When owning a pet tortoise, it is concerning any time that they stop eating their food. If it comes about suddenly, it can be outright confusing. But why may they do this and how should you respond; is it even normal for tortoises? With these questions in mind, I have researched the dietary requirements and needs of tortoises, along with what can cause them to change. I will be sharing all that I found here in this article.
So, why is my tortoise not eating? There could be several reasons for your tortoise to stop eating, from the simple fact that they do not like their food, to a more serious issue and illness such as a chest infection. Other potential reasons include constipation, being too cold, and no desire to eat following waking up/reemerging from a sleeping state. Knowing your tortoise, and looking for other symptoms and behaviors, will help to narrow down the possible issues.
Tortoises aren’t very animated animals, they kind of just go with the flow, slowly and quietly.
This can actually be a good thing in some ways, and one of the reasons why they’re so great! Unfortunately, when a problem arises, it can be harder to notice and longer to diagnose.
It is important to consider that not eating is often in response to a change.
Therefore identifying that change, can help to come up with the most suitable resolution.
Sometimes there will be things you can do; at other times it’s just a normal part of their way of life.
But, for new tortoise owners, it can be worrisome.
So let us know let us take a closer look at the main causes before looking at some other questions to ease your mind and some proactive approaches of what to do in each scenario.
Why Does My Tortoise Not Want to Eat?
There are many different possibilities for why your tortoise doesn’t want to eat, and some of them are truly innocent and harmless.
Let us now look at the most commonly reported reasons by other owners, veterinarians, and tortoise specialists:
Your tortoise may not like their food. This is likely to occur if you have changed their feed recently, or if it is stale and unappetizing to them.
Try giving your tortoise something different, or one of their favorite treats, to see if this will get them eating again.
Tortoises tend not to be too hungry when they emerge from hibernation. They prioritize water and hydration over food and sustenance.
While you do want your tortoise to eat as soon as possible after a hibernation doesn’t be surprised if they don’t show interest in food for two or three days.
Ensure that your tortoise has access to plenty of water when it first wakes from its hibernation. Once they are fully hydrated, they should show interest in food again.
For the first little, while after they wake up, feed them foods with high water content, such as fruits and vegetables, they may be more accepting of these types of foods.
Digestion works slower in tortoises than it does in humans. If a tortoise gets backed up a bit, they will go on a self-starvation until things get moving and they have room for more food.
Some experts suggest feeding your tortoise five days a week and withholding for two days.
The schedule of the feedings doesn’t matter. You can have the two days of withholding back-to-back, or you can spread them out through the rest of the week.
Pick a schedule that works for you and it will automatically work for your tortoise. Feeding them this way will prevent them from going on a longer starvation period in the summer.
Tortoises are sensitive to temperature and need to be kept warm.
If your tortoise is too cold, they will not eat as their entire system slows down. Ensuring that you have your tortoise away from windows, and other areas where he could catch a draft, is vital.
Just as important is to ensure that you have a warming lamp in their living area.
There are several illnesses in tortoises that could cause them to not want to eat. The top three illnesses that generally cause a tortoise to stop eating are:
- Stomatitis – This is a mouth infection in tortoises that can spread down into their throat if not treated. So not only does the infection make them not feel good, but the location of the sores makes it hard for them to eat.
- Respiratory Infection – You may be able to tell if your tortoise has a lung infection if you see small bubbles coming out of their nostrils. There are different types of respiratory infections but all of them will cause your tortoise to turn away from food, and all of them should be treated.
- Intestinal Parasites – Check your tortoise twice a year for intestinal parasites; once in the summer and once before he enters hibernation. To do this you will need to keep a close eye on their droppings for any signs of worms. If they have them take your tortoise to a veterinarian to be treated. You will also need to do a good cleaning of their living area to prevent reinfection.
How Long Can A Tortoise Go Without Eating?
When it comes to how long a tortoise can go without eating there is a broad range of time, based on several factors. The short and quick answer is that a tortoise can go anywhere from 6 months to 3 years without eating.
Like I said, a broad range. Most tortoise species, especially those that live in colder climates, regularly go around six months or so without food as they hibernate during that time.
Some tortoises have been known to go up to three years without eating and they’ve been fine.
However, there have been certain factors for them to make it this long. The first is that they are healthy adult tortoises, to begin with.
In addition, they need to have access to water and a suitable living condition. After that temperature and species of tortoises play a big role.
Do Tortoises Need To Eat Every Day?
Tortoises do not need to eat every day. In fact, if you feed a tortoise every day, they will actually put themselves into starvation as their system can’t handle eating that regularly.
It is recommended to feed them five times a week, which allows their system to catch up on the two days food is withheld.
While this may seem extreme, it actually helps the tortoise, due to the fact that a self-starvation would last longer and could possibly cause some problems, such as mouth sores and other illnesses.
What Do You Do If Your Tortoise Is Not Eating?
If your tortoise is not eating, and they haven’t just come out of hibernation, the quickest thing to do is offer them their favorite treat.
If they eat that then the issue can just be with their food and you may need to change their diet, to something they like better.
Continue to offer them fresh food each day and take note if they are eating anything, and if so, how much.
It could be that they start to eat but something makes them stop, or maybe they aren’t showing interest at all in the food.
After a couple of days of not eating you know, it’s not their system playing catch-up, so you should go through your list of possibilities and call your veterinarian when needed.
Make sure that your tortoise is warm enough. If you find that they are spending all of their time under their heating lamp, and aren’t moving around their enclosure, then that could be a sign that your tortoise is in an area that is too cold for them.
If you are able to determine that the above factors aren’t the issue, check to see if they are using the bathroom and if they are, does it look normal?
This will be important information for the veterinarian.
Additional information that will help the veterinarian is if you go through the checklist of possible reasons for your tortoise not eating and make notes and observations. This could potentially speed up the process of diagnosis for your sick friend.
There could be several reasons why a tortoise has stopped eating. Luckily, not all of them are bad, or complicated issues.
Sometimes it’s just as easy as changing up your tortoise’s diet to something they like more. Other times it’s just a waiting game for his digestive system to catch up and provide room for more food.
It is very common for tortoises to go up to three days post hibernation without eating.
Their main focus at that time is to find water and get fully rehydrated before they worry about food.
You can help speed this process up by ensuring your tortoise has plenty of water, and access to foods high in water content, such as some fruits and vegetables.
Another quick fix that it could be has to do with their temperature.
Tortoises don’t like the cold, and I can’t blame them, but unlike me the cold actually makes them eat less as their systems slow down and they don’t have the energy to move and eat.
Unfortunately, there are other, more serious reasons why your tortoise possibly isn’t eating.
Several different illnesses in tortoises can cause them to become anorexic and not eat. If you suspect your tortoise has an illness, it’s imperative that he gets looked at by a veterinarian.
When a tortoise gets seen by a veterinarian early on and is provided with enough information, the prognosis for the tortoise increases.
A tortoise can potentially go up to three years without food, so not eating isn’t the issue.
The issue lies in what is causing the lack of appetite, and that is usually a more serious thing.
One tip that might come in handy someday is to find a suitable veterinarian for your tortoise as soon as you get one. Not all veterinarians are knowledgeable about reptiles or only have the most basic knowledge.
You may have to call around to a few vets until you find one and it’s best to do that when your tortoise is healthy, and not when they are sick, and you are dealing with that stress.
Tortoises can be force-fed, however, they should not be done right away following periods of not eating. Force-feeding can cause issues, even death, in tortoises with dehydration. Therefore re-hydration should begin first. Once a tortoise is sufficiently hydrated foods can be introduced but they also need foods most appropriate to the species and their own needs.
What tortoises can eat depends on the species and their own needs and requirements. Some tortoises are strict herbivores and cannot eat fruit, whereas others can eat more fruit and even small amounts of meat. It is important you learn about your own tortoise’s species, and what is most appropriate for them. Suitable vegetables typically include dandelions and collard greens. Other common dietary additions include timothy hay and commercial tortoise pelleted feed.
Have other questions about your tortoise’s diet or other behaviors? My following guides may be of interest:
- What To Feed A Hermann Tortoise? [Complete Dietary Guide]
- What To Feed A Sulcata Tortoise [The Dos And Don’ts]
- What To Feed A Russian Tortoise [The Dos And Don’ts]
- Why Do Tortoises Headbutt? [What Does This Behavior Mean?]
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.