Why Does My Turtle Tank Have Worms?

Maybe during feeding time you caught a glimpse of a worm swimming around near your turtle, or perhaps you’ve seen worms crawling in your pet’s feces. Either way, if there are worms in your turtle tank, it’s time to take action!

So why does my turtle tank have worms? If your turtle tank has worms, your pet is most likely the unlucky host of a parasitic infestation. Parasites can be deadly, so it’s important to thoroughly clean your turtle tank and take your pet to the vet!

Read on to find out about common parasites that affect turtles as well as how to prevent and treat parasites. We also give a helpful guide to keeping your turtle tank clean and parasite-free!

What Kinds of Parasites Are Common in Turtles?

There are several kinds of parasites that are known to infest turtles. Oftentimes, turtles are infested with multiple types of parasites at once! Check out the various kinds of parasites below.

  • Nematodes – These round, unsegmented worms are similar to roundworms in humans. Some infest turtles without causing any symptoms, but in other cases, turtles’ health will suffer as a result of nematodes. 


  • Hookworms – Hookworms are small and thin, and often difficult to see in your pet’s waste. However, they present a huge threat to your turtle’s health because they live off its blood, attaching themselves to the intestinal wall.
  • Roundworms – These parasites are round and look similar to spaghetti noodles. Roundworms can cause some serious issues such as intestinal blockage.
  • Protozoa – There are many types of protozoa, or microscopic one-celled organisms. Since they’re so tiny, they’re nearly impossible to see in your turtle’s tank unless you look very closely. The most common protozoa in turtles are flagellates and ciliates. 
  • Tapeworms – Also known as cestodes, tapeworms are uncommon in turtles and usually don’t cause serious health problems. They look like moving grains of rice and may be seen in your pet’s feces.
  • Fluke worms – Fluke worms, or trematodes, hang out in turtles’ intestines. Sometimes they move to the lungs, kidneys, and liver as well. Flukes typically do not cause death in turtles.

How Can I Tell if My Turtle Has Parasites?

There are a few general symptoms of parasites in turtles. These include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting of worms
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Passing undigested food

If your turtle has any of these symptoms, get it to the vet as soon as possible! Parasites can range from a nuisance to a life-threatening problem, but either way it’s necessary to get professional care. 

Why Does My Turtle Have Parasites?

The most common cause of parasites in turtles is a dirty tank or water from an unclean source. When your pet’s tank doesn’t get cleaned on a regular basis, it becomes a breeding ground for parasites and bacteria. In addition, parasites can sometimes enter your turtle’s system through its food. 

It’s also possible for your turtle to catch parasites from another turtle if they are housed together. Coming into contact with another turtle’s feces is one way that parasites spread.

In nature, turtles often have small amounts of parasites but they usually don’t experience any adverse effects. But in captivity, parasites become more of an issue. Because of the small contained space your pet is housed in, it’s very easy for parasites to multiply and infest your turtle again and again unless its tank is thoroughly cleaned. 

How Are Parasites in Turtles Treated?

The best way to treat parasites is to prevent them in the first place–and there’s an easy way to do it! Just take a fecal sample to the vet on a yearly basis and get it checked for parasites. The vet will examine it under a microscope to see if there are any parasites present. If so, they’ll prescribe the appropriate medication for your turtle and things should be just fine!

But if your turtle has an active parasitic infestation, precautionary care isn’t going to help much. You’ll definitely want to get your pet to the vet as soon as possible when you notice signs of parasites, whether you’ve actually seen worms in the tank or if your turtle has been losing weight.

The vet will determine what type of parasite your pet is dealing with and treat it accordingly.

How Can I Keep Parasites From Coming Back?

The best thing you can do to keep parasites away is to maintain optimal tank conditions for your pet turtle. Clean and dry the tank thoroughly, along with all accessories, food bowls, and anything else in the tank. 

You can use a bleach solution to kill off the parasites, but be sure to rinse the tank and accessories thoroughly before reassembling your turtle’s habitat. If any parasites survive, they’ll multiply and reinfect your turtle, so be aware of that as you clean!

If you know that the parasites came from your water source or from food rather than from a dirty tank, be sure to find a different source of food or water for the tank. 

You can also begin doing more frequent partial water changes to keep the tank fresh and clean. Be sure to maintain appropriate temperatures and humidity as well. Remove waste and excess food from the tank as soon as possible.

A consistently clean tank isn’t the ideal home for parasites, so if you’re able to dedicate sufficient effort to cleaning, the parasites shouldn’t return!

What’s the Best Way to Clean My Turtle Tank and Prevent Parasites?

Here’s a step-by-step guide to keep your turtle tank squeaky clean and parasite-free!

  • Invest in a canister filter. Turtles are messy creatures and produce lots of waste that can quickly cause the tank to become cloudy. A strong canister filter will do wonders as far as keeping the water clean for longer periods of time because it has a larger water filtering capacity compared to a typical aquarium filter. 


  • Once a week, clean up your turtle’s leftovers. If you’re able to do this even more often, then great! However, it’s a good idea to vacuum up any food that’s been left behind after your turtle’s meals at least once each week. When food particles build up, ammonia builds up in the water as well. In high concentrations, ammonia can actually be toxic to your turtle–so don’t let any extra food sit around for too long! A gravel vacuum with a long hose is perfect for sucking up any particles sitting around on the bottom of the tank. 


  • Use UV light to sterilize the water. This isn’t necessary all the time, but if your tank is beginning to look a bit murky, some UV light can do wonders. But keep in mind you can’t use the same light your turtle basks under! To sterilize the water, you’ll need a special tool called a UV water sterilizer. 


  • Use dechlorinated water for water changes. You might think it would be beneficial to use chlorinated water in your turtle’s tank because it kills bacteria. That’s true, but unfortunately, chlorinated water kills all the bad bacteria as well as all the good bacteria. Instead, use dechlorinated water in order to maintain the balance of the organisms in the tank. 


  • Add plants to your turtle tank. Floating freshwater plants not only look nice in your turtle tank, but they also help to keep it clean! Plants will consume the nitrates and ammonia in the water, eliminating these harmful chemicals from your turtle’s environment. But it’s essential to keep in mind that not all floating freshwater plants are safe for your pet. A few recommended types of plants include giant duckweed, hortwort, and water lettuce. 


  • Stick to your feeding schedule. While these are mainly cleaning tips, your feeding schedule has a big impact on the overall cleanliness of the tank. The best way to maintain a clean tank through your feeding schedule is to avoid overfeeding your turtle. The less leftovers, the better! Dirty water in turtle tanks is most often a result of overfeeding.

Conclusion

Parasites are a common issue in turtles, and they often present as worms in your turtle tank or in your turtle’s waste. The most common types of parasites in turtles are nematodes, hookworms, roundworms, protozoa, tapeworms, and fluke worms. Some of these will be relatively harmless to your turtle, while others can be life-threatening. 

Symptoms of a parasitic infestion include dehydration, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. If your turtle has any of these symptoms, get it to the vet! The vet will examine a fecal sample and treat your pet accordingly. But you must also be sure to carefully clean out your turtle tank in order to keep the parasites from coming back!

A few tips to prevent parasitic infestations are to invest in a canister filter, clean up your turtle’s leftover food weekly, and sterilize the water using a UV water sterilizer. You can also use dechlorinated water for water changes, add floating freshwater plants to your turtle tank, and maintain a regular feeding schedule.

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