Turtles on their backs are vulnerable. It's difficult for many of them to right themselves. If flipping over occurs frequently to your pet, something is wrong with him. If he exhibits any symptoms of illness along with the flipping, take him to the vet for a thorough examination. If his appetite and behavior is otherwise normal, investigate his living conditions to see if you need to make changes.
Turtles with serious respiratory infections, often those resulting from vitamin A deficiencies, might tilt to the side when swimming, which could cause them to flip over. A lack of vitamin A changes a turtle's mucous membranes in his eyes, mouth and respiratory tract. Early signs of an infection include lack of appetite, nasal discharge, eyelid swelling and discharge, ear swelling and bubbling in the mouth. By the time the turtle starts tilting or flipping, the infection has gone into his lungs. He can no longer stay buoyant in the water. Take your pet to the vet as soon as he exhibits abnormal symptoms or behavior.
Although you can't prevent all respiratory infections, feeding your turtle a proper diet -- high in vitamin A -- lessens his chances of getting sick. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations regarding a high-quality commercial diet. Avoid feeding your pet iceberg lettuce or a diet consisting solely of meat. Offer him treats of live worms. He can also have regular amounts of dark green, leafy vegetables containing lots of vitamin A. Limit feeding to what he can consume in 10 minutes.
The right aquarium setup protects your turtle; the wrong one might kill him. It's important that your aquarium is large enough so that your turtle has sufficient room for swimming. That includes the length of the aquarium and the depth of the water. Keep the water level deeper than the width of your turtle. Otherwise, he can more easily flip over and is less likely to get himself upright. The result might be fatal.
If you keep several turtles together and find one frequently flipped on his back, observe their behavior carefully. It's possible that you have two or more male turtles in a tank with females. When breeding season comes around, adult male turtles might start fighting over the females. A stronger male might flip a weaker one over. Male turtles might also harass female turtles, attempting to breed. Females can become flipped over and injured. Male turtles can also fall onto their backs after mating.
- Marshall University: Eastern Box Turtle
- Turtle and Tortoise Society: Water Turtle Care Sheet
- University of North Carolina: A Quick-Care Guide to Semi-Aquatic Turtles
- Wright Bird and Exotic Pet House Calls: Dr. Wright's Quick Guide to Red-Eared Sliders
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Turtles - Aquatic - Diseases
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.