How Long Can A Tortoise Go Without Food?

How Long Can A Tortoise Go Without Food

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

Are you planning for a vacation but stuck with your pet tortoise? Well, I understand your situation. But the good news is, your tortoise does not need you around all the time. The pet will do just fine in a well-arranged habitat with a minimum amount of food. The tortoises can even live a long period without food. How long can a tortoise go without food?

Usually, a healthy adult tortoise can manage to survive 3 to 6 months without food. But yes, drinking water is a must in any case.

What happens if a tortoise goes without food for a long time? How does it affect the pet’s health? The following article answers it all.

How Long Can A Tortoise Go Without Food?

When I started my journey with the tortoise, I missed vacations for months. There is no shame in admitting that I knew little about their resilience behavior. But yes, with time, I researched the species and found out that it is totally okay to leave the tortoise alone for days.

I guess the only problem anyone faces while leaving a tortoise alone is maintaining a healthy feeding schedule. Sometimes it is almost impossible to manage someone who can check on the pet from time to time and provide the meal.

I know the beginners think it is mandatory not to skip any meal of the tortoise, which is true. But do you know your pet tortoise can go about 3 to 6 months without food? Yes, 3 to 6 long months, and I am not joking.

However, I am not pointing it out to all tortoises. And of course, there are certain factors that affect the time frame. Such as,

  • Tortoise age
  • Water access
  • Species
  • Habitat temperature
  • Tortoise physical health condition
  • Feeding schedule

Allow me to explain each factor more deliberately.

Tortoise Age

Are you planning to leave a hatchling alone without food for a long time? If yes, then let me warn you that it is a bad idea.

As you know, baby tortoises are vulnerable, have an underdeveloped body, and require nutrition to become strong. The hatchlings are in the process of rapid growth until they are 6 months old. So, these babies need food on a regular basis more than anything else.

Still, the hatchlings and young babies may manage to live a few weeks to 1 month without any food. But the drinking water must be accessible.

Experts suggest that starving baby tortoises affect their growth and health, which might suffer the pets in the long run. The first year plays a significant role in their development. Hence, these tortoises may fall victim to MBD or skinny structure while growing old.

Adult tortoises, on the other hand, are capable of surviving for months without being fed. It is because they have a stable immunity and body growth. So, these tortoises can rely on their stored energy and manage to go without food for longer than the babies.

Water Access

Tortoises are not a big fan of swimming. So, they do not need a habitat of half land area and half water area. Still, there should be a water source for drinking and soaking the shell.

What happens if you deprive the tortoise of water? The tortoise will suffer from dehydration and lose its body fat. Its shell and skin will become dry and flaky. In the future, the tortoise might have kidney failure, renal system backup, or articular gout.

Now you know the significance of water. It means even though a tortoise manages to go months without food, it can not survive without water. The tortoise requires a minimum amount of water for drinking and soaking its shell.

Hence, a tortoise who has access to water can starve longer than the one who is deprived of water.


A few tortoise species can survive longer without food and water than others, for example, the desert tortoise. This species has evolved to cope with the dry and rough desert weather. So, passing days or weeks without food and water is not new to them.

Again, some tortoise species, for example, Russian tortoise, Spur Thighed tortoise, Hermann’s tortoise, etc., hibernate with less food. It means the food requirements of these creatures are not as much as others. And so, these species can manage to survive longer without meals.

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Habitat Temperature

Habitat temperature is a game-changer in extending the starving period of a tortoise. You know tortoises are cold-blooded species and depend on external sources to regulate their body temperature.

On cold days, when there is no warmth, the tortoises become inactive, decreasing the energy and oxygen consumption rate. In a word, these creatures slow down their metabolism.

In such a state, tortoises are able to live on the stored energy. And so, there is no need for food consumption. The whole condition is referred to as hibernation.

A hibernating tortoise spends 3 to 6 months without food. It is similar to a sleep-like state, and the pet barely comes out for drinking water.

Hence, you can manipulate the starving period of a tortoise by regulating the habitat temperature. Generally, 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit is the preferred temperature for most tortoise habitats. At night time, a drop of 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit ensures the pet a sound sleep.

Temperature below 60 degrees Fahrenheit slows down the tortoise and its food habitat. The pet will surely hibernate once the temperature falls below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tortoise Physical Health Condition

An adult tortoise might survive 3 to 6 months without food but only on one condition. The pet has to be healthy and fit. If you starve a sick tortoise, it will damage its health even more.

You know tortoises do not eat any meals while hibernating. It is a challenging yet natural phase for any tortoise.

Experts advise getting the pet examined before putting it through hibernation. If the pet has any health complexation, the owner should reconsider the decision.

Feeding Schedule

If you want to grow your tortoise healthy, you must follow a proper diet schedule. According to the experts, a daily meal is mandatory for the tortoises under 1 year. When the creatures grow young, thrice a week or a feeding schedule of every other day will work.

If you have been following this meal spacing, then the chances are your tortoise is physically fit. A regular diet ensures that the pet is getting all necessary nutrients and it will grow fit. And yes, a healthy tortoise can easily survive months without food.

On the other hand, if you feed your tortoise irregularly, the pet might suffer from malnutrition. It can lead to diseases and even death. Now you can not expect an ill tortoise to go without food for weeks.

Exceptional Cases

On average, tortoises can live 3 to 6 months without food. Right? Well, that is what the sources claim.

However, some cases prove this assumption wrong and make you believe in miracles.

In January 2013, a family claimed that they had found their lost tortoise in the locker after 30 years. Yes, 30 looong years. According to the report, the red-footed tortoise escaped the habitat in 1982. The owner didn’t find the pet even after a lengthy search.

How did the tortoise manage to spend 30 years in that locked storeroom? Nobody knows for sure. When the pet was rescued, it was skinny and dehydrated.

Another case was reported featuring a similar type of story. The owner found its lost desert tortoise after 2 and a half years.

Did these tortoises manage to eat food or access water? Well, the answer is still unknown. But in a usual case, any tortoise would end up dead if it does not eat for that long.

How Long Can A Tortoise Go Without Water?

Tortoise can survive without food for 3 to 6 months when there is accessible water. What if there is no water source? How long will the tortoise manage to live?

Well, I have mentioned earlier that tortoises are not fond of water. The tortoises even can not swim. Yet, these creatures require water for drinking and bathing purposes.

Without water, tortoises can not survive longer than a week in a low humid region. If the period extends, the pets exhibit signs of dehydration. Such as,

  • Weight loss
  • Pale face
  • Flaky and dry skin and shell
  • Whitish urine
  • Watery eyes
  • Appetite loss
  • Lethargy, etc.

Dehydration affects the health of a tortoise in the long run. Kidney damage is pretty common if your tortoise does not get water access. Experts advise building a permanent water source in the tortoise habitat as the pet should drink water every single day.

In a case study, scientists have found out that desert tortoises might survive a year without water. But yes, they have to intake grass and weed on a regular basis. The tortoises will get the required moisture content from those natural foods.

Should Tortoises Be Fed Every Day?

Tortoises under the age of 1 should be fed every day, once in the morning or multiple times a day. When the tortoises grow young, 5 days of meals a week will work, and it is advisable to starve the pets for 2 days in any order. For older tortoises, owners should follow a feeding schedule of 3 days a week.

The newborn tortoises have low immunity and an underdeveloped body. Hence, their food requirement is higher than other age group tortoises. If you have a hatchling, you should feed it daily for the first year.

Many experts recommend feeding the hatchlings multiple times every day for the first 6 months. Then they advise switching to one meal per day for the next 1 and a half years.

The 5 days a week feeding schedule will work when your tortoise is in its juvenile or young age. The daily meal is also okay but is not advisable. You see, tortoises lose their appetite with growing age. So, feeding the pets every day might cause obesity.

You might starve the tortoises at least one or two days every week. It can be any random day.

Now when your tortoise gets older, you might switch to a thrice-a-week feeding schedule. The tortoise will not starve if you provide it with enough food.

Remember, you should not feed the tortoise the same food every day. Instead, bring varieties and changes to the meals. Besides, grazing on the open field helps the tortoises fulfill their nutrient demand.

Can You Leave A Tortoise For A Week?

You can leave a tortoise alone for a week if there is accessible water. Even if there is no water, your healthy adult tortoise might manage to survive 7 days in a comparatively chill enclosure.

Going on holiday becomes stressful when you have to leave behind your adorable tortoise alone in the home. But don’t you worry. Your pet tortoise is a born survivor.

Going without food is nothing new for tortoises. You know, tortoises hibernate in winter to cope with the severe cold. During that phase, the creatures do not eat any food.

So, if you can tamper with the habitat temperature, the tortoise might survive months without food. But in any case, tortoises can not live without water.

However, do not intentionally drop the habitat temperature to slow the tortoise metabolism and save food expenses. It can have a terrible effect on the health of the pet, and your tortoise might die.

So, what should you do?

Install an automatic reptile feeder and a water dispenser in the pet habitat if you have holiday plans.

You can set the meal amount and time in the automatic feeder. So, you need not worry about maintaining the feeding schedule anymore. Again, the dispenser will release water slowly and fulfill the minimum water requirement of the pet.

Can Tortoises Starve Themselves?

In the wild, tortoises starve themselves naturally before entering the hibernation process. The pets also restrain themselves from having any meals if the temperature drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the preparation period for hibernation.

You can not just decide to hibernate your pet tortoise. There is a proper procedure you must follow. Otherwise, the tortoise can die.

Do you know the tortoises stop eating at least two weeks before entering into the full hibernation state? Yes, this is a process of preparing the body for hibernation.

It is because any food in the stomach might rot and cause the tortoise gastrointestinal diseases. This is why tortoises have to starve before hibernating.

What Happens When You Starve Your Tortoise?

By now, you know that tortoises can survive without food for weeks or even months. But how does the starvation period affect these creatures? Here is the answer.

Starving A Tortoise For 1 Week:

Honestly, nothing will happen if your tortoise goes without food for one week. Yes, the pet will look weak and tired, but nothing else.

Tortoises are born survivors and can manage to live on the stored energy, even the babies. So, you can leave your tortoise alone for 7 days without food and enjoy a vacation without any worry. But yes, starving the tortoise too often will harm its health.

Starving A Tortoise For 2 Weeks:

I have already discussed that a baby tortoise can survive a few weeks without any food. So, starving for 2 weeks will not have any negative impact on the pet. However, starving the tortoise quite frequently will increase the risk of permanent health damage.

Starving A Tortoise For More Than A Month:

Starving a tortoise for a few weeks might not have any noticeable impact. But when a tortoise goes without food for a month, you start witnessing the changes. For example,

  • The pet loses weight
  • Its face looks pale
  • It becomes inactive, etc.

The starving tortoise might stop growing due to the lack of minerals and nutrients. Also, the immune system of the pet gets weaker. Hence, the tortoise becomes more vulnerable to diseases.

In many cases, tortoises try to escape the enclosure and go in search of food.

Leaving The Tortoise Alone For Vacation: The Backup Plans

Starving the tortoise might harm its health. So, no experts ever advise it. Even if you have to go on a holiday, you can always plan backups to provide food to your pet. Such as,

1. Install Automatic Food And Water Dispenser:

The device stores food in bulk and releases the exact quantity set up by the user. You can control the mealtime and amount depending on the requirement of the tortoise. The water dispenser serves the same purpose.

2. Hire A Caretaker:

You can hire a caretaker just to check on the tortoise every day and provide meals. Of course, any friend can also do the job.

If you fail to follow either of these plans, starving the tortoise is the only option available. I have seen owners storing food in the enclosure. However, tortoises are opportunistic feeders and might end up having more than enough food.


Tortoises can go 3 to 6 months without food. However, these creatures still require water for drinking and soaking the body. It is not advisable to starve your pet tortoise intentionally. You can always install an automatic feeder and water dispenser if you plan to be away for months.

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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