All animals need water to survive, but some species can survive for much longer than others without access to a drink. But what about tortoises? How long can they survive between drinks, and how much water do they actually need? Here’s everything you’ll want to know.
So, how long can a tortoise go without water? A healthy tortoise can usually go without water for a maximum of one week, provided the environment is low in humidity. Ideally, tortoises shouldn’t go for longer than 2 days without water, as they do need fresh drinking water daily. Tortoises who go for water longer than 48 hours risk serious health damage.
When it comes to a topic like this, there is always what is possible vs what is optimal.
As a tortoise owner, you need to ensure you adhere to the latter.
Just because a tortoise may be able to survive a while without a drink does not mean they should.
So with this important caveat in mind, let us now explore the water requirements of these hard-shelled reptiles further!
What Happens If A Tortoise Doesn’t Drink Water?
If a tortoise doesn’t drink fresh water each day, it can quickly become ill due to dehydration.
Some common problems in a tortoise that hasn’t had enough to drink can include:
- A backup in their urinary tract/kidney system (failure to eliminate toxins and uric acid)
- Articular gout (deposits of uric acid in the joints and in major organs)
- Kidney failure
A tortoise that isn’t getting enough water will try to retain as much water as possible.
This water retention makes it difficult or impossible to remove toxins that build up inside the body.
These toxins then lead to serious health problems.
Mammals and amphibians remove some of their body waste through urine, but tortoises remove some of their waste through uric acid.
When a tortoise doesn’t drink enough water, this uric acid solidifies, building up in the joints and the organs and resulting in a very painful disease for your pet.
Uric acid can build up not only in the joints and organs but also in membranes that are near your tortoise’s toes.
This acid buildup makes it extremely painful to move about.
Bladder stones are also caused by dehydration and can be quite painful for your pet.
How Much Water Should A Tortoise Drink?
Unlike other mammals or even reptiles, tortoises don’t need much water in addition to what they get from their food and from their environment (this includes baths).
As long as you are leaving water out each day for your tortoise, you shouldn’t need to worry if you don’t see a marked difference in the water level at the end of the day.
Your tortoise won’t drain the bowl in the way that other animals might.
Nevertheless, it’s important that you still leave some out to give your tortoise access should they want some.
But here are some factors to consider:
Consider Your Tortoise’s Environment
The exact amount of water that your tortoise needs will depend on their age, the food they eat, and the conditions of their environment.
Tortoises in a humid atmosphere living under a heat lamp will require more water than tortoises in a dry environment without a heat lamp.
As long as you make fresh water available every day for your tortoise, you should rest assured that your friend is getting enough water.
Can A Tortoise Drink Tap Water?
Generally speaking, if you drink the tap water in your house, then your tortoise can too.
Some people give their tortoise filtered water, spring water, mineral water, or water that’s particularly hard or soft.
The type of water you give your pet depends on your personal preference.
For most of us, tap water is fine for our tortoises.
As long as the water provided is clean, it should be safe for your friend to drink.
However, if you know people who get sick from your local tap water, don’t give it to your pet.
If you won’t drink it, they shouldn’t either!
How Do I Know If My Tortoise Is Dehydrated?
You can tell if your tortoise is dehydrated by looking out for signs such as:
- Extra dry feces
- Skin that flakes or is very dry
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Thick or white urine, or less quantity of urine
- Eyes that appear watery or sunken
- Mucus around the mouth
- Less physical activity than usual (lethargy, depression)
The first place you want to look is at the consistency of their feces.
If you notice changes, take this as a warning sign.
If their feces look normal, look at their skin and eyes, and then their overall temperament and behavior.
It can be tough to spot dehydration in your tortoise’s skin since these animals already have wrinkled skin that appears drier than other animals’.
When checking your friend’s skin, look for changes in elasticity, texture, and appearance.
If you spot any dehydration signs in your tortoise, soak them in warm water for about 20 minutes. Then take them to the vet to check for any health problems.
Can A Tortoise Die From Dehydration?
A tortoise can definitely die from dehydration due to a number of health problems that are likely to arise from kidney failure.
In addition, when a tortoise doesn’t get enough water, it can also impact the condition of its shell.
People often think that tortoises don’t get dehydrated since they seem to withstand harsh environments such as desert climates.
Other tortoise parents think that their tortoise will get enough water from their food, which is simply untrue.
A healthy tortoise knows when to drink and how much to drink.
Causes Of Death From Dehydration
Kidney failure is one of the worst problems and can lead to death if you don’t catch it early enough.
It can be difficult to detect kidney problems, particularly if your tortoise is drinking less water than usual over an extended period of time.
Can A Tortoise Recover From Dehydration?
Your tortoise can recover from dehydration, provided you spot it quickly.
Be sure to ask for help from your vet to make sure your tortoise hasn’t suffered health problems that could become chronic.
Keep your tort hydrated, and remember to give regular baths (see below).
How To Ensure Your Tortoise Drinks Enough Water
There is a multitude of ways to keep your tortoise hydrated. These are the best ones to implement:
Use the Right Type Of Bowl
You can ensure that your tort gets enough water by always having fresh water available in a deep enough bowl for your pet to submerge its head fully.
Leave the bowl in the shady part of the enclosure since water left by a heat lamp or in a sunny spot will evaporate more quickly.
The rigid bone structure of a tortoise’s mouth means that they have to put their faces in the water and drink it up slowly.
You won’t see any bubbles while your tortoise is drinking, because a tortoise drinks through their nose as well as through their mouth!
Despite what some people have read on the internet, tortoises are not able to drink water through the rear vent of their shell!
Bathe Your Tortoise Regularly
Another way to keep your friend hydrated is with regular baths.
If you have very young tortoises such as hatchlings or tortoises who are no older than 2 or 3 years, you’ll want to soak them daily.
Once your tortoise is older, you can soak them 2 to 3 times a week.
If your tortoise is under a heat lamp, then give more frequent baths to ensure proper hydration.
Your tortoise will love a good soak in some lukewarm water.
Use a shallow container and fill it so that the water is below your pet’s chin.
If your tortoise poops in the water (which is highly likely), change the water right away and continue the bath.
Let your reptile relax in the bath for 15 to 20 minutes each time.
Tortoises, like other animals, can absorb water through their pores.
While baths don’t replace having fresh drinking water each day, they will help your friend stay hydrated and in good health.
The good thing about using a shallow bowl is that your friend will let you know when bath time is done by attempting to climb out of the bath.
Offer Hydrating Foods
About 80 percent of your pet’s diet should be made up of dark green vegetables.
So give them a variety of greens, such as baby leaf, rocket, and kale.
Salad mixes that you can buy at the supermarket usually offer a good variety.
Just be careful on the spinach!
Add in some wild leaves, too, such as a range of flowers and weeds.
Good weeds are clover, sow thistle, and bramble leaves (as long as they aren’t very prickly!)
Dandelion is fine in moderation, but not if your tortoise has been dehydrated (see below).
In addition to your tortoise’s normal diet, offer your tort foods that are high in water content, such as cucumber or lettuce.
You can also use cactus, which you can grow at home if you wish. Prickly pear cacti offer excellent nutrition as well as hydration.
If you want to give your tortoise fruit, do so occasionally as a treat, and never give citrus fruits.
Acceptable fruits for treats are bits of:
Avoid Diuretic Foods
Some foods have a diuretic effect, which means they help expel liquids from the body.
If you are concerned about your tortoise’s hydration levels, don’t let them eat common greens like dandelions.
Check which greens will be best for your pet – your vet will be able to advise you if you have any doubts.
Tortoises can actually go quite a while without water.
That being said, it’s essential that you never test the boundaries here and keep them well hydrated at all times.
So do keep an eye on their water bowl, and do ensure you are providing water-rich foods.
A regular bath, which can be an enjoyable pastime with your tort, will not go amiss either!
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.