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Fortunately, tortoises and turtles are not as subject to
internal parasites as are most other reptiles or mammals and
birds. They do, however, have some external and internal
parasites that can make them very ill and may even be fatal,
especially if the turtle's immune system is stressed by its
being kept in close quarters and/or without the ideal diet
or environment.

Because of this, all tortoises and turtles should be checked
by a reptile veterinarian as soon as you bring them home,
and again a month or so later. If the turtle lives alone in
an inside vivarium you should take it to the vet for a
parasite check every year; or sooner if you notice changes
in its droppings. If your turtle lives with other reptiles,
or spends time outside, you should have it checked at least
twice a year, and its droppings should be carefully
monitored for symptoms of parasite infestation. And never
bring a new turtle into your reptile community until it has
been thoroughly checked by your vet, or you risk infecting
all of your pets.

If your turtle has an overgrowth of any parasite, its
digestive system is compromised, it may not be able to eat
enough to sustain both itself and the parasites, its immune
system will be weakened and it will be more vulnerable to
other infections such as shell-rot, fungus, and respiratory

Please don't try to treat your turtle yourself. Parasite
medications that work very well for many animals, even other
reptiles, may kill your turtle. Ivermectin, for example, is
commonly used for worming animals, but is fatal to turtles.
(Note that Ivermectin is also sometimes used to worm dogs,
and tortoises may eat dog feces. Some pet tortoises have
died as a result.)

Here are some of the parasites that attack turtles and

Tapeworms and Flukes in Turtles and Tortoises

These parasites infect aquatic turtles much more often than
tortoises. Tapeworms and flukes must go through an
intermediate host before infesting a turtle, so a well-
cared-for captive turtle is fairly safe from them. If you do
see small worms in your turtle's feces, or the veterinarian
finds them in the routine exam, they can be successfully
removed by the proper medication.

Nematodes in Turtles and Tortoises

Nematodes are very common parasites in tortoises and
turtles, and are comparable to the roundworms often found in
cats and dogs. Nematodes are spread from turtle to turtle
through feces, and a turtle with a lot of nematode parasites
will have diarrhea, possibly vomiting, and consequent weight
loss. Again, once diagnosed through a fecal exam, the
reptile vet can usually successfully treat them in an
otherwise healthy turtle.

Flagellates in Turtles and Tortoises

Flagellates are protozoa's and are common to tortoises and
turtles, but an overload of them can cause serious
intestinal disease, interfering with proper digestion of
food, and causing diarrhea, dehydration, and weight loss.
One healthy turtle note: After veterinary treatment for
flagellates, feed your turtle yoghurt or the feces of a
healthy turtle to replace the beneficial gut bacteria that
have been also destroyed. Otherwise your turtle's digestive
system may not be able to fight off an invasion of bad

Keeping the turtle's diet correct and as natural as
possible, avoiding overfeeding of sugary fruit, providing
food with sufficient fiber, avoiding overcrowding of
habitats, especially when more than one species is kept, and
keeping the temperatures balanced with lower night
temperatures are all recommended to help reduce the risk of
an overgrowth of flagellates or other parasites.

See also: External Parasites in Turtles & Tortoises

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