How To Tell If Your Tortoise Is Dehydrated And What To Do To Help Them

Copy of dehydrated tortoise

Dehydration is a big problem for tortoises. If it goes by unseen, it can cause major medical issues and even kill the animal. The bigger issue here is that vets say that many pet tortoises are dehydrated to some extent, possibly due to ignorance on the part of the owner. Either they don’t understand how best to keep a tortoise hydrated or don’t know the warning signs.

How can you tell if your tortoise is suffering from dehydration?

  1. Reduced, thickened, or whitish urine.
  2. Dry faeces.
  3. Dry, loose and flaky skin.
  4. Sunken or watery eyes.
  5. Loss of appetite
  6. Weight loss.
  7. Lethargy, depression, lack of activity.
  8. Thick, ropey mouth mucus.

Check your tortoise pee and poop

There are some important warning signs to look out for when your pet tortoise is dehydrated. The first place to start is by checking their excrement. The consistency of this substance is a good early indicator before things get really bad. Then there are other physical signs in the skin and general appearance. In the worst cases, they may grow weak and sick. 

The excrement of a tortoise is a good way to tell how their health is.

Tortoise excrement can contain a white substance called urate. A runny consistency is healthy, but you should watch out if this becomes lumpy or grainy in texture. This indicates a lack of water. The worse the change, the worse the issue, especially if this dryness continues in their poop. 

tortoise pee and poop
Tortoise Poop and Pee

Dehydrated tortoises have dry, puckered and flaky skin

Their skin can become dry and puckered, potentially with the risk of flaking. Not only is this bad for the health of the tortoise, but it can impede the ability to shed dead skin effectively.

The problem for new owners is that tortoise skin already looks dry and wrinkled compared to mammalian skin. The trick is being able to notice differences in texture, appearance, and elasticity. A more obvious sign could be that their eyes have become more sunken

Is your tortoise weak or lethargic?

Tortoises going through more severe cases of dehydration can also experience problems with their general health and energy levels. If your tortoise seems to be more lethargic, perhaps barely moving or taking a while to get to their basking spot, give them a closer inspection for other signs. When you go to pick them up, they may also feel a lot lighter than normal.

What can you do if your tortoise is showing signs of dehydration?

If the signs are minimal, such as changes to their excrement, and they still seem relatively healthy and active, there are measures you can take to try and rectify any issue before it gets worse.

You can work to increase their fluid levels straight away and reconsider how you maintain their hydration levels. 

First, you can give them some additional food with a higher water content.

A healthy tortoise with enough water and good hydration in their enclosure shouldn’t need more than basic plants and weeds to thrive. Lettuce and cucumber don’t provide much in this normal diet. But, they are helpful for extra water in these cases of dehydration.  Cactus is also a great rehydration food and can be grown at home.

prickly pear 1
Prickly Pear Cactus is a good hydration food for tortoises

On the subject of their food, watch out for any foods that can have a diuretic effect. This means substances that increase urination, which then leads to more water being expelled before it can be replaced. A common cause is dandelions. This is an easy source of food that probably will grow in your garden, but it helps to moderate their use. 

Then, consider their access to water and the hydration provided day to day.

Perhaps the humidity levels of the environment aren’t good enough. Perhaps you don’t provide enough clean water, or that water is inaccessible because of the position or size of the container. There could be a case of trial and error when caring for your first tortoise. That is why it pays to be observant and willing to make alterations whenever necessary. 

Also, you have to question whether you are bathing them enough.

Bathing tortoises is important to make sure that they get to soak in water and rehydrate their skin. They can soak up a lot through the cloaca at the base of the tail. Tortoise babies under the age of a year old should have a bath daily.

dehydrated tortoise 2
Tortoises need shallow water baths to keep hydrated

Some new owners may not keep up with this schedule. After that, you can do so a few times a week, then once a week by the age of 5. That is a lot more effort than you might expect. But, it can make a big difference and gives you bonding time with your pet. 

Contacting a vet about tortoise dehydration.

But, if your tortoise is exhibiting more than the signs of fatigue, weight loss, sunken eyes and skin issues, make an appointment with the vet for a check-up. They can help with the best treatment methods and also provide a better examination.

The dehydration could be linked to an underlying condition rather than just a lack of access to water. Or, there may be another medical condition that is the result of dehydration. The more you know about your pet’s current health status, the better your chances of treating them. 

Can tortoises die from dehydration? 

Yes. There is the risk of death from dehydration if the issue goes on untreated. The symptoms can worsen, leading to further weight loss, skin issues, and decreases in energy levels. There is also the risk that the lack of water will affect shell condition, cause bladder stones, and contribute to other illnesses. Dehydration may not be a direct cause of death, but it can lead to a slow process of degrading health resulting in death.

Can my tortoise recover from dehydration?

In short, you can overcome mild cases quickly if you spot changes to urate deposits. Extra bathing and watery food could help. If there are bigger issues with their appearance and energy levels, get them to a vet for a professional opinion. Dehydration is avoidable and treatable as long as you are vigilant and don’t ignore the warning signs. 

Take care of your tortoise properly, read our guides.