Why Does My Turtle Puff His Neck? Should I Be Worried?

As a turtle owner, you may have observed your pet puffing its neck at times and wondered about the reasons behind this behavior. It's important to understand the underlying causes in order to ensure the health and well-being of your turtle. We will explore some of the common reasons why turtles exhibit this neck-puffing behavior and what it may signify.
Why Does My Turtle Puff His Neck

Turtles are great pets. They’re super cute and have their own personalities just like us.

They do things from time to time that make us think there’s something wrong with them. Puffing of the neck is one of those things!

So, if you’ve been wondering; Why does my turtle puff his neck? Let’s find out if you should be worried or if it’s natural behavior.

Why Does My Turtle Puff His Neck? 4 Common Reasons

Turtles can puff their necks for various different reasons, and there are a couple that can be cause for concern and may need veterinary treatment.

1. Breathing

The most common reason for turtles to stretch and puff their necks is in order to breathe more air into their bodies, just like when we take in a deep gulp of air.

Despite their large appearance, turtle shells are actually quite tight and constricting. By extending their necks, turtles can open up their airways and make it easier to breathe.

This behavior is often observed when turtles first come out of the water after spending a significant amount of time submerged underwater.

2. Respiratory Infections

Turtles may puff their necks to facilitate breathing or clear fluids from their airways if they have a respiratory infection.

Symptoms of a respiratory infection include:

  • Gasping for air
  • Wheezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Moving slowly (by turtle standards!)
  • Appearing lethargic
  • Floating on the water while puffing out their neck

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, most respiratory tract infections in turtles are caused by bacteria and are often secondary to vitamin A deficiency.

3. Pneumonia

If left untreated, pneumonia can quickly become deadly for turtles.

To diagnose pneumonia, look for the following symptoms: 

  • Lopsided floating
  • Neck puffing
  • Gasping for air
  • Open-mouth breathing
  • Coughing or shrieking sounds

If you suspect your turtle has a respiratory infection, I always advise that you consult a veterinarian asap for proper diagnosis and treatment, such as antibiotics.

You can find a local specialist turtle vet on the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians’ website.

4. Diet and Nutrition

A balanced diet is vital for the overall health of your turtle.

If your turtle lacks vital nutrients like vitamins A and D3, calcium, and phosphorus, it might puff its neck as a reaction.

Foods high in sugar, sodium, and dairy must be avoided. They can open a huge can of whoop ass on your turtle’s digestive system.

How To Prevent Your Turtle Puffing Its Neck

Preventing your turtle from displaying neck puffing is straightforward, you need to ensure you have their home set up correctly and feed them a quality balanced diet.

Setting Up A Turtle Tank Correctly For An Aquatic Turtle

Aquatic turtle tank setup
Aquatic Turtle Tank Setup

To keep your pet turtle healthy and happy, you need to provide a suitable home.

Start by setting up a tank or enclosure that’s large enough to accommodate your turtle’s needs, and mimic its natural habitat:

For semi-aquatic, or aquatic turtles, such as red-eared sliders, you’ll need to set up a turtle tank with the following items:

Setting Up A Land Based Turtle Habitat Correctly

Land-based turtles, such as box turtles, need a dry habitat setup.

They need the following items in their home:

box turtle tank setup
Box Turtle Tank Setup

Keep Your Turtles Home Clean

You should clean your turtle’s tank regularly.

Remove any uneaten food and poop daily and perform a deep clean when needed, don’t wait until it looks and smells like a swap!

A heavy-duty water filter will go a long way to helping keep the water clean and keep your nitrogen cycle in check.

Clean Your Turtle’s Shell

You should clean your turtle’s shell regularly. Unclean shells are the primary cause of infections and illnesses in turtles.

The shell is a living component of their body, similar to our skin, and any infections or diseases on the shell can quickly spread throughout the rest of the turtle’s body.

Cleaning their shell helps prevent developing shell rot, which if not treated quickly and effectively, could develop into SCUD and lead to rapid death.

Feed Your Turtle A High-Quality Diet

A turtle that’s fed a high-quality diet will have a healthy immune system.

Turtles require a varied diet that includes both plant and animal matter.

Younger turtles need a diet high in protein for them to develop and grow into healthy adult turtles.

Once they’ve reached maturity they will need a more vegetarian-based diet.

If you feed your turtle a combination of Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Food, Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet, and Tetra ReptoMin you will ensure that your turtle gets the full range of vitamins and minerals needed.

Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet

Depending on the type of turtle you have, depends on what ratio of pellets, veggies, and protein you need to feed them, so check out your individual turtle’s requirements.

You could also supplement your turtle’s diet with veggies such as:

  • Bell peppers
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Collared greens
  • Dandelion leaves
  • Green beans
  • Mustard greens
  • Red lettuce leaves
  • Zucchini

Respiratory Infection Treatment

You really only have 1 option for treating respiratory infections in your pet turtle:

Veterinarian treatment

As mentioned previously, I always advise that you consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment if your turtle is ill.

The sooner you can start treatment for a respiratory illness the better the outcome for your turtle.

You can find a local specialist turtle vet on the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians’ website.

Turtle Medication

API Turtle Fix

There’s a very good over-the-counter turtle medication I recommend you keep on hand called API Turtle Fix.

It’s a plant-based (tea tree) formula that is great for treating topical bacterial infections and helps to heal wounds and sores.

API Turtle Fix should not be a substitute for professional veterinary advice and treatment for serious issues, especially if your turtle’s symptoms worsen or don’t improve.

Closing Thoughts On Why Turtles Puff Their Neck…

It’s essential to understand that your turtle may exhibit some neck puffing for various reasons. It could be a harmless behavior that turtles display during specific situations, or it could be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs attention.

Always pay close attention to your turtle’s overall well-being. If you notice any significant changes in their behavior or appearance, consult with a reputable veterinarian specializing in reptiles. They can provide valuable insights into the reasons behind neck puffing and offer appropriate advice on how to ensure your turtle’s health and happiness.

Monitoring your turtle’s environment, such as water quality, temperature, and adequate basking areas, is vital to their overall well-being.

Keeping the tank clean, providing the correct setup, and feeding a healthy varied diet is the best way to keep your turtle healthy.

Check out the turtle section for more in-depth reviews and care guides.

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Hey, fellow fish enthusiast 👋! I'm Paul and I've been an aquarium addict since I won my first goldfish at the fair many years ago. Let me share with you the knowledge that I've gained along the way (and avoid the mistakes I've made!), so you too can create an underwater paradise for your aquatic friends.