Can Turtles Drown? How Long Can A Turtle Hold Its Breath Underwater?

Can turtles drown?

One of the fun things about turtles is that they live on both land and water.

Watching a pet turtle climb up onto its basking platform, or a wild turtle scramble up onto a rock is a real highlight.

However, one question that a lot of us have is, ‘can a turtle drown in water?’ – let’s find out!

Can Turtles Breath Underwater?

how to help drowned turtle

So, can a turtle drown?

Yes, turtles can drown in water if they stay or get trapped underwater for longer than they can handle.

Although it varies between species, most turtles spend a lot of time underwater. However, unlike fish, turtles don’t have gills that draw oxygen out of water. Instead, they have lungs.

Turtles do sleep underwater, so sometimes you might be tempted to think your turtle has drowned when really he’s only asleep.

The painted turtle can receive some oxygen underwater, but will still surface for air, even during sleeping hours.

Just like whales, dolphins, and humans, turtles need to hold their breath while staying in the water and must come up to breathe.

However, they are able to hold their breath for a significant amount of time, which is why we have so many people asking this question!

For the sake of experiences that we go on, such as dolphin and whale watching, it’s a very good thing that these animals come up to the surface to breathe, or else we’d probably never see them!

The same goes with turtles – we get to enjoy them all the more because they cannot breathe underwater and must spend time at the surface.

How Long Can Turtles Hold Their Breath?


There isn’t a straightforward answer to this question because it varies according to certain factors.

This includes the turtle:

  • Species
  • Age
  • Location

Additionally, the temperature of the water also affects how long a turtle can stay underwater.

Here are some examples:

  • Red Eared Sliders can spend 20 – 30 minutes underwater without taking a breath
  • Box Turtles can hold their breath 15 – 30 minutes
  • Painted Turtles can stay underwater for many hours

Sea turtles have the ability to hold their breath and stay underwater the longest.

They can be underwater for periods of 4 – 7 hours – pretty incredible!

Can You Save A Drowned Turtle?

can turtles breath underwater

Even after a turtle drowns, it might stay alive for up to several hours.

That’s because their bodies shut down (just like hibernation).

If you manage to find your turtle early, it has a much better chance of surviving the drowning.

The most important thing is that you shouldn’t flip the turtle upside down, as it keeps some air in its lungs for hibernation even after drowning.

The best thing to do is to not panic, take it out, and contact a vet for guidance.

If you want to take some immediate measures to try and revive a drowned turtle, there are a few things you can do.

Follow these steps before taking your pet to the vet:

  1. Gently remove the turtle from its tank without turning it upside-down
  2. Gently hold the turtle’s head behind its ears extend its neck out
  3. Hold the turtle face down and open its mouth so that any water drips out
  4. While still keeping its neck extended, place the turtle tummy down on a table
  5. Straighten the front legs towards you
  6. Keeping the legs straight, push them in towards the turtle’s body
  7. Repeat this until water has been removed

Hopefully, your turtle will start breathing again and you can then take him to the vet ASAP!

How To Prevent Turtles From Drowning

does turtles breathe underwaterTurtles are able to hold their breath for a lot of time so there should be nothing to worry about if we’re talking about a tank setting.

However, even a turtle that lasts has good breath-holding skills can drown quickly if things go wrong.

The most common cause of turtle drowning is getting stuck in a certain part of the aquarium – behind a rock, under something on the surface of the water, or around some aquarium driftwood.

When they’re agitated, they might start to struggle to release themselves from the obstacle, causing them to lose air at a much higher rate.

This can raise their chances of drowning.

That’s one of the main reasons why you should make sure that your aquarium and turtle toys are all turtle-friendly.

Can Baby Turtles Drown?

Baby turtles are perhaps most at risk of drowning because they are inexperienced and untested.

One must be careful, especially when keeping young turtles in a large tank, that there is nothing that might impede the turtle from coming to the surface to get oxygen.

Young turtles are more at risk of getting trapped or even misjudging when they need to return to the surface for a breath.

Turtle noises are not enough to alert us to such emergencies, so it’s best to provide the safest environment possible.

Can Turtles Drown – FAQs

Here are a few other frequently asked questions about turtles and drowning.

How long does it take for a turtle to drown?

Most breeds of pet turtles can hold their breath from 15 – 40 minutes.

The actual length of time will depend on their breed and their level of activity underwater. Sea turtles, on the other hand, can hold their breath for up to 7 hours!

Do turtles get tired of swimming?

Yes, turtles will get tired of swimming.

They cannot be constantly left in the water without a basking platform or rock.

Leaving them in a tank without access to a resting zone will ultimately lead to their drowning death.

Can turtles breathe from their buttholes?

Some turtle breeds can indeed breathe through their anus.

One example is the white-throated snapping turtle of Queensland, Australia.

The somewhat unbelievable skill is also known as cloacal respiration, though ‘breath through their bum’ is easier to say.

The process really does let these turtles take oxygen directly from the water.

Can red eared sliders drown?

We’ve already covered this above, but we often get asked this question relating to specific breeds.

Yes, red eared sliders, box turtles, painted turtles, snapping turtles, and sea turtles will all eventually drown if they do not come up to the surface for air.

Do turtles sleep in the water?

Turtles often sleep underwater.

They have much slower metabolisms compared to other animals so can go for long periods between breaths when they sleep.

Why is my turtle laying upside down?

It’s either extremely sick or dead.

How Long Can Turtles Stay Underwater?

So, yes, turtles can drown, though it is uncommon, and most turtles know their limits for being underwater.

With most home aquariums, it’s highly unlikely for a turtle to drown in a tank, just be careful if you have a large tank with many obstacles.

A turtle’s lifespan is rather long, and drownings do not occur all that often.

It’s only in the case of turtle tank mismanagement or illness that it’s likely to happen.

Please let us know if you have any more questions or comments down below!

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