Why Is My Turtle Spitting Water?

Seeing a turtle spit water can be quite entertaining! But if you’ve never seen your turtle engaging in this type of behavior before, you’re probably wondering what’s going on!

So why is my turtle spitting water? It’s common for turtles to spit during feeding time, and they can appear to be spitting while using their sense of smell underwater! But if your turtle is spitting mucus rather than water, it may be dealing with a respiratory infection.

Read on to find out why turtles spit water, how their sense of smell works, and what to look out for in the case of a respiratory infection.

Expelling Excess Water

Many turtle owners report that their pets often squirt water from their nose or mouth while eating, especially when they’ve taken a particularly large bite. This is completely normal, and it’s simply a way for your turtle to expel excess water from its system. Sometimes the water it spits or squirts out of its nose can travel several inches!

Sense of Smell

Turtles have a great sense of smell, both on land and in the water. When underwater, turtles smell by pumping their jaw or by pulling water through their mouth and out of their nose, or vice versa. This smelling process can make it appear that your turtle is spitting. The throat may also pulse when turtles are engaging their sense of smell. 

Turtles actually don’t use their nostrils to smell. Instead, they have bumps called barbels, which are located underneath their chin. These barbels contain sensitive nerves which allow turtles to identify a range of different scents.

On land, this great sense of smell helps turtles to keep their distance from predators. It also enables turtles to sniff out pheromones during mating season!

Other Senses in Turtles

Spitting or pumping the jaw actually allows turtles to sniff out predators and survive dangerous situations! Learn how turtles’ other senses help protect them below.


Turtles see better in the water than they do on land, where they’re considered short-sighted or near-sighted. They can see different colors, primarily yellow, blue, green, and violet. However, they aren’t very sensitive to orange and red shades. 

Turtles can distinguish between different patterns and shapes, and they’re able to differentiate between various kinds of food. Turtles’ sense of sight works in tandem with their sense of smell in order to keep them away from potential predators.


Since turtles don’t have eardrums, their hearing isn’t very advanced. However, they can pick up on vibrations and low-frequency noises. One interesting thing is that turtles have organs in their ears which allow them to sense differences in water pressure. This is another way that turtles can sense predators and keep their distance from them. 


Not much research has been conducted on turtles’ sense of taste. While we do know that some turtles have taste buds and others don’t, we aren’t aware of exactly how strong their sense of taste is. In some cases, turtles may eat poisonous foods because they aren’t able to taste them. 


Even though your turtle’s skin seems pretty rough, it’s actually very sensitive due to the nerves on the skin and shell. The soft parts of a turtle’s flippers are especially sensitive. Your turtle can feel your touch, and some are very receptive to a gentle shell or neck rub!

Respiratory Infection

If your turtle doesn’t appear to be spitting water but instead has mucus coming from its nose and/or mouth, it may be suffering from a respiratory infection. 

Causes of Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections can be bacterial, fungal, or viral. Most commonly, respiratory infections are caused by issues with your turtle’s husbandry, such as:

  • Cold water. Your turtle’s water should range from 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Since turtles are cold-blooded, it’s essential to keep their environment at the proper temperatures. 


  • A basking area that isn’t warm enough. Turtles come out of the water to bask periodically, and it’s necessary to keep the basking area warmer than the rest of the tank. Typically, your turtle’s basking area should range from 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This is essential for your turtle to regulate its body temperature, and it also helps your pet dry off completely after swimming. 


  • Poor diet. A diet that doesn’t have the proper vitamins and nutrients will result in a weak immune system, leaving your turtle susceptible to falling ill.


  • Lack of UVB rays. UVB rays are very important to turtles overall wellbeing, growth, and development. UVB rays contain Vitamin D3, which turtles need to process calcium. Basking under UVB rays is very beneficial for your turtle’s shell as well. 

How to Prevent Respiratory Infections

It’s always better to prevent illness in the first place than it is to have to treat an illness. In the case of respiratory infections, correct husbandry is the best form of prevention. That means providing your turtle with an adequately-sized tank, maintaining the proper temperatures and humidity, and feeding your turtle a well-balanced diet. 

Turtle owners should also note that a dirty cage can often lead to a sick pet. This is why it’s so important to stay on top of a regular cleaning schedule. While cleaning your turtle’s tank and changing out the water probably isn’t your idea of fun, it’s necessary for your pet’s health and wellbeing. 

Respiratory Infection Symptoms

Respiratory infections come with quite a few symptoms. However, many of them don’t show up until the infection has worsened. If your turtle shows any of these symptoms, it’s very important to get it to a veterinarian!

Although there are a few things you can do at home to help your turtle recover, it’s very likely your pet will die if it doesn’t receive professional treatment and medication. Symptoms include:

  • Lethargy/lack of energy
  • Difficulty coming to the surface of the water to breathe
  • Staying on the surface of the water rather than swimming
  • Runny nose
  • Bubbles and mucus coming from nose and mouth
  • Swollen eyes with discharge
  • Trouble holding up its head
  • Swimming sideways

If your turtle is swimming sideways, that’s a huge cause for concern. Swimming sideways indicates that the respiratory infection has developed into pneumonia, and one of your turtle’s lungs is beginning to fill with fluid. This then throws off your turtle’s balance, causing it to swim in a lopsided or sideways fashion.

First Aid for Respiratory Infections

If you’re not able to get your turtle to the vet immediately, there are a few things you can do to try to help your pet. These are also good suggestions to be used after vet treatment to help the recovery process along.

  • Separate your turtle from other animals. If you have more than one turtle cohabitating, separate them. Respiratory infections are extremely contagious. 


  • Increase water and basking area temperatures. Since turtles don’t get fevers the way humans do, you’re basically inducing a fever for your pet. Increase temperatures by a few degrees, but make sure your turtle still has access to a cooler area with shade. 


  • Add an infrared heat lamp to your turtle’s heat source and UVB light. This helps to increase your pet’s internal temperature. Be sure to keep track of temperatures with reliable digital thermometers.


  • Leave the infrared heat lamp on overnight. When turtles are sick, they often stay in the basking area rather than swimming.


  • Add API Turtle Fix to your turtle’s water. This isn’t medicine that will cure infection, but it should help your pet to breathe a bit more easily. It’s similar to using Vick’s VapoRub when you’re congested; it’ll make your turtle more comfortable.

Remember that turtles will often seem to be better before they are completely recovered. So if you see improvement after going through these first aid measures, that’s great! But just keep in mind that your turtle should still see a veterinarian, even if it seems to be healthy again. 

Professional Treatment for Respiratory Infections

The first thing a veterinarian will do is figure out whether the respiratory infection is bacterial, fungal, or viral. This determines the type of treatment your turtle will receive. Your turtle may be given an injection at the vet’s office, and the vet will most likely send you home with some medicine as well. 

This could be a liquid medication that you give to your pet by mouth, nebulizer medicine that your turtle breathes in, or even injections to administer at home. Your vet may also recommend that you use a vaporizer. In severe cases, your turtle may need to stay at the vet’s office for a few days in order to fully recuperate. 


A spitting turtle is most likely just expelling excess water or engaging its sense of smell, which isn’t a cause for concern! But if it seems like there’s mucus coming out of its nose and mouth rather than water, your turtle may be dealing with a respiratory infection. Make sure to get your pet to the vet if you notice any worrying symptoms!


I’m Devin Nunn, an average joe that just so happens to have a deep love and passion for everything to do with reptiles. Because taking care of them for the vast majority of my life wasn’t fulfilling enough, I decided to begin educating others about them through my articles. read more...