Can Tortoises Get Overweight?

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Looking at your chubby tortoise playing is always eye-pleasing. However, a fat tortoise may look cute, but in reality, the pet is at a health risk. In this article, I will address the most asked question of whether tortoises get overweight.

Tortoises become fat because of overfeeding, lack of physical activity, stress, or underlying disease. Obese tortoises can not retract to the shell completely. Attempts to withdraw the limbs give them bruises on joints. Obesity may lead to organ failure, causing the premature death of the pets.

Catch more on tortoise obesity below.

Does Your Tortoise Have Obese?

Obesity is not uncommon in tortoises. In fact, you are the one responsible for the unhealthy weight gain of your pet. How?

Remember when you allowed your tortoise to eat extra food just because it begged? Yes, those spoilings have made your pet fat.

See, tortoises, even the captive ones, have a strong survival instinct. In the wild, these creatures live at the mercy of nature and fail to manage meals every day. Therefore, tortoises often overeat when they finally come across a food source.

The same instinct works for the captive tortoises too. Though the pets get regular meals, they can not stop begging for more food. Sometimes you may notice them eating and not stopping even after a full stomach.

Allowing your tortoises to overfeed is a crucial reason for obesity. And let me remind you! Being overweight can be proven deadly for tortoises.

Why Do Tortoises Get Fat?

Overfeeding is definitely the prime reason why tortoises fall victim to obesity. But wait! There can be more factors that can make the tortoises fat. Allow me to explain each one of them in brief.

1. Excessive Food

We have already discussed how overfeeding takes its toll on the tortoises. Remember, I am not talking about spoiling your pets once or twice. The tortoise becomes fat when you keep overfeeding it again and again.

2. Unfit Meal Plan

According to professionals, the tortoise diet should be high in fiber and low in calories, fat, and protein. If you mistakenly add high-fat or protein food to the meals, it will cause a problem. Tortoises can not process these elements and end up storing the fat in the tissues.

3. No Physical Exercise

I know it sounds absurd. But your tortoise needs minimum physical activity to stay in shape. If the pet stays idle and spends days only dozing off, soon, it will become overweight.

4. Mental Illness

Apparently, stress or anxiety is not good for the physical health of the tortoises. Such mental traumas can mess up the pets’ metabolism, making them gain weight faster than usual.

5. Undiagonistic Illness

Sometimes obesity is the symptom of an underlying disease. Generally, tortoises gain abnormal weight when they suffer from hormone and metabolism-related diseases. Weighing the pet regularly and keeping track can assist you in pointing to unusual fattening.

6. Side Effect

Tortoises can be on medications to get rid of severe diseases. It is possible that obesity is the byproduct of the meds. In such cases, the pets may return to their previous shape once they are off the medications.

Is Obesity Dangerous For Tortoises?

Most owners do not realize how dangerous obesity can get. Let me make it clear! Being overweight may cause permanent harm to your tortoises. Such as,

1. Can Not Tuck Inside

An obese tortoise has fat tissues around their necks, limbs, and groins. As a result, they can not tuck into the shell properly.

Now, though a tortoise lives in a captive environment, it still requires getting into the shell for various reasons. Retracting to the shell offers the pet a sense of security and relaxation.

The creature becomes frustrated and anxious when it fails to withdraw into the shell. Of course, mental trauma is not suitable for the tortoises.

2. Bruises All Over

Again, though the tortoises can not get into the shell because of the fat tissues, they never stop trying. Because of all the fruitless friction, the pets get bruises on the joints. The wounds can turn into rot or infectious diseases if not treated.

Being overweight often hampers the motion and mobility of the tortoises. So, reaching for the food or water bowl becomes difficult for them. Ultimately, leading a regular life seems challenging to overweight tortoises.

3. Organ Failure

So, the tortoise shell does not grow with the immature development of tissues in the fat tortoises. It causes negative pressure on the blood circulatory system and other functioning organs.

As a result, there is a high possibility that the tortoises will experience kidney or liver failure due to obesity. Respiratory disease and digestive issues are also common among fat tortoises.

Is My Tortoise Overweight? How Do I Find Out?

In most cases, you can tell from the appearance that the tortoise is getting fat. If you are still confused, just google ‘obese tortoise’. I am sure you will know the horror I am referring to.

The main difference between a growing and an obese tortoise lies in the shape. For instance, overweight tortoises have fat tissues in the armpits, legs, groins, necks, and under the eyes. A thicker limb, chubby face, and chunky tail are also seen in obese tortoises.

While the fat is stored in all the soft tissues, the shell stays the same size. Anyway, the hard shell prevents fat accumulation in the belly and hip areas.

As the tortoises keep getting fatter, they can not retract their limbs into the shell. It is because the carapace and plastron do not grow bigger.

So, you should be concerned if your tortoise is struggling to tuck into the shell due to its oversize. Soon the pet will have trouble walking too. Therefore, it will stay idle and get even fatter.

For your convenience, I have pinpointed the differences in the below chart,

Growing TortoiseObese Tortoise
The whole body grows with age.Only the soft tissues around the neck, limb, tail, etc., grow.
Pets can actively roam around the habitat.The tortoise faces trouble walking.
Always in a happy and chill mood.These pets are mostly in a stressful mood.
Skin looks tight and healthy.Folded and loose skin around the necks and limbs.
Can easily retract inside the shell.Can not tuck inside the shell and get bruises.

How Much Weight Is Overweight?

Fast growth in tortoises does not always indicate obesity. Obviously, the creature will get bigger as it grows older.

Take a look at the ideal weight chart of adult tortoises. It will help you find out whether your pets are in good shape.

Tortoise SpeciesHealthy Weight Assumption Of Adult Tortoises
Sulcata Tortoise150 – 200 pounds
Aldabra Tortoise350 – 550 pounds
Spider TortoiseUp to 400 grams
Greek Tortoise2 – 3 pounds
Egyptian TortoiseUp to 400 grams
Russian Tortoise3 – 3.5 pounds
Marginated TortoiseUp to 11 pounds
Elongated TortoiseUp to 7 pounds
Radiated TortoiseUp to 35 pounds
Indian Star Tortoise4.9 – 5.5 pounds
Pancake TortoiseUp to 1 pounds
Burmese Tortoise70 – 100 pounds
Leopard TortoiseUp to 61 pounds
Yellow/ Red Footed Tortoise Up to 25 pounds

Obviously, not every tortoise achieves this benchmark because of factors like lack of care, diseases, genetics, etc. So, you can follow the Donoghue or Jackson ratio to find out the health status of the tortoise. Well, calculating the BMI of the pet will also help you determine whether it is skinny or overweight.

I have talked more about how much the tortoises should weigh in my previous article. A quick equation looks like this,

Minimum tortoise weight (grams) = (Carapace length ^ 3) *0.191

How To Deal With Obese Tortoise?

You can not just let your tortoise grow fatter. If you do not take responsibility, the pet will turn into a ball of flesh and die due to organ failure. Here are some tips to reverse obesity in tortoises,

1. Proper Selection Of Food

A high-fiber diet with minimum fat, protein, and calories is recommended for the tortoises. Remember this requirement when preparing the meal chart for the pets. The safe and nutritious items for tortoises are given below,

PlantsVegetablesGrass & HayFruits
Aloe vera
Musk mallow
White clover
Red clover
Sea holly
Lumb lettuce
Pot marigold, etc.
Cactus pods 
Romaine lettuce
Tomato, etc.
Timothy grass
Rye grass
Fescue grass
Orchid grass
Barley grass
Arizona fescue
Creeping red fescue
Couch grass
Big bluestem grass
Lawn fescue
Buffalo grass, etc.
Nectarine, etc.

N.B. You can add many more items to the list. Just make sure the plants, veggies, and fruits are safe for the tortoises.

The grass and hay are available in local stores and online shops. However, growing the plants and grass in the tortoise garden is an excellent idea for delivering fresh meals to pets. Check out this article to start your tortoise garden from scratch.

2. Follow The Feeding Routine

Besides the right food selection, the feeding schedule also prevents overfeeding tortoises. Well, you do not need to follow a strict diet. Generally, feeding the tortoises 5 days a week is more than healthy. The 2 days of starvation allow the tortoises to digest the meals properly.

If your tortoise has obesity, it may require more days of starvation initially. It can be 3 days or more. Ask the vet for a healthy suggestion.

Regarding the meal quantity, you can follow the 15/20 minutes rule or the head method. According to the experts, a bowl about the size of an empty tortoise head can hold enough food to satisfy the pet’s hunger. Likewise, allowing the creature to eat for 15 – 20 minutes will fill up its tummy.

3. Introduce Regular Excercise Habit

Well, you can not force your tortoise to head to the gym. But it is possible to make the pet do more physical activities. For example, take the tortoise out in the grass for grazing.

Walking on the green field serves 2 purposes,

  1. The tortoise can munch on fresh grass
  2. All the walking burns the excess fat

You can replicate the rough, wild environment with stones and rocks in the enclosure. Walking on such a surface may also help the tortoises lose weight.

Some owners suggest making the tortoises walk up to a distance to enjoy each meal. This will easily shed the extra pounds from their bodies.

4. Stress-Free Environment

Any kind of mental trauma can mess up the metabolism of the tortoise, making them gain weight. So, eliminate any source of anxiety and stress from the pen. Ensure a top-notch habitat set-up and security so the pets can relax.

5. Consult A Vet

Obesity can be a side effect of medications or any underlying diseases. So, consult a vet and have your tortoises thoroughly checked up. Determine the cause of overweight and resolve the issue in a healthy way.

Before You Go…

Turtles may also suffer from obesity and abnormal fattening. Being overweight is deadly for these creatures too. So, follow the tips in the attached article below to keep your turtles in shape.

Is Your Turtle Getting Fat? [Here Is What To Do]

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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