant et al. of the University of Washington in 1970 is an exception.

The scholars studied the mata mata turtle’s breathing in this study (Chelys Fimbriata). Turtles in the research held their breath for an average of 35 minutes when they were not disturbed.

Hibernating turtles

Some aquatic turtles from the north will go underground to hibernate. The turtle often goes to the lake or river’s bottom and buries itself in the sediment. At this point, its metabolic rate lowers dramatically, and the turtle requires minimal oxygen and no food for months.

Hibernating turtles

During this stage, most turtles use specific structures in the neck and cloaca to absorb some of the oxygen they require directly from the water.

Oxygen levels in the water can get dangerously low at times, especially in severely cold lakes. Anaerobic metabolism and active chemical buffering processes enable snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) and painted turtles to thrive in these anoxic environments.

However, a hibernating turtle can go without active breathing for months. It is because of its adaptation and decreased metabolic activities.

Sea Turtles

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles have been examined more thoroughly than freshwater turtles when it comes to breath-holding behavior.

The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), a cold-water species, holds the longest time spent underwater: slightly over seven hours. While sea turtle biology differs substantially from freshwater turtles, freshwater turtles may be capable of similar feats, even at high temperatures.

When A Turtle Drowns, How Long Does It Live?

After drowning, a turtle has only a few hours to resurrect. Therefore, drowned turtles may appear dead for an extended period, but they may resurrect after a few hours or even the next day.

So don’t be concerned! Even after 12 hours of drowning, the turtle may still be alive. This is due to the possibility that their bodily system will simply shut down.If you believe your turtle has drowned, try to resuscitate it.

Here are a few things you can do to help your turtle.

How Can A Drowned Turtle Be Resurrected?

Do not assume that your turtle has already perished if you suspect it has drowned. It might be sleeping or gasping for air.

Turtles can go for several minutes to several hours without oxygen, depending on the temperature and metabolism. It may have just enough oxygen to keep it alive for a short time, even if it has inhaled excess water into its lungs.

In these cases, remember never to put the turtle on its back. Its lungs may be depleted of the limited air it has left if it is flipped over.

Remain cool when attempting to resuscitate your turtle. You should also be prepared to see a veterinarian as soon as possible if your turtle becomes ill.

Steps To Save Your Drowning Turtle

In the meantime, here are some things you may do to revive a drowned turtle:

Steps To Save Your Drowning Turtle
  1. Remove the turtle from the tank and hold the turtle upside down.
  2. Grasp the base of the turtle’s head behind the ears and pull to stretch the neck.
  3. Grasp the tail with your other hand. Pull up the tail and lower the head. Its mouth should be dripping with water.
  4. Place the turtle on a flat surface once the water has stopped dripping.
  5. Pull the front legs in toward you, then push them away—this pulling and pushing movement aids in lung pumping.
  6. Pump the front legs a few times before switching to the back legs. Carry on like this for a few minutes. Hopefully, this will clear the water from your turtle’s lungs, allowing him to take a deep breath and restore oxygen. But keep in mind that even if your turtle begins to stir, you should still take it to the veterinarian.

How To Do “Turtle CPR”?

To carry out CPR on your little turtle do as follows:

How To Do
  • Remove the turtle from the water as soon as possible. Then, extend the turtle’s neck by gently grasping the back of its head.
  • Tilt the turtle so that the head is facing the ground. If you’re able, open your mouth. Water will most likely start to trickle from the turtle’s mouth/nose if it has drowned. Hold the turtle in this position until the water stops flowing.
  • Place the turtle on a flat surface, belly down, facing the head (you should still extend the neck). Straighten the front legs towards you.
  • Slowly pump the legs in and out of the turtle’s body without bending them at the elbows. Internal leg muscles will be pushed towards the lungs, forcing any residual water out. Continue to pump the legs until no more water comes out.

Some folks will put a straw in the turtle’s mouth and take short breaths at this time. However, if you take too deep of a breath, you run the danger of injuring the turtle’s lungs (especially with smaller species or hatchlings).

Although it’s uncertain whether delivering breaths boosts the chances of survival beyond just emptying water from the lungs, numerous turtles have survived drowning without them. So, if you do decide to offer breaths, go easy on them.

Another Alternative Method

If the turtle still doesn’t seem to be alive, you can try another method.

  • Place the turtle on your palm with its head pointing down and extend its head with your other hand.
  • Swing your arms in a side-to-side motion. You should remove any residual water at this point.
  • Contact your physician or go to an emergency vet facility after you’ve completed these instructions. Even if you are able to resuscitate it, your turtle will most certainly require medical attention, and oxygen may be required.
turtle still doesn't seem to be alive

Pure oxygen can aid the turtle in removing the residual water from its lungs by stimulating it. One of the reasons to visit a veterinarian is to rule out the risk of pneumonia in your turtle.

If bacteria from the water lingers in the lungs, turtles are more likely to develop pneumonia, which can be fatal. However, it is advised to medicate them immediately as antibiotics can aid in the prevention of pneumonia.

Frequently asked Questions

Can turtles sleep underwater?

Yes, turtles sleep underwater. Like many other turtles, Painted turtles stay underwater while a sleeping turtle and can go up to 5 hours without breathing air.

Can turtles drown while sleeping?

A sleeping turtle can collapse underwater if it stays too long there without exhaling and inhaling for once in hours.

Can Red Eared Sliders Drown?

Yes, a red-eared slider can drown underwater. But, like a painted turtle, an eared slider can stay beneath the water for only up to 5 hours, and therefore, it will have to come to the surface.

Can Turtles Drown In Too Much Water?

Unlike fish, turtles don’t have gills. Thus, they have to come to the surface once in a while as they can’t breathe underwater. As per a study, the time gap between two consecutive heartbeats of this little guy is nine minutes. However, if they accidentally get stuck in active fishing nets, they can run out of breath and eventually drown in too much water.


Turtles spend most of their time swimming in the water. So, if you are wondering- can sea turtles drown? You can probably deduce the answer from above. There are many cases when the owners completely lost hope, yet their seemingly dead turtles held their breath underwater.

You must be amazed to know this, but turtles breathe from three spots in their bodies.  These little guys can exchange all the oxygen from the areas like the turtle’s nose, lungs, and butthole.

Hence, all in all they have enough air in their body cavity when they dive deep into the water. Moreover, they are pro swimmers so the chances of a turtle drowning are below moderate and less likely to happen.

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