Drowning tortoise - how long can they survive?


I had the most horrible experience of finding my tortoise at the bottom of my garden pond 3 days ago. He had climbed over his obviously not so tortoise-proof barrier and I estimate that he could have been in there from anything from 20 miutes up to a maximum of 2 hours. Having searched the garden first, I then searched the pond and to my horror my hand touched his shell. The pond is 65 cms deep and he was at the bottom.
When I pulled him out he was still moving but his eyes were white and appeared all in the wrong direction. His head was also a bit floppy. I didn't know what to do but rubbed him dry and tried to stimulate breathing by blowing at his nostrils (not into them) and tried to open his mouth. I must admit I kind of freaked and put him in the sun. I was so upset and could hardly bare to look at him, thinking I had killed him.
Over the next hour or so I quickly consulted the internet but couldn't find much except sites telling me he would drown. His eyes began to clear but he didn't look a happy chappy so I took him the next day to my vet who said he looked as though he had "got away with it". I asked him for antibiotics which he gave him and also a one-off dose of Fusemide, which I understand helps with any water being drawn into the tissues.
That night he passed some water I think and a strange blob of pink fleshy stuff which worried me. I kept him on a slight incline as I was worried he may choke on anything he ejected from his mouth.
Today he finally ate a strawberry, having refused food the 2 days after it happened. I was so relieved. Tomorrow he goes back to the vets for his second antibiotic injection. Fingers crossed he is OK. Everything I read on the internet says a tortoise will drown under water, but my vet says they had one that survived 24 hours under water....?
My question is this....how long can a spur-thighed tortoise survive? Was he very lucky? Will he have sufffered any permanent damage? Can they get brain damage from lack of oxygen and how would this present itself. He seems to be able to see OK.

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Dec 05, 2021
Chelonian under water
by: Shelly

Hello, Clara

Thank you for sharing in so much detail. I wish you all well.

Keep it slow and steady.

Dec 05, 2021
Garden tortoise fell in the pool
by: Clara from Argentina

Hello, this forum has given us great peace of mind and I wanted to share my story. I have a garden turtle that is 36 yo and she fell in the pool that is 1.5 metres tall and was under water for 40 minutes! We checked on the garden camera. When we realised we pulled her our and she was blinking. We put her in the grass and she stuck her head out really high and started to push water through her nose hard like one of those squeaky toys. Me and my parents were horrified and panicking but she seemed to know what she was doing so we let her do that. She also seemed extremely tired but did this like 10 times during 15 mins. Then she would get tired again and I would tap her shell so she wouldn’t fall asleep or close the eyes for too long. We also googled to put her belly up for a few seconds and tried to press her belly a bit, and she seemed to spit water through her mouth a little bit too. Then we put her back standing like normal. After 30 mins she seemed to be getting a little bit more animated and her eyes were drying and not so milky looking. After 40 mins of being taken out she walked a bit to eat a flower that was in the grass. And after one hour she started walking around and started to go to her little hide place in a corner of the wall. We read not to let them sleep, so we encouraged her to continue walking by pulling her far from her sleep place a couple of times and so she would move her muscles in case she has more water. She is now resting as she is very tired from the ordeal but her eyes are back to normal and she seems ok. We are going to keep an eye on her today and we put a little fence so she can’t go into the pool. We had the fence last year in the summer (because she had fallen for 10 mins before, we also checked in the garden cameras), but we had taken it out because she was hibernating in the winter, but now that the days are hotter and she was out and about we didn’t put it back soon enough. Now the fence is back in place and we are super careful. We are also now checking with the vet to see if she is going to need antibiotics in case of a respiratory infection or anything. I hope this can help others! Thank you everyone else who shared their stories.

Sep 26, 2021
African Spurred Thighed Tortoise
by: KatEd

I am sooo grateful for this page because it gives me hope. My (over100lbs) african spurred thighed tortoise was on the bottom of our 6 foot deep Pool this evening. He must have been there for at least 2.5 hours. I have been soooo horrified and felt extremely helpless. My Husband did all the work because I was panicking and cried my eyes out not knowing how to help the poor baby. He was lifeless pale and his eyes were milky. I touched and moved him but, no response. After hewas given 2 puffs of air into his nose he started to make a noise but went back limp. We did it again and picked him up when we saw water running out of his nose and mouth and he made a few scary movements but he was trying to breathe on his own. He has been very lethargic since. We are keeping him warm and will get him to the Vet in the morning. Hoping he will be ok and he will regain his strength.

Apr 05, 2020
by: Anonymous

To all those that had a traumatizing experience with their tortoise nearly drowning, im glad your pet made it, however fluid in the lungs can lead to a respiratory infection so its best to keep listening for wheezing for up to a week.

Feb 27, 2019
Tortoise under water
by: Anonymous

You seem to be telling us it is.

Feb 14, 2019
How long can a Tortoise survive under water
by: Nancy PhillipsAnonymous

Hello , I live in Southern California and had 5 inches of rain today. I check on my 3 hybernating tortoises which are underground and my female is completely under water. I thought she was dead as I pull her out she gasps! She had to be under there for a few days! Is that possible? Thank you.

Jul 23, 2018
Help when asked, not chastise
by: Hate people like Suzanne pope

Suzanne Pope I get sick of seeing comments like yours. This person had fear and concern about something that happened to their poor tortoise and was seeking advice. They weren't asking for your moral approval. You suggesting someone shouldnt have a pond with a tortoise is absolutely a short sighted and wrong answer. Many Forest tortoises come from habitats with natural rivers and ponds; for people with PROPER knowledge of tortoise raising, emulating their natural habitat is one way to ensure great health, happiness and resilience. Yes, they will have tips and spills and escape and cause you problems; this is the natural state of the tortoise, not the bubble-wrapped existence you are probably suggesting.

Why own a tortoise if you own a pond? Why chastise a person seeking help and advice?

May 21, 2018
tortoise under water
by: Suzanne Pope

It rained yesterday and my tortoises hole was muddy and full of water...he got in the hole and he was stuck under a board..I had to dig him out..he was under water but everything is fine.
I just don't understood all of these people with horror stories of their tortoises being found at the bottom of pools and ponds..why in the world would a person get a tortoise if they have a pool?????..or pond??.I think it's totally unacceptable..shouldn't have a tortoise..get a different pet.

Jan 10, 2018
Drowned Tortoise
by: Anonymous

To resurrect an old post....

Just the other day we found our tortoise at the bottom of our pond, which is several feet deep, after returning home from work.
- who knows how long he'd been down.

After an extended course of Turning him nose down, mouth to nose, and compressing his front legs we got some movement, and eye reaction but he was quite limp.

After reading the suprisingly small amount of google results. The story here and comments provided quite a bit of hope.

We took him to the vet and left him on oxygen and a course of antibiotics. Yesterday, the day after, he is looking a lot better, responsive, and moving around.

Hopefully a return home today and continued improvement.

thank you everyone.

Dec 08, 2017
Drowning Tortoise
by: Anonymous

Came home late one evening and found our tortoise at the bottom of the pool. Got her out as quick as we could but no sign of life. Obvioisly I broke down into tears and just layed with her talking to her. Everyone had made the assumption that she was dead but I quickly checked on google of ways to revive her and tried everything they said and today she is alive. She still seems very scared and traumatized but the whole ordeal and not eating yet but its only been 2 days now so will se how she is over the weekend. The most amazing thing is that when I had her all wrapped up in a towel to keep her warm I picked her up and out fell a egg. So she was also pregnant

Dec 03, 2017
i thought my baby tortoise drowned
by: bashar zainal

my tortoise that i had today was so tired so i brang him food and everything i searched up that tortoisees like water or not it said it likes shalow ponds so i put a tiny cup and my tortoise could reach its legs so i was comfident was that nothing would happen then sodendpy my tortoise kept its head under for like 30 secs i got worried and pulled it out the it was like nothing ever happened and it went back and did the same thing every time i pulled it then i left it allown to do its thing and it got out safly but then it kept flipping onto its back and i had to babysittitt till i sleep and hope for god to it still be allive

Sep 18, 2017
by: Jose

This is my fear with children that find tortoises and would put them in water thinking they are turtles. It breaks my heart reading these stories and also thinking how many have been drowned due to children being confused. My friend's son found one this past Saturday walking on the yard but I took it and put in in a totally safe place to avoid the kids from putting the little guy in water.

Jul 03, 2017
Drowning tortoise
by: Shelly

I am so sorry to hear your story.

I do think you did the right things.

You did the first aid that you could, and you got your friend to medical attention. The vet did the best, too, in calling on another expert. With two of them consulting, I am sure you got the best advice possible.

It is natural to second-guess yourself, but you really have done what you can.

Keep it slow and steady.

Jun 23, 2017
We did all we could.
by: Anonymous

Our pet tortoise of 17 years fell into the pond earlier today, when we founded her she was at the bottom of the pond and most probably had been there for well over an hour.
I pulled her out But she was completely lifeless and her eyes looked milky coloured. I tilted her head down and then pushed in her legs and I managed to expel a lot of water from her lungs.

I then checked the internet for advice and then tried mouth to nose resuscitation. I held her mouth closed and tblew into her lungs 10 to 20 times per minute. After about 20 mins, I was shocked when she opened her mouth, I continued with the resuscitation. I managed to get her breathing but was very very laboured ahe could not could not hold her head up.

I then took her to the vets, they injected her with antibiotics and a diuretic, kept her warm and gave her oxygen, but after 3 hours there was no sign of improvement, she could still not hold up her head and the breathing was very laboured. our vet consulted with a specialist reptile vets but the prognosis was not good, our vet advised her that her chances of making a recovery were very very slim. The vet suggested that the best option was to put her to sleep with a lethal injection, and after much deliberation and a some tears I agreed. The vet would not let me take her home as she was as she felt this was just prolonging the suffering.

Now that I'm back home I'm questioning whether I made the right decision. Maybe the vet was too quick to euthanise her, maybe after a few more and with plenty of heat she might have made a recovery, but it's too late now.

It's good to see so many stories on this website of tortoises surviving drowning but unfortunately ours didn't make it.

May 05, 2017
Tortoise underwater
by: Shelly

I am happy to hear about Jeffery's recovery. Any time a tortoise has been underwater for any length of time, you have to keep a very close eye on developments. It's so easy for a tortoise to develop respiratory problems. A trip to the reptile vet is a good idea.

Keep it slow and steady.

Apr 21, 2017
still catching my breath
by: Anonymous

oh my word. my mothers gone off to panic, my brothers still crying his eyes out, the dogs yowling amd the cats gone mad.
not 30 minuets ago my tortoise fell into the pond. after the search on land proved futile, my mother just so happened to walk towards the pond. as our pond is a work in progress, you could see the bottom, and there he was, our little jeffery voldetort. He was sunk at the bottom of the pool and after a brief moment of some very unlady like language that would have knocked the socks off a sailor, my lovely mother went to retrieve him. as he came up to the surface he as limp and grey as tuesdays sock. he looked as though he had gone. but much to mine and my brothers amazement, my mother burst into action, pumping his legs and breathing through his nostrils. in about 10 mins he was alive again. it was a heartwarming sight. he is doing much better now and is continuously making progress. so my mother is a hero to tortoisekind. i will be keepingnan eye on him for a while, but he has gone through meetings with the dog, cat and hedgehog, so he will be fine i know it. good luck to all your tortoises who have a sense of freedom in them!!

Feb 23, 2017
6 days in fish pond
by: Anonymous

My mums tortoise survived 6 days in a fish pond... This was some 40+ years ago hes a super thighed tortoise & he went missing from the garden after daily searches he could not be found until my mum saw movement at the bottom of the suposedly tortoise proof pond & it was him... & to this day he is still going strong.

Feb 06, 2017
Tortoise drowning treatment
by: Shelly

Instead of shaking a tortoise, try supporting it with its head lower than the body and extend and release the front legs. This will also help to expel the water without the danger involved in shaking.

Keep it slow and steady.

Feb 02, 2017
Our tortoise survived!
by: Anonymous

I found our tortoise at the bottom of our 8 feet swimming pool. Probably tired of staying afloat it sank and remained at the bottom for at least two hours.
After bringing it back to surface we hold it head down and some water, reddish with blood, came out of it's mouth. We called the vet and he suggested to firmly and strongly shake it vertically head down. A lot of water came out and it started breathing. For a couple of hours it remained extremely quiet. Two days later it s back to normal!

Jan 11, 2017
drowning tortoise
by: THEO

We found our tortoise in our swimmingpool in 1,5 meter water , after being underwater for hours ,lifelless . After a sort of mouth to mouth he slowly revived . Now a day after he seems fine and eating. Please comment

Dec 28, 2016
Ask a vet
by: Shelly

I strongly urge you to ask a local vet about the best course of action. I do think it is best to keep the animal in hibernation, but how to do that in your local conditions is best dealt with locally.

Keep it slow and steady.

Dec 22, 2016
Hole flooded during hibernation
by: Anonymous

This morning, my desert tortoise's burrow flooded overnight due to a sudden rainstorm. He's been in hibernation for around 2 months. I checked on his burrow before leaving for work and it was completely flooded out with mud and rainwater. I panicked and dug him out. I cleaned him off and patted him dry. He is reactive to touch but is completely asleep still. He's wrapped up in a blanket in my garage. I don't want to try to wake him from hibernation because I don't have the means of keeping inside during the winter months. He's a very big boy. I'm worried sick about him. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance.

Aug 31, 2016
Tortoise survival under water
by: Shelly

Thank you for your wonderful story! This will encourage many others. You did a good thing taking Julius to the vet.

Keep it slow and steady.

Aug 30, 2016
A real survivor!
by: Chris M.

I found my sixty year old tortoise, Julius, at the bottom of our garden pond last week. He had been submerged in a foot and a half of water for the better part of fifteen hours and when I got him out he was motionless, very pale and as limp as a rag doll, his legs floppy and his head lolling. I feared the worst and assumed that he was a goner but, not knowing what else to do, I laid him out in the sun and hoped for the best - and after a few minutes he suddenly came to life, reared his head and began gaping, his mouth stretched very wide. I assumed he was trying to breathe and so I gently puffed air into his mouth and across his nostrils. The intermittent gaping continued for about fifteen minutes and then he simply fell into what seemed a long snooze. And that evening he was able to move a few feet and put himself to bed. But the next morning his eyes were swollen shut and so I took him to the vet and was given some antibiotic drops which I had to apply twice a day. Julius soon regained his strength and within four days his eyes were open although I cannot yet be sure if his vision is back to normal. He was a little dopey to start with but he is now walking about the garden and today he attacked and consumed two very large lettuce leaves. He was obviously hungry! So hopefully he is over the worst and I think he can claim to have had a very lucky escape. I suppose he must have gone into a state of semi-hibernation when he was underwater and his system temporarily shut down as a defence mechanism, which likely saved him. Tortoises are clearly very tough creatures so I'd say don't despair if you find yours has taken a dive. There's a very good chance that he'll prove a survivor like mine and make a full recovery!

Aug 06, 2016
Good thing he survived!
by: Michael

So happy your tortoise survived, that is one of my worst fears as a tortoise owner. When I bath him I never keep my eyes off him and get nervous when my tortoise even sticks his head in water when drinking. Good luck and hope your tortoise has a long and happy life and doesn't suffer and brain damage.

Apr 23, 2015
Tortoise In the Garden Pond
by: Annette

On Sunday, I found my daughter's tortoise, Odin in our garden pond. Luckily, the parrot feather is extremely thick so he was okay. This is his second adventure into the pond. I think he could've climbed out on his own but I'm thankful I found him. No ill effects.

Apr 22, 2015
by: Anonymous

Submission removed because it was in all capitals.

Jan 21, 2015
Drowning Tortoise
by: Shelly

Support your tortoise in with its head lower than the rest of the body.

Some water may flow out due to gravity.

Hold the front legs and gently pump them in and out. This is tortoise CPR.

Jan 20, 2015
drowning tortoise
by: scm

My tortoise drowned in a Indian style pot. He isn't breathing neither is his heart beating. Tried shaking him. But he is motionless.

Dec 06, 2014
My pet tortoise
by: Anonymous

I adopted a little wild tortoise that I named Touche. He loved the water (I found him in a creek originally, but he is definitely a tortoise and not a turtle.)
I've seen him quite happily submerge himself fully in a basin of water and sit on the bottom for two hours before coming up to the surface for a breath, and being a reptile, they don't need so much oxygen as we mammals.
I think your turtle will be fine: it sounds to me like he maybe took a breath of water and that made him sick.
Turtles and tortoises are amazing creatures, and it takes more than a bit of water to stop them!

Aug 29, 2014
Tortoise in Water
by: Stacey

We live in the desert and our tortoise has been spending hours in her small pond. It's one that she can get in and out of herself with ease so no possibility of drowning. My vet said not to worry if she spends much time in the water as she's cooling herself down. As long as she can lift her head out of the water she should be fine.

Aug 19, 2014
Against all odds
by: Frances

I can't believe what I'm reading. My 40yrold must go in the Guinness book of records! We can't keep her out of the pool even in winter when it's freezing! She swims for as long as three hours and proceeds to climb out by the steps with the help of a few rocks once she's had enough! She's large and heavy and I admit when we saw her in there for the first time we almost passed out. Gradually as we observed our confidence in her freestyle grew...so, I'm baffled with all the horror stories about drowning tortoises that I'm reading! Anyone out there have my problem?

Jul 30, 2014
tortoise at the bottom of a pool
by: Anonymous

It sounds like you are doing all you can. Sometimes in these situations the tortoise survives, and sometimes they don't. I wish you all the best.

Jul 17, 2014
by: Anonymous

I just found my red footed tortoise at the bottom of my pool. She isn't moving and her limbs are very flimsy. I have her on a heating pad and under 2 blankets. She is not breathing and we don't know how long she was in the pool. We blew at her nose and tried everything. I don't know what else to do. Does anyone think that she will live?

Jun 10, 2014
It happened to me too
by: Anonymous

I just found my tortoise in my pool on the bottom of it.... I thought he was dead but sudde ly 3 hours later he beca e alive and he is breathing... He see s very tired but he is breathing!!

Apr 25, 2014
Tortoise survived!
by: Shelly

Wow! Your tortoise is so lucky you went in for the rescue!

Thank you for sharing your story. Lots of people wonder how long a tortoise can survive under water.

Keep it slow and steady.

Apr 23, 2014
2 days under water
by: Anonymous

One of my Iberian spur- thighed tortoises disappeared 10 days ago. She has been a family pet for over 60 years. After looking everywhere I could think, I put on my wet suit over 48 hours later and went into the pond where I found her 3 feet under. She was covered in leeches and her eyes were milky and I assumed she must be dead. I was very upset, but she seemed to move slightly so I cleaned her up and she gradually regained consciousness. I put her by a radiator and under a lamp but the next day her eyes were swollen and runny. We went to a reptile vet who said he had previously nursed a tortoise that had spent 24 hours underwater. He gave her an injection of antibiotics and gave me some to inject every 3 days. Also Exocin eye drops to give 3 times a day. Told me to keep her at 22 - 25 degrees. 6 days later, her eyes were open and she started eating again, and now seems on the road to recovery.

Jan 10, 2014
by: Anonymous

My tortoise almost drowned but she survived, but she was pregnant and now she keeps aborting eggs?? any help?

Jul 27, 2012
poor humbug
by: Anonymous

My poor tortoise humbug was submurged in a metre abd half of water for 12 hours :( i literally was crying my eyes out at the sight of a limp grey near enough white humbug. I breathed into his nostrils and opened his mouth and he coughed up water, however his eyes werent blinking and looked far from normal. After wrapping him up in p.j's off the washing line he began to cough more... Water then appeared from his nose. One of his eyes began to blink but the other still looked pretty strange. I took him inside and looked online but i couldnt find anything. I just kept him warm, on a slight incline and a definate check-up by the vets as soon as.

May 19, 2012
It might be able to fly but it could not swim
by: Paul

My adult marginate tortoise fell into the pond today. They have a lace attached to their backs by Velcro when they are out in the garden rather than their enclosure. I peered into the water and saw lace below the surface, so he had fallen to the bottom! The pond was not my design. The lace helped me find him on the bottom and so he was retrieved. I guess he was submerged for 15 minutes but it was fortunate indeed I spotted his 'tail'. He seemed to suffer no I'll effects and did not splutter or seem to have inhaled water. I was relieved to see him open his eyes and walk off. He put himself to bed when back in the enclosure. If there are any I'll effects I will post them below. Paul

Jun 04, 2011
by: Shelly

Thank goodness your pet is doing well now! Thanks for sharing your good news story.

Jun 03, 2011
by: Anonymous

Yesterday we found our 60 year old+ tortoise in our pond. She had been there for at least 4hours. At first we thought she was dead. Within 30mins she was moving again, we put her under a heatlamp and today, thank goodness she seems fine.
Today we can joke. Yesterday was panic!

May 24, 2011
by: Anonymous

I hope you took this animal to the vet for help.

May 24, 2011
Please Help...!!!
by: Anonymous

Please Help!
I found my tortoise in the pond before, and she too had stayed over night.. after some rubbing, she was fine.. sadly she has broken down the barrier 4 times now and touch wood survived... another tortoise, consierably smaller has also taken a dive. i haven't been able to stop crying, he is floppy, and eyes are open. i have breathed into him by a straw and he's in the sun now still notionless.. any suggestions, i would be gutted if i had to bury him at the end of the day!!! :'(

Nov 27, 2010
Tortoise Survived
by: Anonymous

Hello J

It sounds like your tortoise is OK now. If it has any other symptoms, you could take it to a vet, but if it is getting better, you are lucky.

Better fix that barrier, though. You don't want to find him in the pond again.

Nov 25, 2010
Desert Tortoise Drowned?
by: J

One of my baby tortoises found a way out of my 'barrier', probably climbed under it, and plopped into the pool. It could have been, as you said, from 2 hours to 5 minutes. He was floating, though, so he either had a lot of water, or he can float. >.< I breathed on him, warmed him, and generally tried to do the reverse of the pool. His eyes were bulging and were covered in some sort of dried mucus stuff. White stuff (pus?) kept oozing out. He's back in his box walking around, his eyes are open and bright. We don't have a vet for them yet, what should I do?

Jun 27, 2010
Drowned tortoise
by: Neil Allen

This week I found my tort at the bottom of out garden pond! He's estimated to have been sub-aqua for over 2 hrs, after a little bit of mouth to mouth he seems after 2 days to have survived with no ill effects! I've renamed him Lazarus now after the chap in the bible!!!

Jun 16, 2010
2 hours under water?
by: Lianne

I had the shock of my life today when I came home and I found our 2 baby tortoise under water following a torrential storm, they could have been under for up to 2 hours. They were both tucked tightly in their shells and after what seemed like a lifetime (a few secs) moved, then slowly came out once I'd put them in the sun. After I'd stopped crying, they were eating again after 10 mins! I will be keeping an eye on them the next 24 hrs.

Oct 26, 2009
This happened to me too!!
by: Paula

My Shellby spent some time in our pond too! I lost her in the garden, like you I have a wot I thought was a tortoise friendly raised pond with a little fence around it. Shellby is a horsefield, 6rs old. After a long search I fished her out of the pond. I was devastated and shocked. I dont know who suffered more over it me or her!! we just looked at each other. I think she was in for about 10 to 15 mins and was totally un-fazed by it. It was a sunny day, I put her back on the grass and she just plodded off happy as larry. She now has a run in the garden for when its nice!! she is a great escapee and boy can she climb!! I keep a very close eye on her these days when she is out.
Fingers crossed for yours.
Paula x

Oct 24, 2009
Tortoise Under Water
by: Shelly


I didn't know how long a tortoise could live under water. I didn't think it would be 24 hours.

I haven't been able to find the information you want. Maybe your vet has the best information.

Keep it slow and steady.

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