Sick mud turtles usually try to hide their illness and might not show obvious symptoms until their illness is fairly advanced. However, recognizing healthy behaviors such as regular basking, appetite and activity level makes it easier to notice when something might be slightly wrong. Catching illnesses early improves the prognosis in nearly every disease or injury, so recognizing some of the early signs of illness is important for any turtle owner.
Recognizing injuries is usually easier than recognizing an illness, since the turtle will be reluctant to move the afflicted body part. A turtle with a broken leg might leave its injured limb outside of the shell, since it is too painful to retract. The limb might be swollen and tender, and the turtle will certainly object to being handled, which jostles the limb and becomes painful. Leaving a broken bone to heal on its own often results in the bone healing crookedly and causing permanent disability to the turtle. Alternatively, it might fail to heal and become infected instead, necessitating removal of the limb.
Wounds vary in degree, but are usually superficial enough to recognize with or without a change in behavior. Some turtles find a way to reach their heat source and may burn themselves coming into contact with it. This is especially common in enclosures that use a heat rock or a heating pad instead of a basking lamp, which is dangerous and commonly causes contact injuries. Other common wounds include punctures and scratches from sharp surfaces in the cage, such as rocks or coarse cage substrate. Some turtles scratch their eyes digging in rocks, which can lead to corneal ulceration and blindness.
Dropping a turtle is unfortunately common in households with small children, who may not be entirely sure how to handle a turtle. A dropped turtle may have broken bones or dislocations, which are tender and require veterinary attention. They may experience only slight injuries such as sprains or bruises depending on the distance they were dropped, which leads to tenderness but usually heals without medical intervention. Injuries that are more serious might involve the shell, which is delicate and protects many fragile structures in the abdomen. Turtles that have injured their shells need immediate medical attention and in many cases may not survive.
Turtles with illnesses are usually harder to diagnose on sight because they may keep acting normal until their symptoms become too severe to hide. Many illnesses are circumstantial and can be prevented with adequate care. Some common problems include fungus, parasites and metabolic bone disease.
A turtle with metabolic bone disease will become gradually more inactive, since movement becomes painful. The bones become tender and the joints may swell. In the advanced stages of metabolic bone disease, the legs may become bowed and the shell might become involved. At this stage, it is often too late to treat the disease. Metabolic bone disease is a serious malady that needs immediate veterinary attention. It can be prevented by feeding regular B-vitamin supplements and having a natural or full spectrum light source.
Turtles with parasites will lose their appetites and may become inactive. Their stools may change in color or consistency. Most parasites are treatable with veterinary care and caloric supplementation. The most common cause of parasitic infestation is feeding live fish that are contaminated, such as comet goldfish or guppies. Other food sources such as frozen or live tubifex worms can also be a source of contamination. Avoiding common culprits helps prevent turtles from contracting parasites.
Fungus is common among aquatic turtles and is a result of poor water quality. Most pet stores sell antifungal medications, although turtles with severe fungus should see a veterinarian. Most turtles contract fungus after a prolonged period of stress. The stress might be a result of water that is too cold, lack of a basking area or heightened levels of ammonia in the water. The prognosis for mud turtles with fungal infections is generally good, although it should be caught early for the easiest treatment.