What are the Signs of a Depressed Tortoise?

Speckled Cape Tortoise

We all know that depression is an all-too-common illness in humans, but did you know that animals can suffer with depression too according to some vets. Although depression is not as common in animals as it is in humans, it is a problem, nonetheless. Moreover, it is important that you are aware of what the signs are so that you can act accordingly. In light of this then, what are the signs of a depressed tortoise?

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How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Depressed

When it specifically comes to depression in tortoisesOpens in a new tab., it can be difficult to spot the signs as these are often quiet animals. Nevertheless, there are things to look out for. Knowing the natural behaviors of your tortoise can help you to more easily notice when things don’t seem right. For example, did you know that in their natural habitat tortoises can roam for miles. If your tortoise is not roaming much, it could be a sign that the creature is not happy.

It is important, therefore, that a pet tortoise has room to roamOpens in a new tab. about. Without enough space to walk, your tortoise could easily become depressed.

Tortoises also like to climbOpens in a new tab., and they tend to eat a range of different foods in the wild as well. If your tortoise is not eating much, seems lethargic, and is hiding a lot, it may be that it is unhappy. This can be caused by depression; it could also be because the tortoise is scared or unwell.

What Causes Depression in Tortoises?

There are a number of reasons why a tortoise might become depressed. The biggest and perhaps most common reason is an unsuitable habitat. Many new tortoise owners fail to provide enough space for their new pet and, as such, the animal becomes depressed and unhappy.

Moving to a new home can also cause similar emotions in the tortoise. If it is new and appears to be depressed or unhappy, it may be that it needs some time to get used to its new surroundings. However, if this lasts longer than a couple of weeks, it might be worth investigating further to establish the cause.

Eastern Box Turtle
Eastern Box Turtle

Why Depression in Tortoises Should be Addressed Immediately

Since depression in a tortoise can lead to lethargy and a loss of appetite, it is important to address the issue as soon as possible. Depression in humans is a mental illness, but in animals such as tortoises, the effects on their physical health can be massive.

If your tortoise is hiding in its shell and is refusing to move about or eat, its immune system will become weaker, which makes it more likely that it will suffer with bacterial infections. If you do not act to address the issue of depression as soon as possible then, the health of your tortoise could be severely negatively affected.

How To Tell if a Tortoise is Happy

A happy tortoise will have a firm shell that is both smooth and free from cracks or lumps. There should be no soft spots between the shell scutes (the scales on the shell) either.

Keep an eye on the tortoise’s skin too as this should be dry but not too dry. If your pet’s skin is moist or cracking from being too dry, you should contact a vet for advice.  

The eyes of a tortoise can tell a lot about its health, so look for things such as dryness, which could indicate dehydration, or weeping, which could be a sign of an infection.

Healthy, happy tortoises like to moveOpens in a new tab. about and explore. As mentioned already, in their natural habitat they like to walk for prolonged periods, so don’t be surprised to see your pet pacing its enclosure.

A happy tortoise will eat quite a lotOpens in a new tab., so if your pet suddenly becomes fussy with its food or is eating very little, then it may be that there is an underlying cause.

Texas Tortoise
Texas Tortoise

Keeping Your Tortoise Happy

A suitable enclosure is the best way to keep your tortoise happy. Make sure that your pet has plenty of space to move about in and that you have provided hides and climbing areas. The enclosure sides need to be at least ten inches high to prevent your tortoise from climbing over, and you must ensure that any obstacles you have placed inside for climbing are not situated next to the sides.

When it comes to food, offer a mix of leafy greens and vegetables such as kale and broccoli. You will also need to provide supplements to ensure your pet is getting all the vitamins and minerals that it needs for good health. You can buy these from local pet stores or online. If you’re interested, Amazon sells a great choice. Just click hereOpens in a new tab. to take a look (opens in a new window).


Tortoises that are unhappy may become depressed, and this can lead to a loss of appetite and lethargy, which in turn can result in a number of health problems. If you are worried about your pet, try to find the cause of its unhappiness. You might need to provide a larger enclosure or change its food.

If, however, your pet continues to display signs of unhappiness or depression, it may be worthwhile contacting a vet for expert advice.

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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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