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13 Signs A Tortoise Is Dying (Basic Treatments Included)

Tortoise is a hardy creature and has a long lifespan. However, it is quite hard to detect whether they are happy and healthy when compared to keeping cats and dogs. This is why keeping tortoises can seem confusing and mysterious to beginner hobbyists.

Most tortoise keepers expect them to be around for a lifetime due to their long lifespan. However, they can also develop a wide range of health problems that can affect their lifespan. This is why it is best to know about tortoise dying signs to be on the lookout for.

In this article, we will highlight everything you need to know about tortoise dying signs, how to treat your tortoise at home, and also the proper care that you should give to your tortoise.

This article has been reviewed by Dr. Dilber. Read more about our knowledge control process here.

13 Tortoise Dying Signs

13 Signs A Tortoise Is Dying
13 Signs A Tortoise Is Dying

Tortoise are hardy creatures and tortoise owners are usually warned about their long lifespan. This is why many keepers usually believe that they will be with us forever and don’t even think about their mortality. However, they can develop a wide range of health problems.

Some of Signs A Tortoise Is Dying to watch for in your tortoise are stated below.

  • Puffy or swollen eyes
  • Wheezing or open-mouth breathing
  • Respiratory discharge
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Lethargy
  • Uneven shell growth that makes the shell look lumpy or thick
  • Bubbling at the nose and mouth
  • Puffy or swollen ears
  • Stiff or swollen limbs
  • Sunken eyes
  • Discoloration, sloughing, odor, bleeding, or shell softness
  • Watery poop

In the next section, we will dive deep into the ways that you can tell that your pet tortoise is sick and the ways that you can prevent illness.

How To Tell If Your Tortoise Is Sick?

How To Tell If Your Tortoise Is Sick?
How To Tell If Your Tortoise Is Sick?

Tortoises are hardy creatures but are susceptible to illnesses that can be fatal. This is because your tortoise may not show signs of sickness until it is too late to treat.

You can easily identify when your tortoise is sick if you spend more time with it to help understand its normal behavior. This way you can quickly notice when there are changes in your pet tortoise’s behavior.

Once you notice any odd behavior like movement, eating habits, breathing, weight, etc., you should head to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.

Signs Of A Sick Tortoise

There are several ways that you can use to detect whether your tortoise is sick. Some of them are stated below.

Abnormal Shell

Abnormal Shell Is A Tortoise Sick Symptom
Abnormal Shell Is A Tortoise Sick Symptom

A healthy tortoise usually has a firm and smooth shell. However, when you notice some damage or abnormalities in your tortoise then it may be suffering from a sickness.

Your tortoise may have a deformed shell if it has MBD. It can also have an abnormal shell due to infection. This is why you must be careful when lifting your tortoise because its shell can chip if you accidentally drop it.

Another problem of tortoise is shell rot and this usually occurs due to incorrect environmental conditions. It can also happen because of damage to your tortoise’s shell. Some of the symptoms of shell rot are

You need to ensure that the humidity levels in your tortoise’s enclosure are at an optimal level for your tortoise. Tortoise can suffer from shell problems if you keep it in a dry enclosure.

Loss of Appetite

Sick tortoise will loss its appetite
Sick tortoise will loss its appetite

Just like other animals, a tortoise can lose its appetite when it is sick. However, it is not the only sickness that can make your tortoise stop eating. Your tortoise can slow down their metabolism and become inactive during the hibernation period.

Furthermore, they will stop eating during the hibernation process.

However, you need to be able to understand when your tortoise is not eating because of hibernation or it is sick. Once you notice that your pet is not eating even their favorite food and it has trouble walking or breathing, then it may have an infection or illness.

You should try to contact your vet immediately to help diagnose your tortoise.

Labored Breathing

Like most reptiles, tortoises are prone to respiratory diseases like pneumonia or inflammation of bronchioles. One of the major signs that your tortoise has a respiratory disease is labored breathing. Due to inflammation of the lungs, the airways filled with exudate which leads to labored breathing. You should immediately take your tortoise to a vet if your tortoise looks like it is wheezing or panting.

Weakness Or Listlessness

There are two things that can make your tortoise weak or listless. It can be because of a lack of muscle mass or energy. Weakness occurs due to a lack of metabolized energy for muscles and tissues. This may be due to the inability of the tortoise to produce energy from body reserves when there are dietary issues. It can also be that your tortoise is critically ill.

Furthermore, there are situations where your tortoise cannot move at all or it cannot move its rear limbs at all. This is caused by injury to the limbs or joints and you may have not noticed it. 

There are also situations where your tortoise may not walk because of an underlying illness or egg retention.

Your Tortoise’s Weight

It can be quite hard to determine the tortoise’s weight as you cannot see their flesh very clearly. However, it is important that you keep track of their weight in case of weight loss. A healthy tortoise should feel solid and heavy whenever you pick it up.

A tortoise is close to death if it is very light and weak. Weight loss in tortoises can occur due to a wide range of problems from infections to digestive issues.

Bleeding And Cuts To The Skin Or Carapace

One of the top signs that your tortoise is sick and is dying if you notice there is blood or reddening to its skin or carapace. Your tortoise may display this symptom if it has a systemic, bacterial, or fungal infection.

However, this can also be a sign that your tortoise has shell rot which is usually more serious.

Sunken Eyes

You can easily use a tortoise’s eyes to determine if it is dying. A healthy tortoise usually has clear and bright eyes with no sign of infection or discharge.

Swelling, inflammation, and sticky discharge from the eyes are signs of eye infections. The eyes of the dying tortoise will be dull, dehydrated, sunken, and not fully opened.

However, a sick tortoise has sunken eyes with no sign of life and you may even see the third eyelid.

It is crucial for pet owners to notice incidence where their tortoise rubs its eyes or ears with its forelegs. This is a sign that it has an eye or ear infection that is irritating it. This can be the case of vitamin deficiency or minor infection.

However, this can turn deadly if left untreated.

a sick tortoise has sunken eyes
sunken eyes on pico | Credit: Reddit

Mucus Discharge From Nose

The nose of a healthy tortoise is usually clear and dry with no unexplained sign of discharge. However, if you notice that there is an unexplained weeping mucus discharge from your tortoise nose, then it may have an infection or pneumonia.

Mucus discharge is a sign of severe respiratory or pulmonary infection. Mucus is produced to trap the bacteria and viruses so that they cannot enter the lower respiratory tract. Muscus production is a defensive immune product that contain enzymes, lymphocytes, macrophages, monocytes, and mucin.

Information from experts

Can You Treat A Sick Tortoise?

Can You Treat A Sick Tortoise?
Can You Treat A Sick Tortoise?

You can treat a sick tortoise if its sickness has not progressed to an irreversible stage.

However, you can easily prevent sickness in your pet if the living condition and the enclosure of your tortoise are ideal. You need to ensure that their enclosure is clean and the humidity and temperature are always at optimal range.

With this, you can prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses that can cause sickness. Furthermore, always remove fecal waste, old food matter, and dirty bedding from their enclosure daily.

Once you notice a change in the behavior of your tortoise, you should be ready to call your vet first to explain the symptoms that you notice. The vet can then advise you whether you can treat it at home or bring your tortoise for a checkup.

The Ill Symptoms That You Can Treat At Home

You can treat your tortoise illness at home and even make it healthy and happy again. However, you should make it a habit to first consult a herp vet before you do. Your vet can then advise on the best way to treat your pet or you should bring it for a checkup.

Some of the ill symptoms that you can treat at home are stated below.

Respiratory Ailments

Like other reptiles, tortoises can be susceptible to pneumonia and several other respiratory illnesses. Some of the signs of respiratory ailments in tortoise are

  • Runny nose
  • Inactivity
  • Bulging eyes
  • Labored breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen eyelids
  • watery eyes
  • mucus in nostrils
  • extended head while breathing

Furthermore, tortoises suffering from respiratory illness usually moves their head and forelimbs in and out to help them breathe. The major cause of respiratory illness is if you keep your tortoise in an unclean enclosure.

There are times that you can treat respiratory problems with antibiotics. However, you will need to take your tortoise to the vet if it has a chronic nasal discharge or raspy breathing.

Bone Disease

Bone disease is also known as fibrous osteodystrophy. The common causes of bone diseases are lack of calcium in the diet, wrong calcium-phosphorus ratio, deficiency of vitamin D3, and improper absorption of calcium from the digestive tract. Or Your tortoise is not exposed to sunlight as it should.

You can detect that your tortoise has this disease if it has a softshell. Furthermore, it can also cause shell deformities. You can easily prevent and correct this disease by giving your tortoise a proper diet and expose your tortoise to sunlight regularly.

Vitamin Deficiencies

This is a common health issue for tortoises and it is the deficiency of vitamin A in their body. Vitamin A deficiency affects the normal functioning of the retina and vision of tortoise eyes. 
Some of the signs of vitamin deficiencies in tortoises are swollen eyelids and nasal discharge. If your tortoise has this disease for a long time, it can lead to a permanent shell deformity.

Besides that, deficiency of vitamins such as vitamin C and B can weaken the immune system of tortoise.

However, you can prevent and correct this by offering your tortoise a healthy and balanced diet. You should also avoid overdosing fat-soluble vitamins to your tortoise unless it is prescribed by a vet.

When you need a VET?

Once you notice that your turtle is sick, you should immediately try to contact your vet to help diagnose your pet.

You should keep in mind that your tortoise may be a lot sicker before you even start to notice that it is. This is because the tortoise is very good at hiding the signs that they are not even healthy. Your exotic vet can then help to diagnose your tortoise and give it the necessary treatment.

How To Help Prevent Sickness In Tortoise

Some of the ways that you can prevent your tortoise from getting sick are stated below.

  • Provide your tortoise with a balanced diet
  • Ensure you buy your tortoise diet from a trusted source
  • Always clean their enclosure regularly
  • Quarantine a sick tortoise to avoid the spread of disease.
  • Always have proper hygiene when handling or petting your tortoise
  • Ensure their humidity level is at an optimal level 
  • Avoid overcrowding your tortoise
  • Always quarantine new arrivals for at least 6 months or more.

Wrapping Up

Although a healthy tortoise is a hardy creature and has a long lifespan, it can still be affected by many illnesses that can lead to premature death. This is why you need to ensure that you give them the right care and attention.

You need to ensure that the temperature and humidity levels in their enclosure are at an optimal level while they also get a sufficient amount of UV lighting. Furthermore, you should provide them with the correct type of food and ensure they are not underfed or overfed.

However, there is no guarantee that your tortoise will not develop an illness or injury even if you do what is stated above. This is why you should always be on the lookout for any change in the behavior of your tortoise and take them to your vet immediately for diagnosis.

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