Reptile & Amphibian Center

Ear Infections in Turtles and Tortoises



Surgery is required to remove the pus and debris that has built up underneath the turtle’s ear membrane. The veterinarian will anesthetize the turtle and carefully make an opening in the membrane to reach the middle ear. The pus plug will be carefully lifted out of the ear cavity. The cavity will then be thoroughly cleaned and flushed out with sterile saline, and sometimes with an antimicrobial solution. The doctor will take care with this delicate operation to ensure that the infectious debris is not accidentally swallowed or inhaled as it is flushed through the Eustachian tube. The cavity will then be packed with an antibiotic ointment, and instructions will be given to the owner on how to clean the ear daily and repack the ointment. An injectable antibiotic will be given to the turtle, and in some cases, an oral antibiotic is also prescribed.


It can take several weeks for the skin membrane to heal. During this time, the turtle will need to be kept in a separate environment than its normal living space. It will need a safe space where it can rest and heal, with warmth and humidity — a humidifier can help to keep the air humidity stable. The area should be cleaned daily. The newspapers or towels used to line the area where the turtle is being kept should be changed out every day.


If the turtle lives some or all of the time in water (aquatic), your veterinarian will give you special instructions on how to treat the water to help the healing process.




If the infection was related to Vitamin A deficiency, the veterinarian will go over a diet plan with the owner to ensure the turtle is getting adequate Vitamin A in its diet.


Sanitary conditions are an important component of prevention. The surfaces of the habitat should be kept very clean, with water and food bowls changed out and disinfected every few days. The owner and veterinarian can discuss safe ways to disinfect the habitat and bowls; chemicals should not be used. Environmental humidity and temperature should also be carefully monitored.