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Water Needs of Sulcata Tortoises: Understanding Hydration Requirements

Do sulcata tortoises need water, being that they are desert-dwelling animals? Let’s find out in this article.

Sulcata tortoise, also called African Spurred tortoise, is among the most popular pet tortoises worldwide. Many hobbyists love them due to their unique personalities. As a responsible reptile owner, you will notice that the tortoise is not a heavy drinker, bringing up the question of whether they need water.

Sulcata tortoises require water for their growth, and you will need to provide them with fresh water regularly. They will need the water not only for drinking but also soaking to keep them in optimal health. However, sulcata tortoises can also get the water they need from their diet.

This article will help highlight everything you need to know whether sulcatas need water, from how they drink water to how long they can survive without water.

Do Sulcata Tortoises Need Water?

Yes, sulcata tortoises need water for their optimal growth. However, sulcata tortoises originate from a hot and dry climate and can adapt well to life with little water. Sulcata are not heavy drinkers. They don’t need water in their enclosure.

Sulcata tortoises usually get their water from their food but need clean water for soaking and drinking.

My sulcata tortoises will mostly get water from their food

How Do Tortoises Drink Water?

Like humans, sulcatas will drink water from their mouths. When drinking water, tortoises usually stretch out their neck, then lower their head while placing their nose to the bottom of the water source. A fascinating thing about tortoises is that they urinate when drinking water.

This usually helps them to drink more water to replenish the water content in their body. You need to provide your tortoise with a large and natural-looking water source that is shallow to help prevent your tortoise from drowning.

Furthermore, many people do believe that tortoises drink water from their cloacas. However, this is not true, but they have the ability to absorb some water through the thin skin found around their cloaca.

How sulcata tortoises drink water [source: ReadyReptiles]

Water for Sulcata Tortoise

Although sulcata tortoises can drink water to get hydrated, they also get water from their food. As a responsible owner, you can provide them with a water source where they can replenish themselves whenever they want.

However, it can take time for them to get used to their environment before they start drinking from a drinking bowl. Once they acclimate, they will start drinking as they need access to fresh water for optimum health.

Furthermore, they can have health problems such as kidney disease if they do not get water for an extended period. This is why your tortoise needs to be well-hydrated. You can detect if your tortoise is hydrated sufficiently by checking its urates; a tortoise is well hydrated if its urates look like toothpaste.

However, they are dehydrated if they have a powdery urate, and you need to provide them with water immediately.

Water For Baby Sulcata Tortoises

Although baby sulcata tortoises do not drink water regularly from a water source, you need to provide them with a shallow water dish. Baby and juvenile sulcata tortoises need all the water they can get to grow properly.

Apart from providing them with a water source, they need regular soaking in lukewarm water for around 10-15 minutes. This will help to encourage them to drink and ensure they are adequately hydrated.

Note: once your sulcata tortoise poops when soaking them, you can end the soaking afterward.

Water For Adult Sulcata Tortoise


You can place a small water dish in your adult sulcata tortoise enclosure when keeping them outdoors. Using a shallow water dish makes it easy to clean as the tortoise usually soaks and defecates in their water dish.

You can provide adult sulcata tortoises with water bowls during the hottest period of the year. However, you may not provide a water bowl during the cooler period of the year.


When housing your sulcata tortoise indoors, it is best to provide them with a shallow water source where they can drink and flush their systems. You don’t need to provide a big water bowl as they can defecate in them when soaking.

However, you will need to soak the tortoise outside of the enclosure in shallow and warm water once or twice a week for about 15-30 minutes.

Indoor sulcata tortoises soaking under water
Indoor sulcata tortoises soaking under water

How Long Can Tortoises Go Without Water?

Sulcata tortoises are hardy animals and can withstand a hot and arid environment where it is rare to find a water source. However, once they find a water source, they will drink a lot of water. Due to extreme environments, tortoises do not live up to their life expectancy.

Furthermore, their health deteriorates because of a lack of food and water. In a low humid environment, a tortoise should not go without water for over a week. This shows they need access to fresh drinking water every day, and they should not go more than two days without drinking.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you get a tortoise to drink?

You can provide your pet tortoise with clean and fresh drinking water where they can drink whenever they want. However, they can also drink and hydrate their body from regular soaking and absorption of water from their food.

Can Tortoises Drink Tap Water?

Yes, tortoises can drink from tap water. However, you will need to leave the tap water in an open bowl for around 24 hours before you then give it to your tortoise. Doing this will allow the chlorine present in the water to evaporate.

Is keeping sulcata tortoises illegal?

It is legal to keep sulcata tortoises as a pet in the US. However, many usually mistaken them with desert tortoises due to their similar traits. Furthermore, you will need to have a permit before owning a desert tortoise in some parts of the US.

Do Tortoises Drink Water In The Wild?

Yes, a healthy tortoise will drink water in the wild just like their pet counterparts. However, they don’t drink much water as they usually get water from their diet and regular soaking when water is available.

Wrapping Up

From this article, you will see that sulcata tortoises will need water to live a healthy and happy life. If they don’t get enough water, they risk dehydration, leading to health issues for your tortoise. However, hydrating a tortoise is quite easy as they get most of their water from their baths and diets.

You can ensure that your tortoise is hydrated by checking up on them regularly to monitor and observe their behavior.

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