can a turtle drown

Can A Turtle Drown | Most Burning Question on Turtle

Last Updated on July 24, 2020 by John B. Nelson

Whenever I see a turtle, it fascinates me with its peacefulness and resilience. Also, I have observed them remaining in the water for an incredible amount of time. I have even heard people saying their turtles are staying underwater and holding the breath for a really long time.

So, these observations prompted me to find the answer to “Can a turtle drown?”

The answer shocked me, and I guess it will come even more shocking to you.

Yes, you can drown a turtle underwater in the right conditions

But what these conditions that prompt turtles to be drawn? Also, what are the factors such as turtle species and age that influence turtle has drawn? And finally, what happens in case your pet turtle is drowning?

Can you revive a drawn turtle?

To get answers to all these questions, keep reading the following sections.

Can a Turtle Drawn: How It Happens

As you already know that you can drown a turtle underwater. But, it needs some conditions to be fulfilled. These are:

  • Turtles species
  • Turtle age
  • Water condition

While we will discuss them in the relevant parts, let’s now focus on the turtle biology. It will help you understand why turtles can be drawn in the water.

Well, you should know that turtles are reptiles and not a fish. So, they use their lungs for breathing instead of gills. While gills of fishes are evolved to help fish breath in underwater, turtles’ case is very different.

They have to receive oxygen from the air, and so, from time to time, they come out of water for breathing. And the question of drowning comes right in this circumstance.

If a turtle is underwater for an extended period and it fails to breathe in, slowly it will start drowning for the lack of fresh oxygen. 

This brings us to the all-important and prominent question of how long a turtle might stay underwater before it starts drowning.

So, let’s check it-

How Long Can A Turtle Live Underwater

The duration of a turtle successfully living underwater varies from one species to another. It also varies with the turtle age and the location they are living in. So, the turtles’ ability to live underwater will be prominently affected by the following three things:

  • Turtle species
  • Turtle maturity
  • Water parameters

Now let’s discuss these factors one by one:

Types of Turtle Species

Both the red-eared slider and painted turtles are aquatic turtles. So, they spend a lot of their life underwater. It has been observed that these species can live for 20 minutes continuously underwater without breathing.

Sea turtles spend even a more considerable amount of time underwater. Studies have found that the leatherback sea turtles can live in the water for surprising 7 to 10 hours duration. Both Olive Ridley and Kemp’s Ridley can stay underneath water for 7-10 hours.

Another famous pet turtle is a box turtle. I have seen my box turtle can live only 1-2 minutes underwater. The duration is similar to the desert turtle’s as well.

So here’s a progressive chart of varying levels of capacity in staying underwater according to turtle species.

Species NameDuration
Box Turtle1-2 minutes
Red Eared Slider20-30 minutes
Painted Turtle20-30 minutes
Desert Tortoise1-2 minutes
Leatherback Sea Turtle7-10 hours

Turtle Age

The age of a turtle also controls its ability to live underwater for a specified period. For instance, juvenile turtles have a small lung, and so, they can breathe in a minimal amount of oxygen. Thus, it is less likely to survive in the water for a long time.

On the contrary, adult and grown-up turtles can breathe in a large amount of oxygen in a single go so that they will survive for a longer period underwater.


The location where the turtle is living also determines its capacity to live underwater. In winter areas, turtle needs less energy for survival that keeps them underwater for an extended period. On the contrary, in summer areas, turtles are more active that causes into lesser survival chance in the water without proper breathing opportunity.

What Happens When a Turtle Drowns?

If unfortunately, your turtle is drawn underwater, it’s a mixed bag of experience for you. Well, to be specific, I have two pieces of news for you regarding what can happen to a drawn turtle. These are-

  1. If a turtle is drawn for a longer period, it might get pneumonia. Also, turtles will stop breathing, and water will enter into its internal body- the bad news.
  2. The chances are high that your turtle will survive from the drowning condition. But for that, you need to treat it immediately. Then take it to a VET as soon as possible- the good news.

So, now let’s see how you can give the drowning turtle an initial treatment to help it survive and take it to the vet for further treatment.

How to Revive Your Drowning Turtle at Home

When you see your turtle is drowning, the following practices will increase its chance of survival. However, it would help if you were incredibly cautious while applying these traditional techniques; otherwise, the opportunity for the turtle to survive is bleak.

  1. As soon as possible, take your turtle out of the water and keep it in a vertical position.
  2. As you poise the turtle in a vertical position, make sure its head is positioned upright down.
  3. It would help if you need to pull the turtle neck and extended it fully. For it, grab the neck right at the bottom of its head and spread it.
  4. As you extend the neck, most of the drowning water should leak of its mouth.
  5. Next, place the turtle on a flat surface and extended its front legs fully. Then push the legs backward. As you do so, the remaining water also should come out of its mouth.
  6. You need to perform the same technique to the rear legs as well.
  7. It would help if you need to switch between the front and rear legs continuously until the turtle moves or shows any signs of LIFE.
  8. Lastly, consult the vet as soon as possible. Then check if the turtle has developed any signs of pneumonia or not.

Note: You should never use the mouth to mouth technique or use a straw for the turtle. It will only add up to the existing problem.


The next time you ask, “Can a turtle drown?”, you must now know- Yes, a turtle can be drawn quickly. Hence, always ensure that the turtle has a convenient exit and entry to the water tank and has a non-slippery basking area for its safety.

Also, when you see a turtle drowning, after the primary treatment at home, consult the vet ASAP.

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