Sick Tortoise Symptoms

Spur-Thighed Tortoise

With the right care and attention, a pet tortoise can live for an exceptionally long time; in fact, some tortoises can live as long as 150 years! However, these loveable reptiles are prone to certain illnesses, so it is important that as a tortoise owner that you are alert to the signs of illness and act promptly and appropriately. Knowing sick tortoise symptoms will ensure you get the right treatment for your shelled friend as soon as possible. This will then greatly improve the creature’s chances of a quick and speedy recovery.

Signs Your Tortoise is Sick

As with all animals, a sick tortoise is likely to display certain symptoms that would indicate there is an issue. You should also be aware though that some of the signs of a sick tortoise are similar to those displayed when these animals are feeling stressed or when they are ready to hibernate. The important thing to remember is that if your tortoise is sick then you will almost certainly be able to spot some signs that cannot be attributed to stressOpens in a new tab. or a desire to hibernate.

Signs of a sick tortoise include:

  • loss of appetite
  • sunken eyes
  • swollen eyelids
  • runny nose
  • watery eyes
  • weight loss
  • lethargy
  • swollen limbs
  • abnormal stools
  • soft shell
  • prominent bones in the head or limbs.

A tortoise might lose interest in food and become lethargic if it is stressed or getting ready to hibernate, but if you spot any of the other signs listed above as well then it is far more likely that your pet has an illness and should be checked by a vet.

Common Tortoise Illnesses

TortoisesOpens in a new tab. can become affected by a number of illnesses, with some more common than others. Below are just a few examples:

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are common in tortoises and are often caused by poor conditions such as inadequate heating. Unfortunately, respiratory infections can develop without symptoms appearing initially. The earliest symptoms will include a runny nose and lethargy. As the illness develops, your tortoise might struggle to breathe, and its eyes might begin watering and become swollen.

Your tortoise might stop eating if it is unwell, which could then result in further problems. If you suspect your tortoise is ill with a respiratory infection, it is important to contact your vet as soon as possible.

Respiratory infections can become very serious for tortoises. This is because they do not have a diaphragm. When mucus forms in their lungs, they are unable to cough it up. This means that it will simply accumulate in these organs and begin to affect how they function.


Tortoises are also affected by a disease known as stomatitis, which is caused by bacteria. Stomatitis is also known as mouth rot because of how it affects the lining of the mouth and gums. It is typically caused when bacteria enter the lining around a tortoise’s mouth through an open wound.

Symptoms of stomatitis include a loss of appetite coupled with a white discharge at the mouth area. You might also notice that the inside of your pet’s mouth is swollen and has changed color. If you are worried that your tortoise has stomatitis, contact a vet for advice and treatment options.

Parasite Infection

A parasite infection is also as common in tortoises as it is with any other animal. Unfortunately, you may not be able to spot signs of a parasite infection in your tortoise’s poopOpens in a new tab., but if your pet is showing signs of being unwell – such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, and lethargy – you should contact your vet who will probably want to analyze a stool sample. If your tortoise has a parasite infection, the vet will prescribe treatment as necessary.

Shell Rot

Shell rot is the name given to infection of the shell in reptiles such as tortoises and turtlesOpens in a new tab.. It is caused by bacteria and in tortoises often begins with a cracked shell or other similar injury. Once the bacteria enter the blood vessels in the shell it causes soft spots, or divots. In some cases, the tortoise’s shell will have bloody discharge and, when the infection becomes very severe, scutes on the shell may start to fall off. If this happens, the tortoise’s bone can become exposed, which can then lead to even more serious problems.

If your tortoise has a cracked shell from an injury, it is vital that the area is kept clean and dry. You will need to monitor it regularly to help prevent infection. Nevertheless, if you believe that your pet might have shell rot, it is essential that you take it to a vet as soon as possible. This infection requires antibiotics and may take some time to fully heal.

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

MBD is an infection that causes problems within the bones and shell of a tortoise. It is typically the result of poor husbandry, specifically when the animal is not getting sufficient quantities of UV light. UV rays are essential for tortoises as these enable the animal’s body to covert vitamin D2 to vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is needed for the absorption of calcium.

Without sufficient calcium, the tortoise’s body will draw on reserves from its bones, meaning these will eventually soften and become brittle. A tortoise with MBD could have a deformed shell and, in extreme cases, will be unable to walk. MBD can be extremely painful for a tortoise and can lead to premature death.


Tortoises can live long and healthy lives in the right environment, but they like other animals can become ill from time to time. Knowing the signs of illness will ensure that you can get the right treatment for your pet as soon as possible.

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I am a content creator by profession but exotic animals are one of my great passions in life. Over the course of my adulthood, I have had the pleasure of looking after stick insects, terrapins, an Egyptian tortoise, giant African land snails, a crested gecko, a Chilean rose tarantula, a couple of curly-haired tarantulas, and a selection of millipedes, centipedes and worms!

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