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Why is My Turtle Head Twitching? Is it Normal?

You might be concerned if you notice that your turtle’s head is constantly twitching. 

There are several reasons why a turtle’s head twitches, including respiratory illness, parasites, unsafe tank conditions, vitamin deficiency, and metabolic bone disease. 

However, there is a difference between normal twitching and irregular twitching that you should be aware of.  For example, it is considered normal if your turtle is basking and its head twitches.

Also, see if your turtle is just stretching its neck. This indicates normal behavior, too, so you should not panic. 

If you suspect that the turtle’s head twitching may be due to other health conditions, keep reading to learn what you can do to reduce the twitching. 

5 Reasons Why Turtles Twitch Their Heads

Respiratory Illness

One of the main reasons a turtle’s head twitches is because of a respiratory illness.

Some signs that your turtle has developed such a disease or infection include coughing, lethargy, gasping, eye and mouth discharge, wheezing, loss of appetite, and twitching of the head or body. Depending on the severity of the illness, your turtle might be having trouble breathing. 

Another sign to look out for is when the turtle opens its mouth when it is underwater. Having its mouth open consistently underwater can also mean it is having trouble breathing. 

In some cases, you may notice the turtle move its neck forward so that it can bring more air into its body. Bacteria and vitamin A deficiency is the reason behind a turtle having a respiratory illness. 


Another reason that turtles can be infected is due to parasites. 

Parasites can enter the turtle tank when they hide inside natural plants. If you have plants inside your tank, be sure to thoroughly clean them before putting them inside your tank. 

Also, when cleaning out the tank, you must take effort to wash it well. If the parasite problem is severe, you might find your turtle excessively twitching because its body might be covered in parasites. 

Gastrointestinal parasites, such as roundworms, are treated with deworming medications. 

Unsafe Tank Condition

Make sure that your turtle’s tank is set up correctly because if it is not, this can also cause twitching. 

Your turtle should have a large dry area or a dock with a UV lamp so that the turtle can bask properly. They need this lamp to be able to warm up their body and get enough vitamin D3. 

Turtles need vitamin D3 for the absorption and metabolism of calcium. If a turtle lacks vitamin D3, it can cause bone disorders and reduce the life of your turtle.  

Also, the temperature of the water might cause the twitching in the turtle. You want to make sure that it is not too hot or too cold. 

The ideal temperature is around 76 degrees Fahrenheit. If you use tap water for your turtle tank, add a conditioner into the water because tap water is contaminated with chlorine. 

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Having a water test kit can come in handy to help you have the appropriate water condition for the turtle. 

These steps are crucial to having a safe living condition for your turtle.  

Vitamin Deficiency 

Vitamin Deficiency 

The most important vitamin for a turtle is vitamin A because it helps maintain a healthy respiratory system. 

Abscesses (infected, pus-filled swellings) can develop in the turtles’ ears and appear as large swellings on the sides of their head. Other lumps may appear that indicate a general infection or illness. 

Lack of vitamin A changes the turtle’s skin’s outer layer and the mucus-producing glands and membranes lining the mouth, eyes, kidneys, and upper respiratory tract.

Metabolic Bone Disease 

The last reason that can cause twitching in turtles is metabolic bone disease. 

The twitching from a metabolic bone disease will cause the twitching in the entire body of the turtle. When a turtle has a metabolic bone disease, it severely weakens the bones in the turtle’s body and shell. 

The main cause of metabolic bone disease is a deficiency of phosphorus and calcium. If the turtle does not get treated, they might not survive for long. 

As long as they are treated promptly, and the appropriate changes are made and maintained, they will have a better chance at surviving. 

Should I Be Concerned?

If your turtle is active, eating, and there are no signs of an infection or an illness, you should not stress about it. 

Before you hit the panic button, consider the reasons mentioned above for the possible cause of twitching. It could simply mean that the turtle had been shocked by the temperature change of the water in the tank to the basking dock. 

Purchase a reliable thermometer to see the water’s temperature and make the changes necessary so that your turtle is more comfortable. 

Movements in the water or land should be smooth and firm. Any sign of weakness or shakiness can be a sign of an illness. 

Look at the overall body condition of the turtle and make sure everything looks right, from the skin to the shell. The skin should look normal and not irritated, and the shell should not have defects or cracks. 

Inspect the head, eyes, nostrils, and mouth too. Ensure the eyes are not red or swollen and that the mouth does not have any unusual color.

The mouth should be a healthy pink color. If there are small yellow, white or green patches on the tongue or inside the mouth, it can be a sign of illness. Be wary if the saliva is thick or stringy too. 

4 Tips to Reduce Twitching in Turtles

Having the essential tank equipment is required for the turtle to be in a healthy living condition. 

  1. Replace UV lamp

You should replace the UV lamp in the tank every six to nine months to ensure that it remains effective, even if it is still operational. 

  1. Filter

Having a good filter is recommended because turtles produce more waste. Be sure that the turtle can swim away from the suction of the filter intake. If it cannot do this, consider replacing the filter. 

  1. Ensure proper hygiene
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Proper cleaning of the enclosure will help reduce twitching in your turtle. If you have fake plants in your enclosure, consider getting the plastic kind because they are easier to clean. 

You will want to clean it regularly and not leave the tank to be uncleaned for an extended period, especially if the tank starts to get mold on the glass and the water looks dirty or starts to have a foul odor. 

Additionally, turtles kept in crowded conditions can cause them stress and are more prone to illness. 

  1. Avoid overfeeding
avoid turtles overfeeding

The diet of the turtle will also ensure that the twitching reduces. Please do not feed the turtle too much, especially protein, because it can cause a condition called shell pyramiding. 

When you provide the turtle pellets, make sure the portion is just right. The portion size depends on the size of the turtle’s head. 

Foods rich in calcium, such as dark romaine lettuce, should be increased in the daily intake. Try to feed organic food because pesticides can harm the turtle. 

Turtles are curious creatures and will eat items small enough, such as gravel, so make sure they are not ingesting anything they are not supposed to. It can obstruct the turtle’s digestive system, which can be life-threatening. 

When to See a Vet?

A turtle that shows any sign of not being normal should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Especially if your turtle has a metabolic bone disease, it might be fatal if not corrected quickly. 

Depending on the exact species of your turtle, its diet, and your setup, you might need to provide a calcium and vitamin D supplement. Your vet should know the specific needs of your turtle so that they can tell you the best way to care for it. 

Bacteria cause respiratory infections, and vitamin A deficiency indicates improper nutrition that should be treated and corrected. The treatment should be performed under veterinary supervision. 

The vet may take x-rays and run blood tests to determine the reason for the infection. Antibiotics may be administered to treat the infection, usually given orally, such as through an injection or nose drops. If the turtle’s condition is extreme, the turtle might need intensive care, which could include fluid therapy and force-feeding. 

The Bottom Line

Turtles can become ill if they are not cared for properly. It is crucial to be able to differentiate between regular and irregular twitching before you panic. 

If you realize it is not normal twitching, possible reasons include respiratory illness, parasites, unsafe tank condition, vitamin deficiency, and metabolic bone disease. 

It is recommended that you take the turtle to have at least an annual examination by a vet. The turtle’s health can be assessed during the examination, and any changes needed in the turtle’s care can be made.