With rare exception, tortoises (land turtles) do not have
webbed feet and cannot swim, and if they fall or are put
into deep water, they will probably sink like a rock and
Remembering this, when you build a habitat for your
tortoise, whether an indoor vivarium or an outdoor pen, you
must make sure that the water container you provide is no
deeper than the top of the shell of the smallest tortoise,
so it can get its head out of the water to breathe, and that
there is a sturdy, smooth ramp to help them get out of the
water once they've had their drink or soak.
You must also see to it that outdoor habitats are built in
an area that can't flood in heavy rains, drowning the
trapped turtle. If you live in a cold climate and hibernate
your turtles outdoors, you will also need to ensure that
hibernating turtles will not be in danger from snow melt in
a warm spell or when Spring arrives. A hibernating turtle is
very vulnerable to drowning as well as to predation by mice,
rats, cats, and other predators, since they are torpid and
unable to defend themselves at all.
You might think that an aquatic turtle, on the other hand,
would be safe from drowning, but they too can be drowned if
they are somehow trapped underwater for too long or are
unable to get out of the water at all.
If you find your turtle in the water and apparently
lifeless, don't despair right away, it could be simply
unconscious. Turtles don't have the oxygen needs of mammals,
and their hearts may keep beating for quite a while even if
breathing has stopped. You will need to act quickly, though.
Fish the turtle out of the water immediately. Grasp the
turtle's neck just behind the jaws and extend the neck
outwards as far as possible, then turn the turtle head
downward and open its mouth to see if you can expel any
water. Once no more water is coming from the mouth,
straighten out and then push in the turtles legs, all four
at once if possible, and keep repeating until you again
don't see any water coming from the turtle's mouth. That may
get the rest of the water out and the turtle may now begin
to breathe on its own.
If it is still not breathing and the turtle is small enough,
try holding its head between your fingers with the shell in
your palm and swinging your arm so that any water in its
lungs may be flung out by the movement.
Once it starts breathing again, take it to the veterinarian
as it will need antibiotics to prevent lung infection. Keep
it warm and dry until it is acting normally, but watch for
dehydration and soak it in lukewarm shallow water (Stay
there and watch it during soaks.) for a few minutes a few
times per day if needed.
Many seemingly drowned turtles have survived with this
treatment. Of course, be sure to change whatever
environmental condition that led to the drowning in the
Cheerful Stuffed Plush Tortoises & Turtles