Why Is My Turtle Floating?

Turtles are one of the most common house pets due to the fact that they’re relatively easy to take care of, don’t make a big mess, don’t make a lot of noise, and are very laid-back creatures.

While turtles tend to be easier to take care of than other pets (such as dogs, for example), many first-time owners make some common mistakes due to a simple lack of knowledge.

Just because turtles are “easy pets” doesn’t mean that they don’t require special care.

The first thing that you need to understand about turtles is that they’re reptiles.

Mammals like dogs, cats, or marsupials tend to be a bit more simple to take care of because they function very similar to humans due to their warm-blooded nature.

This means that they can regulate their body temperature so that they don’t freeze or burn.

If it’s cold outside, they can make themselves warmer. If it’s hot outside, they have methods of cooling themselves down.

Temperature Regulation

As cold-blooded reptiles, turtles do not have the same capacity to regulate their body temperature.

This means that they’re very vulnerable to their environment and if the conditions aren’t perfect, they can develop some serious problems.

This is especially true with turtles that are kept in captivity.

In the wild, turtles have a solution to whatever nature throws at them.

When the water gets cold in the winter, they spend a lot more time basking in the sun to warm themselves.

If the water gets too hot in the summer, they can dive deeper where the water is cool to regulate their temperature.

All life on earth seeks to maintain a state of homeostasis where their body’s temperature and chemical levels remain balanced.

For example, if humans go just a few degrees over the perfect temperature of 98.6, then they can develop a fever and become dangerously ill.

The fever is our body’s way of trying to cool itself down.

Turtles do not have a natural built-in mechanism to cool or warm themselves,

so if they start getting too hot or cold, then they can quickly become sick or die.

One of the most common indications that your turtle is getting sick due to a poor tank environment is that they start to float upside down.

Turtle Floating Disease Problems

So, you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with your floating turtle problem…

Understanding why your turtle is doing something strange is the first step to identifying the problem.

Most of the time, if they’re doing something unexpected, it’s because their environment is not ideal and they’re trying to regulate their body’s temperature.

This is very common in the winter when the cold can make their water temperature drop.

It’s normal for turtles to float at the top of the tank as a form of basking.

The top of the water is where it’s the warmest and closest to sunlight, so by floating on the upper layer they can quickly warm their body up.

However, if you notice that your turtle is spending too much time floating on the surface, then you could be facing a more serious problem.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of turtles floating in their tanks.

Reasons why my turtle is floating

Turtle Gas Build-Up

One of the most common reasons that they may be floating is due to gas build-up.

Just like humans, turtles can get bloated. This typically happens when you change their diets, start them on a medication, or they just eat too much.

As the gas builds up, it can actually make them float.

Turtle bloating is almost always followed by a “bucking” motion.

They will rock back and forth like a seesaw trying to fart or release the air from their shells. Once they get it out, they’ll swim back down.

Also read -> Do Box Turtles Swim?

Turtle Respiratory Disease

Unfortunately, if your turtle hasn’t been able to swim to the bottom for a long amount of time, then it’s probably due to respiratory disease.

Turtles use their lungs to control their buoyancy and submersion like a submarine.

When they’re sick, they often don’t have the lung capacity to dive which can leave them stranded at the top of the water.

If your turtle has a lung disease, their floating will usually be accompanied by deep, raspy breaths.

Cause of Turtle Respiratory Disease

If your turtle has developed respiratory disease, it’s most likely due to a poor tank environment or vitamin deficiency.

This is why you need to pay special attention to your cold-blooded pets.

One of the most common causes of turtle breathing problems is that their water gets too cold in the winter.

Their water temperature should never fall below 70-Degrees Fahrenheit,

so if your house gets cold in the winter, you’ll need to figure out a way to keep the tank warm.

Apart from temperature, bacteria in the water can also cause disease. This can be prevented by regularly cleaning your tank and using a high-quality water filtration device.

One of the less common causes of turtle respiratory disease is that they’re not getting enough vitamins in their diet.

They need to have a diet full of Vitamin A, which can be obtained from carrots, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables.

This will keep their immune system strong and help fight off any potential lung infection.

Turtle Floating Positions

Let’s take a brief look at some of the most common turtle floating positions and their causes.

Why Is My Turtle Floating Sideways?

If your turtle is floating sideways (on its side), then they almost certainly have a lung infection.

This sideways floating is caused by fluid build-up in their lungs which affects their ability to balance in the water and causes them to float on their side.

Why Is My Turtle Floating Upside Down?

Turtles are most vulnerable when they’re upside down, so they will never voluntarily go into this position.

If your turtle is floating on its back, then it means that its lung infection has gotten severe.

This usually happens when their fluid build-up causes them to flip sideways and then goes a step further to flip them completely upside down.  


When your turtle is left to float, it can be very dangerous.

In this position they unable to dive into the water to cool themselves or even to eat their food which can lead to overheating and starvation.

If you notice that your turtle has raspy breathing, is floating on its side, or upside down, then you should call your trusted veterinarian as soon as possible.

The most common course of treatment involves a round of antibiotics, which should help your turtle get rid of the infection and return to normal.

The best thing that you can do to prevent this scary situation from happening again is to always pay close attention to their diet, water sanitation, and most importantly- the water temperature.

Also read

Do Turtles get Lonely, bored,depressed or have feelings? (Find out here)

Can Turtles Drown?

Can Turtle See in the Dark


  1. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001982.htm
  2. http://www.aquaticlifelab.eu/3-5-sea-turtle-biology
  3. https://www.environment.gov.au/marine/gbr/case-studies/turtle-hospital
  4. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/turtles-aquatic-diseases

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