Signs Your Tortoise Is Dehydrated (Beginner’s Guide)

Dehydration is a severe problem for tortoises. If it’s not addressed on time, it can cause significant medical issues and even lead to death. According to vets, the more substantial problem is that many tortoises have dehydration complications to some degree, mainly due to ignorance on the part of the owner, perhaps because they do not understand the warning signs.

If you doubt whether your tortoise is dehydrated, it’s essential to know what to check and what to do. There’s a big misconception that tortoises don’t need a lot of water, but water is vital for these creatures.

Tortoise owners need to create an environment close to the pet’s natural habitat.

Signs Your Tortoise Is Dehydrated:

Closed or Sunken Eyes

One of the first signs of dehydration in tortoises is sunken eyes. To figure out how advanced the dehydration is, they will shut down more and more until they cannot open them anymore. While they can still open when something is around them, they will close them almost immediately as they can’t hold them open for long. If your tortoise is closing its eyes more than usual, you can observe the cornea when the tortoise opens its eyes to see if it’s inflamed. If yes, quickly take it to the vet as it might signify that the dehydration is in advanced stages.

Appetite Loss

While a loss of appetite on tortoise could be a sign of sickness, it could also be a sign of something bad happening, and dehydration is among those bad things. As for disease, a loss of appetite is accompanied by other symptoms. Sometimes, it could be a sign that your tortoise will begin laying eggs soon. Keep in mind that females will lay eggs even if no make is around to fertilize them.

Dry Feces

One of the best ways to figure out your tortoise’s health is to look at the extremities. A dehydrated tortoise will have dry feces due to decreased moisture levels. Just ensure that you look at the feces when they are still fresh, as they can look dehydrated after a few hours, and you won’t be able to establish whether the tortoise was dehydrated or not.

Thickened or Reduced Urine

 Not the pleasant of things to look at, but an accurate way to determine if your turtle is dehydrated is to look at the urine. If you notice the urine is thicker and in small quantities or doesn’t even urinate, it could result from dehydration. If the urine has a different color like red or white, it might be something else, in which you would need a vet to analyze and discover the cause.

Dry Skin

A considerable portion of the tortoise body is covered by the shell, while the legs and tails have scales. This only leaves you with the head and neck as the only places where you can clearly see the skin. So, try not to look at the legs and tails while observing the symptoms of dehydration. Instead, look at the head and neck to see if it’s dryer than usual, as this is a sign your turtle might be dehydrated.

Weight Loss

Due to reduced water in the body, the tortoise is likely to look thinner and weak. The tricky part is that weight loss happens in the bones and shell, so you are likely to notice this if the dehydration is quite severe. It’s perhaps why you should periodically weigh the tortoise, as it can help you detect the slightest changes. Weight loss could also be caused by illness and could help you catch the problems before they turn severe.

A healthy tortoise should not lose considerable weight. While small fluctuations are nothing to worry about, they could also be influenced by other factors such as the tortoise’s diet. Weighing your tortoise after one or two weeks, you will start to get a better idea of the average weight.


Water plays a vital role in body processes coordination, and if there isn’t enough, some processes will slow down. This can be seen when the tortoise stops moving and lacks activity in general. Lethargy is a common symptom of dehydration, but it’s also a common symptom of other health illnesses, so you should not assume that your tort is dehydrated just because they lack activity.

Poor Muscle Tone

Dehydration comes with a loss of energy. As a result, a dehydrated tortoise won’t react and respond as expected. To test the muscle tone, simply pick up the tortoise. If it retracts typically to the shell or tries to move away, but now it seems lazy or does nothing, it’s likely because it lacks the energy. Like other symptoms, poor muscle tone is not just a symptom of dehydration and could result from other problems.

Thick Mouth Mucus

Another way to tell if your tort is dehydrated is to look at the nature of saliva and mucus. Just the way humans are, a dehydrated tortoise will have dried mucus. This happens because the body lacks enough fluid to replace the lost fluid.

How to Treat a Dehydrated Tortoise

Depending on the level of dehydration, a vet consultation may not be needed as you can rehydrate it at home.

Here are a few ways to rehydrate a dehydrated turtle at home.

Water Soak

An instant way to hydrate a dehydrated tortoise is by “soaking.” The Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management says that tortoises use the skin around the cloaca located near the tail to absorb water. This is why soaking is an option to consider when you have a dehydrated tort. Soaking also keeps the tortoise looking strong and healthy by fighting off bacteria attached to the body.

Soaks are also a great way to manage shell and skin cracking due to dryness. A low humidity habitat might be ideal for mammals, but reptiles are not the case. A lack of moisture in the air causes the skin and scales to dry off, although some species like the desert tortoise thrive in arid environments.

As well as acting as an alternative way to absorb water, tortoises like to drink water when bathing and, in this case, when they are soaking. You can also use an electrolyte solution to soak the tortoise rather than plain water. Keep reading to find how to prepare an electrolyte solution for your dehydrated turtle.

For now, learn how to soak a tortoise in 5 steps.

Fill a Container

Look for a larger and wide container that offers enough space for the pet to move around and fill it with water. Ensure the edges aren’t too high as the tort might need to climb out. Lukewarm water is preferable, but you should avoid hot. Hot water will dry the tortoise skin much further and be painful if it’s hot enough. Using ice-cold water will make your tortoise lethargic and may upset digestion, so you need to find a balance.

Soak the Tortoise

Once the water has the optimum temperature, you can now introduce the tortoise slowly while ensuring the water levels don’t go above the tortoise head. Tortoises are poor swimmers, so putting them inside large pools is dangerous. Ensure the amount of fluid allows the tortoise to wander about in the water. The body will rehydrate naturally. It’s normal for tortoises to poop when soaking in water as it seems to stimulate their bowel movements. Don’t wait for too long before replacing the dirty water to avoid infections when this happens.

Provide Enough Time

Allow the tortoise to stay in the bath for at least 20 minutes for proper rehydration. When it’s ready, it will try climbing out of the bath. You should offer a helping hand out of the container as it’s unlikely to be strong enough.

Dry Down

Keep in mind that tortoises are not aquatic, so they are not used to being wet. As a result, you should not return the tortoise to its enclosure before it’s dried out. Otherwise, the tortoise is likely to grow cold and damp, which is a recipe for illnesses such as respiratory illness.

Instead, take a towel and wipe the tort and make sure to dry off the edges of the shell, legs, and arms. Remember that tortoises may carry salmonella, so it’s advised not to use the towel yourself or put it on your surfaces.

Dispose of the Water

You should dispose of the bathwater carefully as pet tortoises may carry salmonella. The bacteria can cause severe illness in humans and can be severe enough to kill. As a result, you should never pour the water into the kitchen sink, or anywhere you use it. Pour the dirty water directly into the toilet or far away from your movements. Flush down immediately and use bleach to kill any bacteria if you use the bathroom.

Provide Constant Access to Fresh Water

This should be obvious, but you need to ensure your tortoise has constant access to clean drinking water. To encourage your tort to drink, make sure you use the correct type of bowl, which should be deep enough to allow the pet to submerge its head fully. Keep the bowl in a shady spot inside the enclosure, as putting it in a sunny location may lead to evaporation. You should enjoy watching the tortoise drink water due to their rigid mouth. They have to stick their faces in the water and can drink through the nose as well. This means you shouldn’t see bubbles coming through the water while drinking. Ensure to change the water daily as leaving the water for days in a row could attract harmful microbes. As with bathwater, make sure to dispose of the water carefully.

Raise the Humidity

For a dehydrated tortoise, another thing you could do is to raise the humidity in the enclosure. With more water in their air, it helps a tortoise with a low thirst drive to absorb more water. You need to have a humidity gauge to monitor the mist level in the enclosure.

Other than buying a dedicated humidifier for your tortoise’s enclosure, you can also set up a dish filled with dechlorinated water under a heated lump in the terrarium. The heat produced by the lamp will gradually evaporate some of the water, increasing the moisture level in the surrounding area. If the turtle keeps on knocking over the bowl, you can use moist moss as an alternative.

Moisture-Rich Foods

Another easy way to hydrate a tortoise at home is to ensure you provide a variety of foods with more moisture. These may include leafy soaked greens, melons, lettuce, and cucumber. Throw in wild weeds such as sow thistle, clover, and bramble leaves. Dandelion is fine in small quantities, but be cautious with spinach. Acceptable fruits for tortoises are Banana, Apple, Pear, Grapes, Strawberries, mango, and cherries.

However, you should avoid diuretic foods or foods that expel more liquid from the body. Dandelion, for instance, should be avoided or provided in small quantities due to other benefits. If you are unsure what to offer your dehydrated pet, consult your vet for further advice.

Since most tortoise food comes from food than drinking, offering moisture-rich foods is a must for tortoises.

Provide An Electrolyte

Electrolyte solutions are a great way to balance the fluids in the body. You can give your dehydrated tort a solution because it also provides other essential nutrients. To make an electrolyte solution, here’s what you need:

  • ½ tablespoon salt – containing sodium chloride and iodine
  • ½ tablespoon potassium chloride
  • ½ tablespoon baking soda
  • Two tablespoons sugar – avoid sweeteners such as stevia
  • 4 cups of water

To make the solution more palatable and flavored, you may also supplement the electrolyte with minerals, vitamins, veggies, and fruits. Supplementation is especially important if the tortoise lacks essential nutrients. Make sure to mix the electrolyte with water if it’s powdered before offering it to your tortoise. Once you mix with water, avoid keeping the electrolyte in the refrigerator for more than a day because it has a shelf-life, and bacteria may begin to grow.

For most electrolyte powders, you should mix in the following ratios:

  • A cup of water a tablespoon of electrolyte powder
  • A liter of water with 2.5 tablespoons of electrolyte powder
  • A gallon of water with a two-thirds cup of electrolyte powder

Offer Shade

Another overlooked essential aspect is shade. Whether dehydrated or not, tortoises need a shady area where they can hide from the heat. So, ensure you provide the tortoise with a spot like this, even if the pet roams outside.


Finally, using a misting bottle of water to mist the tortoises once a day can treat dehydration. Similar to bathing, the tortoise will absorb some of it through the skin and speed up rehydration. Just make sure not to overdo it. Otherwise, the shell might stay dump which will encourage mold to grow.

Frequently Asked Questions about Tortoise Dehydration

Can a Tortoise Die From Dehydration?

Yes, just like any other land-dwelling animal, tortoises will eventually die from dehydration. These deaths occur due to the compounded health problems from lack of access to clean drinking water, such as kidney failure. While tortoises can withstand the harsh dry environments out in the wild, they still need to drink water regularly. The condition of the tortoise’s shell is also impacted by how much water they get to drink, and when this happens, the shell can get flakey and fungal infection may occur.

Can a Tortoise Recover From Dehydration?

Tortoises can recover from dehydration under proper care and access to clean water. Healthy tortoises can control how much water they get to drink and how often, allowing their bodies to recover pretty quickly. You should consult your vet if you suspect that your tortoise is dehydrated, and they will check if they have any related chronic health problems. The vet will then advise you on the best diet and how to keep your tortoise hydrated, including regular baths.

Why Is My Tortoise Not Drinking Water?

While tortoises don’t tend to drink water frequently, you may notice that they avoid hydrating, which is enough reason to get concerned. The primary reason why a tortoise may not be drinking water is that their diet contains enough fluids to keep them hydrated. If you feed your tortoise watermelons and misted greens, this is often the case. A tortoise may also avoid drinking water if grazing on plants with residual water on them. These reptiles don’t need a lot of water, and they can often get by with the hydration obtained from consuming succulent plants.

Do Tortoises Need Water?

Like all other animals, tortoises need water to keep their biological processes active and maintain bodily functions at an optimal rate. Water is also necessary to get rid of body waste products. How much water a tortoise needs depends on its environmental adaptation, with rainforest tortoises needing the most, followed by grassland and eventually arid area tortoises. Tortoises that are adapted to excrete their waste products in the form of uric acids, such as the Mediterranean tortoise, often require less water compared to those that have evolved to eliminate their waste products in the form of urea,

During the rainy season, semi-arid dwelling tortoises have been drinking plenty of water while urinating simultaneously. Scientists assume this signifies that the tortoise can regulate its water consumption to meet natural supply and take advantage of the rainy season to excrete as much waste as they can. During the dry season, such tortoises often rescue their activities and increase aestivation to conserve their water intake.

How to Encourage a Tortoise to Drink Water?

The best way to encourage a tortoise to drink more water involves replicating its natural habitat. This is generally achieved by replicating the effect of falling rain by sprinkling the tortoise with a garden sprinkler on its shell, which stimulates the rain. This encourages the tortoise to drink more water and regularly excrete its waste products.

You can also add a bowl of freshwater into the tortoise’s cage to encourage them to drink more water. Increasing the number of baths can encourage a tortoise to drink more water. However, if your tortoise is severely dehydrated, you should immediately contact the vet.

What Are the Dehydration Levels In Tortoises?

There are two dehydration levels in reptiles: acute dehydration and severe dehydration. Acute dehydration is often a result of a protozoan infection that leads to excessive cloaca voiding and diarrhea. Even with the drastic reduction in hydration, blood urea and uric acid in the tortoise kidney system haven’t precipitated. Using a mixture of electrolytes, the vet can quickly revive the tortoise via oral hydration as long as the kidney system is functional.

You can easily identify severe dehydration in tortoises with the presence of blood urea indicating imminent renal failure. Severe dehydration takes longer, but reptiles that consume excessive proteins often develop severe dehydration more quickly than those that exist on plants.

How Long Can Tortoises Survive Without Water?

While most tortoises can survive up to two days without water, some factors influence how long a tortoise can survive while dehydrated. Various tortoise species are adapted to survive in different environmental conditions. Some will likely be more affected depending on surrounding temperature, humidity level, and amount of water drank previously. Some species can go an entire week without drinking water in low humidity environments, while others will become lethargic if they go more than two days without drinking dress water.

Wrap Up

tortoises can live long in the wild as they have access to fresh water and food to match their desires. In captivity, it’s the owner’s responsibility to ensure that a tortoise has access to clean drinking water to minimize the occurrence of dehydration which can have severe impacts on the tortoise’s health. if you notice any signs that might indicate that your pet tortoise is dehydrated or simply not drinking water as needed, you should get in touch with the vet immediately. Remember that tortoises are landing based so you can’t just check them in an aquarium as they cannot swim, but you will need to provide them with fresh water to keep them healthy and happy.

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