How Do I Care for a Sick Tortoise?

Marlene Garcia

Before attempting to care for a sick tortoise, it is generally recommended that a veterinarian diagnose the reptile’s illness to ensure proper treatment. A suitable environment, consisting of adequate light and heat, speeds healing of a sick tortoise, along with a natural diet to address malnutrition or a vitamin deficiency. If the problems stems from parasites, a vet can prescribe medication. Antibiotics might help clear up respiratory illnesses that are common in desert tortoises.

There are dozens of species of tortoises, and some will live up to hundreds of years old while others can weigh in the hundreds of pounds.
There are dozens of species of tortoises, and some will live up to hundreds of years old while others can weigh in the hundreds of pounds.

Signs of a respiratory illness include excess mucus from the nasal passages. In severe or chronic cases, scar tissue might develop around the nose of a sick tortoise. This condition requires veterinary care and might be treated with antibiotics or other medication. Sometimes a tortoise shows signs of labored breathing by moving its head and legs in and out of its shell when a respiratory infection is present.

Caring for an ill tortoise requires a proper enclosure to provide necessary heat and light. A tortoise needs full-spectrum light or natural sunlight to prevent softening of its shell. A condition known as fibrous osteodystrophy might develop from lack of light or malnutrition. This bone disease might cause the shell to develop raised parts that could become permanent. Feeding a diet of native plants helps ensure the correct balance of calcium and phosphorus needed for health.

A tortoise suffering from dehydration might become inactive and listless. Its eyes might appear sunken and its skin might feel dry and chalky. Diarrhea, marked by loose stools that could contain mucus, might quickly cause a sick tortoise to become dehydrated. A normal stool appears firm, brownish-green, and resembles pellets. A tortoise also might occasionally pass a white or gray stool, which is normal.

Changes in diet might correct a vitamin deficiency in a sick tortoise. Symptoms of a poor diet might include a runny nose, swollen eyes, and a deformed shell. Improper diets might lead to dehydration and malnutrition, causing renal failure and death. Reptile owners caring for a sick tortoise might administer a solution of glucose, sodium chloride, and potassium to treat problems. A veterinarian should be consulted to diagnose vitamin deficiency before any medication is given.

When a tortoise gets weak from dehydration or malnourishment, it might become more prone to parasites. Most parasites infecting a sick tortoise do not transmit to humans, but salmonella can spread to people. A tortoise with parasites might lose weight and become lethargic. A vet can determine if parasites are present, and pet owners should wash their hands after handling reptiles with parasites.

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