Can Turtles Drown?

Turtles are seemingly the perfect hybrid between an animal that lives on land and one that resides in the water. There are many species of both aquatic turtles like sea turtles and terrestrial turtles like box turtles that tend to live on solid earth instead of spending their time in the water.

However, a frequently-asked question about the relation between turtles and the water is whether or not turtles can drown.

Today, we’re going to see if turtles can drown and we’ll also answer a few related questions about how you can prevent your turtle from drowning and even what to do if you think your turtle has drowned.

Can Turtles Drown?

Yes Turtles can drown as they cannot breathe underwater and they need oxygen to survive. If for some reason they get stuck underwater and are unable to come to surface for breathing, they will drown. 

One thing to consider is that turtles can hold their breath for a much longer time than human beings can. This is one of the reasons why turtles are so comfortable spending so much time underwater, as they don’t have to come back up for air anywhere near as frequently as we would need to.

How Do Turtles Drown?

Whether or not a turtle can drown easily depends on what species of turtle it is in the first place. Aquatic turtles tend to drown very rarely because they have adapted themselves to the marine environment in which they can expect to spend the majority of their lives, as they’re able to hold their breath for a long time.

However, other species of turtles like box turtles, which tend to spend most of their time above water, may drown relatively easily. Along with not being accustomed to holding their breaths, box turtles tend to suffer in the water because they’re not as maneuverable as aquatic turtles.

Since box turtles lack webbing on their feet, they’re unable to propel themselves through the water as gracefully or as efficiently as other turtle species. In practical terms, this means that box turtles are much worse swimmers than other turtle species, making them much more likely to drown.

While tortoises aren’t turtles, they’re even less suited to being in the water than box turtles. This is because tortoises are big and heavy, and they don’t even know how to manage themselves in the water. If placed in an enclosure with water in it, a tortoise would be likely to sink to the bottom, as they can’t swim away.

How Long Does it Take for a Turtle to Drown?

Determining how long it may take for your turtle to drown is a bit of a challenge without knowing the turtle’s species. This is the main factor that will determine a turtle’s lung capacity and whether or not it’s safe for the animal to stay below the water for extended periods of time.

If you’re dealing with a sea turtle (which you likely aren’t) then they can stay submerged for several hours at a time. However, sea turtles are typically found in the wild, and they’re pretty unlikely to be kept as pets due to their large size and their rather particular needs.

The kinds of turtles that you’d expect to keep as pets typically don’t have the same kind of lung performance as sea turtles. Most pet turtles can remain submerged for about 15 minutes before it starts becoming an issue, though once again, this is highly dependent on a turtle’s species.

Turtles can hold their breath for much longer than human beings in spite of their relatively small lungs and oxygen capacity. This is because turtles have a slower metabolism, meaning that they use the oxygen in their lungs for cellular respiration at a slower rate than larger animals and human beings.

Can Turtles Drown While Sleeping?

If you’re the proud owner of an aquatic turtle, then you may have noticed your turtle sleeping on the surface of the water or just beneath it. This typically isn’t cause for concern since turtles are smart enough to ensure that they don’t drown themselves just by falling asleep in the wrong spot.

Turtles rarely ever drown while sleeping. While we mentioned that turtles can typically only hold their breath for about 15 minutes, that’s when they’re awake. If a turtle is awake, it will be expending much more energy and oxygen than if it was asleep, and this cuts down on how long it can hold its breath.

If a turtle is sleeping, it can hold its breath for a much longer time, ensuring that they can remain submerged for up to an hour without any issues. Where in the water your turtle sleeps depends on the kind of species that it is and its personal preferences when it comes to its sleeping area.

While most aquatic turtles will sleep near the surface of the water where they’ll have quick access to oxygen when they wake up, this isn’t always the case. Some species of aquatic turtles are known to sleep deeper in the water, especially if they’re feeling particularly warm and they’d like to cool off.

How Long Can a Turtle Hold Its Breath Underwater?

As we’ve already mentioned, the lung capacity of a turtle is dependent on the species and what it’s doing. Sea turtles can hold their breath for a period of several hours beneath the waves, and they can remain submerged even longer if they fall asleep. This is due to their adaptation to their aquatic surroundings.

Other kinds of turtles can typically only hold their breath for periods of between 15 and 30 minutes, and this can vary between individuals in the species, so it isn’t a hard and fast rule. When it comes to your turtle’s breath capacity, you always want to ensure that you’re on the safe side so your pet doesn’t run out of oxygen.

How Long Does a Turtle Have After Drowning?

Whether or not you can save a turtle if you’ve found it drowned depends on how long it has been like that. If a turtle runs out of oxygen, it may die but its system may also shut down so that it can be resuscitated later. You can even save a turtle in this state after it has been drowned for about 12 hours.

One of the first things that you should do is hold the turtle upside down to let the water drain out of its mouth. After that, you can try and push in the turtle’s hind legs, pulling the back out, as this will compress the body cavity and make it easier for the water to get out of the turtle’s lungs.

It can take some time for turtles to resuscitate themselves after this happening, so keep your turtle in a dry and safe area where it will be warm and wait for up to a day for it to rise again.

Can Baby Turtles Drown?

Baby turtles are often the most vulnerable to drowning since they aren’t as good at swimming as older members of the species.

You’ll want to ensure that baby turtles can always reach the basking area in your enclosure, as it may be more difficult for them to reach compared to an adult turtle.

Ensure that your baby turtles don’t struggle to get on top of the basking platform, as they may be tired after spending a long time swimming around and they may not have the energy to exert to get on the platform.

Can Turtles Breathe Underwater?

While turtles spend a huge amount of time underwater, one of the most important things to know as a new turtle owner is that they can’t breathe underwater. Turtles can’t breathe below the waves because they don’t have gills, which are necessary for many animals to extract oxygen from water.

Instead of gills, turtles use lungs to get the oxygen that they need to keep their energy levels up and their cells running properly. While turtles have much smaller lungs than we do, they function just as well, and you may even argue that turtles use their lungs much more efficiently than we do.

This is because turtles can hold their breath for a much longer time than we can. Most sea turtles can hold their breath for hours, ensuring that they can remain beneath the water without having to come up for air regularly. This makes it much more comfortable for turtles to live beneath the waves.

On the other hand, most turtle species that are kept as pets can remain submerged for about 15 minutes.

Turtles can stay underwater for a much longer time than human beings because they have much lower energy needs. If you’ve ever noticed how turtles move much slower than us, that’s because they tend to consume a lot less energy to move in the first place. This is all tied into a turtle’s metabolism.



Even though turtles tend to live in the water, they can certainly drown. Always take the proper precautions to ensure that your turtle is as safe as possible in its enclosure.

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