Although they do have long lifespans, there will come a time when your pet tortoise’s life comes to an end. Once you’re sure they have died, what do you do with their body? How can you take care of a dead tortoise in a way that honors your friend? Here are your options to consider.
So, what to do with a dead tortoise? Your main options depend on whether or not you wish to keep the shell (which takes many years to decompose). If you don’t want the shell, you can bury the body, take it to a vet or taxidermist, or contact your local animal control center. If you do want the shell, you will need to remove the flesh first.
While it may sound a little insensitive at first, consider that keeping your tortoise’s shell is a great way to remember them.
It keeps them in your memory and serves as a remembrance keepsake.
Nevertheless, let us now take a look at your options in greater detail, along with how to go about keeping the shell, if this sounds like something you would be interested in.
How Do You Dispose of a Dead Tortoise?
Most places won’t allow you to simply throw a dead animal’s body in the trash (nor would you want to, I hope!) If you don’t want the shell or the remains, some vets will dispose of a dead tortoise free of charge.
Fortunately, there are several other options available to you to dispose properly of your friend’s body.
If local laws allow it, you can bury your tortoise in your yard or garden.
Check online or with your local government authority, or check with your vet to see what you can do in your area.
If you aren’t allowed to or don’t want to bury your pet at home, you can purchase a plot in a pet cemetery.
The advantage of a pet cemetery is that it provides a place to honor your friend that is independent of where you live.
No matter if you move in the future – you’ll always be able to visit your friend’s grave.
Your vet will probably offer cremation, and if you opt for an individual cremation, you can bring your pet’s ashes home in an urn.
You can then either bury the ashes or scatter them in a forest, at sea, or in another appropriate place.
Some companies offer to turn your pet’s ashes into a piece of jewelry or a memorial stone.
Another option is having your pet’s body cremated with a small group of other dead reptiles.
You won’t get to bring the ashes home, but some people like the idea of their friend getting a send-off with other pets.
A local taxidermist may be interested in your tortoise’s shell, so you could contact them, as they are likely to offer to dispose of the body free of charge.
However, you won’t get to keep any of the remains unless you pay them to prepare the shell for you.
An Animal Control Center
You can take the body to your local animal control center, and they may dispose of it for you.
Contact them ahead of time to ask what’s possible.
Animal control centers usually take in dead animals from the public to avoid dead animals being left on the roads or residential properties.
Considerations When Disposing of Your Dead Tortoise
Here are some factors to take into account when disposing of your dead tortoise.
Make Sure Your Tortoise Is Actually Dead
Many tortoise owners come upon their pet who isn’t moving and has buried themselves in dirt and think that they have died.
Often, they discover that their pet is very much still alive – they were just hibernating!
We tend to think that only mammals hibernate, but funnily enough, many reptiles hibernate, too.
Not all species of tortoise will hibernate (such as the Sulcata tortoise), but those who do will appear to be playing dead.
In hibernation, your pet’s breathing will slow down, and their heart rate will drop.
Body temperature will decrease, and they’ll stop eating and drinking.
Hibernation is perfectly normal for most species and is, therefore, nothing to worry about (unless yours is one that doesn’t)
You just need to make sure they’re indeed hibernating and haven’t died.
Otherwise, you should contact a vet.
How To Tell If Your Tortoise Is Hibernating
Here are some ways to check if your tortoise is hibernating or not:
- Pick up your tortoise. If the head and limbs remain tucked in their shell, they’re most likely sleeping. But if the head and limbs wobble or droop, then your tortoise is likely dead.
- Hold a feather close to their nose. You aren’t aiming to tickle your tortoise – you’re checking for breathing. The feather should move ever so slightly (don’t do this in an area with a breeze!)
- Gently wiggle their legs. If your tortoise’s legs resist your movements, they’re probably fine. If the legs feel loose and don’t react, your tortoise is probably deceased.
Check Your Local Laws On Burying Dead Animals
Depending on where you live, it may or may not be possible to bury your tortoises body in your yard.
While you can find resources online, it’s always best to do an additional check with your local authority.
If you live on a housing development, you’ll need to check with management, as some developments won’t allow pet burial on the common grounds.
How To Properly Bury A Dead Tortoise
If you are allowed to bury your tortoise’s body, make sure you bury the body at least 3 feet underground.
You don’t want other animals digging up the body, and you don’t want to have to deal with the smell, either.
Holes that are this deep will also help protect the body against flooding.
If you don’t want to keep the shell, you can use a biodegradable box such as cardboard; or wrap the body in some newspaper.
Check for utility lines and water sources to avoid contaminating the environment or taking unnecessary risks.
You might want to put down a piece of concrete slab once you’ve filled in the hole halfway.
A layer of something heavy will help prevent foxes or other animals from being able to dig their way to the body.
You can then put a memorial plaque or plant a tree or a bush on top to mark the spot.
Find out the cause of death, if you can.
If your pet was euthanized or was given drugs of any kind, or if they died of an infectious disease, you are better off not burying them at home.
The risk of contamination or other animals becoming ill isn’t worth it – choose another option to dispose of your friend’s body, such as cremation.
Or take the body to a pet cemetery for a professional burial.
What To Do If You Want To Keep The Shell
If you want to keep the shell of your tort, you’ll need to choose a method to remove the flesh and tissue that’s inside.
Because this process can naturally take up to a year or more, most people choose one of the following methods to speed up the decomposition process.
Ways To Remove The Flesh
Here are some ways you can remove the flesh more quickly from the shell:
- Burying the dead tortoise. Bury the body in a mesh bag inside of a plastic bag and then dig it up later. Dig up the body 5 months later and check the decomposition. If there are still some bits of flesh, bury the body again and check in another month or two.
- Using beetles that eat cadavers. This method might sound a bit off-putting, but it works! You can get dermestid beetles (used by taxidermists) who will eat all of the flesh within a few days. Unfortunately, establishing a colony of beetles can take several months and is difficult to do.
- Storing the body in a metal drum. Place the body in a mesh bag and then seal up the drum. Put it in a spot that gets full sunlight: the flesh should decompose within a few months.
- Placing the shell on an ant bed. Leave the body there for about a week, and the ants will do your work for you. Just be aware that a tortoise’s body will start to smell after about 2 days, so perhaps do this as far away from your house as possible!
- Removing the flesh with a sharp utility knife. This method is not for the squeamish! But if you don’t want to wait for decomposition, you can take out the flesh (some people boil the body first).
How To Keep The Shell
When taking out the flesh from the shell, make sure you are wearing gloves and a mask.
Once you have removed the flesh from the shell, scrub it with hot water and a brush. Wash away any traces of dirt from both sides of the shell.
The cleaner your tortoise’s shell, the better it will keep.
Next, disinfect it thoroughly (don’t use bleach, however, as this will dilute the colors).
You can then varnish the shell, and it will hold its colors for years.
Some people choose to put a layer of felt underneath to avoid scratching tables or other surfaces.
Losing your tortoise is an incredibly sad day.
Besides, these reptiles generally have a very long lifespan and it’s a day you never truly feel will ever come around.
Thankfully, there are many different ways you can dispose of their body – some of them are certainly more civil than others, but you need to do what’s right for you, and your circumstances.
Unlike many other pets, the fact that we can keep our tortoise’s shell in remembrance is a small consolation.
But if you do want to say goodbye for good, don’t discount burial (if legally permitted) or cremation.
And if you are ever in need to dispose of another pet, my following guides will be of help:
- What To Do With A Dead Bearded Dragon?
- What To Do With A Dead Chicken?
- What To Do With A Dead Snake
- What To Do With A Dead Cat
- What To Do With A Dead Hamster
- What To Do With A Dead Rabbit
- What To Do With A Dead Guinea Pig?
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.