How Do You Know If a Turtle is Dead (Or Just Hibernating)?

Simply being alive is a blessing. Unfortunately, this blessing also has a curse, and that is death. Without death, life wouldn’t be anything special, so while this is a harsh reality of life, it is something that we must accept. However, this is often more difficult to accept when it comes to animals. 

Just like all living beings, death will come to everyone. Turtles included. Just like with every species on this planet, turtles will have a life expectancy, but this doesn’t prevent them from dying at any time. With some animals, it is easy to see when they have passed on, but with turtles this is often difficult. 

This is because turtle’s go through something known as brumating. This is when a turtle goes into hibernation, like all cold-blooded animals do, and it can make it very difficult to tell if your turtle has passed away or if they are simply in hibernation. In this guide, we’ll be telling you how to tell this very important difference. 

How hard is it to tell the difference? 

As you have probably gathered, telling the difference between a hibernating turtle and a turtle that has passed away is very difficult. This isn’t true of just turtles, in fact, it is true of most cold-blooded animals. But, it is often more difficult with turtles due to the fact that they have a shell. 

There are lots of signs and symptoms that could easily make you confused about whether your turtle is dead, or if they are simply just hibernating.

For example, when they are hibernating, a turtle will not move, and they likely will not show any signs of life for the entire time that they are hibernating. This could easily be confused with your turtle being dead.

As they are cold-blooded, a turtle could also become unresponsive and inactive due to extremely cold temperatures, not because they are dead. So it is very hard to tell the difference. 

How do you know if a Turtle is dead or just hibernating?

First, let’s take a look at some of the things that you should do to identify if a turtle is dead, or simply hibernating. To help you out, we’ve listed these actions in order of priority. So, follow these actions to identify if a turtle has passed away. 

1. Stimulate the Turtle

The first thing that we would recommend doing, if you suspect that your turtle has passed away, is to stimulate it. To begin this, we would recommend simply prodding or poking at your turtle.

If your turtle is hibernating, then they will have some sort of reaction to the prodding. This might not happen on the first time, so you might have to prod them a handful of times.

But, eventually, a hibernating turtle will either hiss, wiggle their legs or close their shell. If they have this reaction, then your turtle is hibernating. If they do not, this is the first sign that the turtle might have passed away. 

2. Visual Signs

If prodding doesn’t work, you should move on to observing your turtle. Even when a turtle is in deep hibernation, they will need to complete basic functions to keep alive, for example, breathing.

It is difficult to tell if a turtle is breathing because they have a shell. But, there is a hack to this. If you look at the back end of the turtle, specifically in the area around their back legs, then you will be able to see signs of breathing.

As they breathe, a delicate pumping movement will happen in this area, so if you see this, you can assume that your turtle is simply hibernating. Unfortunately, if you do not, this is another sign that your turtle might have passed away. 

3. Check the Cloacal Region

Another excellent way to check for signs of life in your turtle is to look at the Cloacal region. To do this, you should locate the cloacal area near your turtle’s tail and apply pressure to this area.

When you do this, the turtle should quickly rise and try to escape. Some turtles will not have as dramatic a reaction, they may simply raise their head to look at what is going on. But all alive turtles will have a reaction to this. 

4. Put them on their Back

This could seem cruel to some, but if you are desperate to find signs of life in your turtle, then you can put your turtle on their back. Turtles do not like being on their back, and even if it is hibernating, this will make it rise.

A turtle that is alive will quickly flap when placed on their back in a desperate bid to free themselves. So, if you want to find out if your turtle is alive, this is another good way to check. 

5. Consult a Vet

If your previous tests have proved fruitless, and you still want to check for signs of life in your turtle, it is best to consult a veterinarian.

All veterinary experts will be trained in aquatic life, and they will know exactly what to look for when telling the difference between a turtle that is hibernating, and a turtle that has passed on. 

6. Smell Your Turtle

Finally, you will be able to tell the difference between a hibernating turtle and a turtle that has passed away by the smell that they are giving off.

As soon as any animal passes away, the decomposition process starts, and this is no different for turtles. In fact, turtles can often begin to give off a bad odor a lot quicker than other animals.

So, if you smell your turtle, and it is giving off an incredibly unpleasant stench, then unfortunately this is a sign that they have passed away. 


In short, it is very difficult to tell the difference between a turtle that is hibernating and a turtle that has passed away. In this quick guide, we’ve given you lots of different methods you can use to tell the difference.