Many tortoise owners comment on how they have never seen their pet tortoise drink water. The advice given to owners is that they must place their pet in a bowl of water to get their tortoise to drink; however, this method isn’t always successful, as owners find that their pet will try to get out of the container. And the owner is left bewildered, wondering if these reptiles even drink. Today, we’d like to address the topic so that you will know for good the answer to this question.
So, do tortoises drink water? Tortoises do drink water and they must have access to fresh water regularly for optimum health. Tortoises will drink water with their mouths and will stretch out their neck and lower their head to do so. Contrary to a widely held misconception, tortoises cannot drink water through their Cloacas. While they can absorb a small amount of liquid through the thin skin around the Cloaca, you need to provide a water bowl in their environment.
You will hear amazing stories of pet tortoises going missing only to show up many years and even decades later, to be reunited with their beloved owners.It is through reports like this, that you may get the wrong impression about their needs and requirements and your role in fulfilling them. If they can survive in the wild without provisions, surely they will be okay? Not so fast.
As a tortoise owner, you have a responsibility to care for your pet and provide them with sufficient food, water, and exercise. While those stories indicate that long lost reptiles are able to access food and water from a wild source and live quite well, in captivity its a completely different ball game. They are entirely reliant on you and your care.
Let us now explore the topic further so you can better understand your tortoises water needs and behaviors.
Do Tortoises Need Water?
The fact of the matter is that tortoises drink water. While they get most of their hydration from the physical act of drinking water, they do also acquire it via their food.
As a tortoise owner, there is a nack to getting them to replenish themselves. At first, tortoises may not be aware of what you are trying to do; it does take time for them to become acclimatized to their environment and the concept of a new ‘drinking bowl’.
But once they get started and learn about their new habitat, there is no stopping them.
While it is natural to panic at first regarding their drinking habits, its important to remember that they do enjoy a refreshing drink of water. But they do so on their own terms and in accordance with their own requirements.
Different tortoise species come from diverse habitats that include grasslands, forests, and desserts. Most of the species we know about come from semi-arid environments.
Tortoises from these types of settings would not have access to direct drinking water; but thankfully, these reptiles are robust creatures that have developed mechanisms to survive in these dry places. They can go longer without water, and are able to acquire it in unusual ways and places.
But, just because tortoises are used to putting up with water deprivation in the wild, this does not mean that your pet tortoise should. Tortoises must have access to fresh water regularly for optimum health. If they go without water for extended periods, it could lead to health problems like articular gout and kidney disease.
Tortoises must be kept well hydrated, look for signs of healthy hydration in tortoises such as bright, clear eyes, that are not sunken. Make sure that they are active.
Look out for the white discharge from their Cloaca called Urates; if your tortoise is sufficiently hydrated, the Urates should have the consistency of toothpaste. If their Urates are powdery, they must be hydrated straight away.
For those new to Tortoise Anatomy;
The Cloaca is the opening under the tail for the digestive tract, the reproductive system and the bladder.
Urates are a tort’s way of expelling a combination of excess uric acid, minerals, and other body waste products that the tortoise’s kidneys have filtered out and excreted.
Another sign to observe is if you gently squeeze your tortoises leg. If it bounces back quickly, this means that they are getting proper hydration.
Ultimately, tortoises in captivity have different requirements to their wild counterparts.
A Sulcata tortoise, for example, derives moisture from the little vegetation that grows in their harsh arid environment.
Still, while one in captivity can obtain moisture from a regular supply of fresh drinking water, they can also acquire hydration through supplementary foods offered by their owner, such as watermelon, lettuce, cucumber, and other fruit and vegetables with high water content.
How Do Tortoises Drink Water?
Tortoises drink water through their mouths; just as we humans do.
You will know that your tortoise is drinking by the way they stretch out their neck, lower their head, and place their nose to the bottom of the bowl/container/water source. The depth of the water should be no higher than just below your pet’s bottom jaw.
Here’s a good video showing a tortoise drinking water:
As previously discussed, the method of placing a tortoise directly into a bowl of water often proves futile.
This way often proves ineffective because the tortoise’s survival instincts kick in, and they fear that they could potentially drown and will naturally want to escape.
There is a better way that seems to work out for many tortoise owners; this is where you place your tortoise into an empty container and slowly pour mildly-warm water over them. The water simulates rain as it falls down your pet’s shell; this seems natural and not threatening to the tortoise.
Your tortoise may then want to urinate, and this will serve as the catalyst for them to replenish their stock of water by drinking.
When it comes to drinking, tortoises should have access to a large, naturally looking water source. You’ll also want it to be easy to get in and out of, and shallow enough to prevent drowning:
- Easy access ramp helps prevent drowning
- Great for lizards, terrestrial land turtles (up to 4/10cm shell length)
- salamanders or snakes"
There is a widely held misconception that tortoises can “drink” water through their cloacas – this is not the case. They don’t drink water through their Cloacas, but they can absorb a small amount of liquid through the thin skin around the cloaca. This is probably where the misconception comes from.
How Long Can Tortoises Go Without Water?
Tortoises are hardy animals, and many can withstand the harsh, arid environment of sub-Saharan Africa.
These tortoises can just about survive in these harsh conditions and have adapted to do so. As such, you’ll often find them drinking a lot of water once they manage to find a source.
Ultimately, due to the extreme environments, a wild tortoise in many ways lives a sub-optimal life and their health often suffers terribly because of food and water deprivation.
A tortoise should not go without water for more than one week, and that is in low-humidity environments. By right, a tortoise should have access to fresh drinking water every day. Going more than two days without water can make your tortoise feel very unwell.
Sadly many owners do not provide their pet tortoises with sufficient food and water, believing their tortoise can go without and live a long time. However, this is inaccurate and not good for their welfare and well-being.
A tortoise, like any animal, needs water and the right diet to be in good health. Life is more than just barely surviving.
How Much Water Should A Tortoise Have?
Tortoises should be given a fresh water every day. You may not witness your pet tortoise drink, but you must regularly check their bowl. This will provide you with an idea of how much water they are drinking.
If you are still unsure if your tortoise is drinking, place them in shallow water three times a week for around 25 minutes. This will help them to regulate their water requirements. But always refrain from removing their water bowl entirely from their enclosure.
You must replace the water daily; your tortoise must have their own bowl, whether they lives outdoors or indoors.
It is crucial to start to soak your tortoise early on when they are young. Your baby tortoise must be immersed in a container a few times a week, always making sure that their head is safely above water. Water touching the bottom of their chin is a good amount.
Having a regular soak is an excellent way to encourage your young tortoise to drink water.
Give your tortoise a regular checkup and look to make sure that they are well-hydrated.
If you feel or suspect that they are suffering from dehydration and are not drinking, consider taking them to a vet who can run some tests and monitor the situation.
Tortoises do drink water and they need it to survive and thrive.
While wild tortoises have adapted to regulate their water levels and go for extended periods of time without water, it is not preferable nor should you replicate this with your pet.
Once a tortoise is domesticated their needs and preferences change. Beyond this, giving fresh daily water is a way to improve the desperate conditions wild tortoises must face.
The best way to ensure that your tortoise is hydrated is to routinely check up on them and observe their behavior.
Be sure to invest in a premium and carefully designed water reptile water bowl and keep it topped up with fresh water daily.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.