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How to Know if a Baby Turtle Has Died

Updated November 21, 2016

Turtles are semi-aquatic pets that require advanced care and a special diet. They can be delicate and sensitive to changes in their environment and could die if they become stressed or ill. Because turtles are slow moving and they can go into hibernation, it can be moderately challenging to tell if your baby turtle has died.

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  1. Smell the turtle. If the baby turtle is dead, it will begin to decompose within hours. Even though the turtle is small, the smell will be overpowering and obvious, even from across the room. The turtle, its enclosure and the surrounding area will smell like rotting meat if the turtle is dead. Turtle enclosures can develop a fishy smell if they are not cleaned properly or if there is rotten, uneaten food left in them. But if the turtle itself smells, it is likely dead.

  2. Poke the turtle. Turtles do not appreciate being handled or touched and will flinch or react even if gently poked. If the turtle still does not move, gently place the turtle on its back on a firm surface. This will cause the turtle to panic and try to flip over, so if the turtle begins to move, it is not dead.

  3. Observe the turtle. There are physical signs that a baby turtle has died, and these can be seen just by observing the turtle and its environment. Even sleeping turtles will exhibit some signs of movement, like a heartbeat or slight muscle twitches. When a turtle begins to decompose, its eyes are the first to be affected. The turtle's eyes will appear sunken in if it is dead, and they may be open or closed. A dead turtle will not sink, but will rather float on top of the water. A dead turtle may also appear to be covered in a slimy material, almost as if it is shedding its skin.

  4. Warning

    A turtle that is floating on the water, is lethargic and uninterested in food but not smelly may be very sick and should be taken to the vet.

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