How To Take Care Of A Dehydrated Tortoise?

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

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There is a misconception that tortoises can live for months without drinking water. Honestly, you are killing your tortoise slowly by depriving it of water. Dehydration can cause minor constipation to life-threatening kidney failures. So, how will you take care of a dehydrated tortoise?

To take care of a dehydrated tortoise, start by increasing the habitat humidity percentage to 50% – 80% and placing a shallow water bowl in the pen. Next, add water-rich food, like iceberg lettuce, cucumber, etc., to the meals. If the tortoise ignores water, prepare an electrolyte drink for it. Finally, confirm a regular bath for the pet.

Catch more details below.

Key Takeaways

  • Dehydration can lead to kidney failure, articular gout, bladder stone, etc.
  • A dehydrated tortoise exhibits closed eyes, shrunk body, poor muscle tone, irregular bowel movements, etc.
  • The 2 easiest solutions to rehydrate the tortoises are to soak them regularly and increase the enclosure humidity.

6 Tricks To Treat The Dehydrated Tortoises

Curing a dehydrated tortoise is nothing difficult, and you can treat the pet at home. Remember, the tricks used in rehydrating the reptiles can be utilized to prevent dehydration too. Therefore, read the following texts carefully and better employ them as prevention.

1. Take Care Of The Humidity

Most tortoises like a moisture-rich environment. Depending on the species, the humidity requirement in the enclosure varies from 50% to 80%. For example, the red foot tortoises prefer pen humidity around 70% to 80%.

Dehydration in a tortoise is also a sign that the humidity in your pet’s habitat is lower than expected. The creatures will suffer long-term if you do not restore the moisture content soon.

One of the easiest ways to increase tank humidity is to water spray the beddings. Thus, you must choose a substrate that can trap moisture for a considerable time. Catch the best bedding options for tortoises from here.

Another way to level the moisture content is to set a humidifier in the pet enclosure. You will find portable mini humidifiers at a reasonable price at the superstore.

Finally, install a hygrometer to track the humidity in the tank.

2. Place A Water Source

Tortoises are not fans of water, as they can not swim. Yet, the creatures require an accessible source of water for drinking purposes.

Without a freshwater source, the pets will refrain from drinking or bathing. As a consequence, they will suffer from dehydration in the end.

So, place a shallow water bowl at one corner of the tank. Change the water every day and wash the dish at least once a week.

3. Use The Food Trick

Adding moisture-rich food items to the tortoise’s diet can treat the dehydrated tortoises in a short period. Some suggestions are cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, cactus pads, etc. You can also select other greens that are high in water content.

Fruits can also be a great help in this scenario. Watermelon and berries will be excellent options to feed the tortoises to beat dehydration.

But remember, greens and fruits high in water content carry low nutritional values. Thus, do not make your pets full on these items. But add the greens at a moderate amount and feed the tortoises fruit only as treats.

Explore other food options for tortoises from this article.

4. Prepare An Electrolytic Drink

Who doesn’t enjoy an electrolytic drink on a summer day? It gives you energy, resorting to the nutrient level. Surprisingly, a homemade electrolyte drink can also help the tortoises fight dehydration.

Required items to prepare an electrolyte solution are,

  • Iodized salt with sodium chloride and iodine only (1 part)
  • Potassium chloride, aka. Potassium salt (1 part)
  • Baking soda or sodium bicarbonate (1 part)
  • Pure sugar (12 parts)

The steps to make an electrolyte drink are as follows,

  • Mix all the salts and powders well. You can keep the powder in the refrigerator for 24 hours only.
  • Dissolve the powder in water right before serving your tortoise. 1 heaped tablespoon of powder is enough for 1 cup of water. For 1 liter drink, you need to add 2 heaped tablespoons of electrolyte powder. Likewise, 2/3rd tablespoon of powder is required for 1 gallon of water.
  • Cut some sweet fruits and add to the drink to create a tasty flavor.
  • Now offer the drink to your tortoise.

Just because an electrolytic drink can rehydrate tortoises quickly, you should not offer them the solution daily. Everyday consumption of electrolytic drinks can cause kidney damage.

5. Soak Your Tortoises

The best way to hydrate your tortoises is to bathe the pets regularly. Soaking sessions benefit these reptiles in 3 ways,

  • Tortoises drink water during the bath.
  • They release poop and urine when in the water.
  • Their body cells and tissues absorb water.

It means soaking is enough to prevent wrinkled skin and flaky scutes. Instead, the pets will be healthier than ever. But what is the ideal way to bathe a tortoise? Keep reading to find out.

6. Mineral Supplements

Though not confirmed, it is suggested that mineral deficiency also causes dehydration in tortoises. Therefore, you should ensure a calcium supplement in the pet meals.

Generally, tortoises do not need a vitamin D3 supplement. Instead, a quality UV light does the work. But yes, add a multivitamin to the tortoise meal once a week.

How To Soak Your Tortoises To Keep Them Hydrated?

Tortoise bathing is different from ours. There are multiple arrangements available to soak the pet. For example, using a bathtub, a tilted container, or a customized bath, etc. You can follow the one that suits you better.

Here is how I soak my tortoises,

1. Bath Preparation

Honestly, I prefer bathing the tortoises outside on a sunny day. My pets enjoy such soaks.

I have DIY a bathtub for my tortoises with a large plastic container. You can do it too just by cutting 1/4th side of the tub, leaving 6 – 10 inches of walls to hold water. We will use it as an entrance and exit point for tortoises.

Next, I heat the water to 90F – 100F, as tortoises love warm soaks. Then I pour the water into the tub.

2. Soaking Session

Before letting the tortoise in the tub, I always recheck the water temperature with a thermometer. Too hot water can burn the pet’s skin. Generally, tortoises leave the tub if the water is not comfortable for them.

Once the tortoise is in the bath, I splash water on its carapace and skin. After a 10 – 15 minute soak, I scrub the pet’s skin and shell with a soft-bristled brush to remove the dirt buildups.

Do not use soapy water or chemicals for cleaning purposes. It may irritate the tortoise’s skin and eyes.

After the scrubbing, I allow my tortoise to enjoy the soaking for 5 or 10 minutes more. Generally, a 20 – 30 minute soak thrice a week is enough to rehydrate the pet.

3. Drying Time

I use a soft towel to pat the tortoise dry. Using a cotton ball is more convenient to dry the neck and limb folds. Finally, I let the pet roam under the sun, which acts as air drying.

You will find more details on the tortoise soaking guide here.

8 Signs That Your Tortoise Is Dehydrated

As I say, tortoises always express their discomfort and pain via physical and behavioral changes. Thus, the creatures will show symptoms when dehydrated for a long time. You can easily pick up those signs if you know what to look for.

Some common symptoms are,

1. Closed Or Sunken Eyes

Well, dehydration is not the only reason for a closed eye. But the tortoise is likely to be dehydrated when sunken eyes are visible with other symptoms like a light body. You can spot a dimple at the eye corners if the pet is deprived of water for long enough.

The eyelid cells and tissues start to dry up when you force the tortoise to live in a low-humid environment. Again, the system can not produce enough liquid to wet the eyeballs. Hence, it becomes difficult for the pet to keep its eyes open.

In the case of sunken eyes, the surrounding tissues of the eyeballs dry up, causing a dark circle. The tortoise’s eye socket appears to be hollow.

2. Shrunken Body & Reduced Body Weight

Weight loss is another sign of dehydration. The tortoise’s body shrinks and feels light when you pick it up.

The weight reduction is impossible to pick up with visible inspection. But you can spot the change by going through the weekly weight chart of the pet.

Here is a weight chart of healthy tortoises for your convenience.

3. Loss Of Appetite

Many experts suggest that a healthy adult tortoise eats only 5 times a week with 2 days break. But the majority of keepers seem to be against this belief. Their pet tortoises love eating 7 days a week without starvation and maintaining perfect health.

Well, how often a tortoise will eat totally depends on its appetite. But it is clear that you must feed the pet at least 5 days a week. If the tortoise refuses food during the meantime, it is clearly experiencing a change in appetite.

Look for other symptoms to discover the root of the issue. Sunken eyes with a skinny and flaky body definitely indicate dehydration. Go through this article to discover other potential health problems.

4. Lethargy

Tortoises can be slow but not idle. The creatures stay active throughout the day, playing with pebbles or climbing rocks. Sure, they take rests occasionally and may doze off, but not for long.

So, there is something wrong with your tortoises if they are inactive most of the day. Check the temperature first to ensure whether it is a preparation for hibernation. If the temperature is on point, look for the signs of sickness.

Abnormally long resting periods with weight loss and flaky skin often indicate dehydration.

5. Wrinkled Skin & Flaky Scutes

Well, tortoises are not really known for smooth skin or shiny shells. In fact, their skin is covered with rough scales. Unfortunately, dehydration dries out the skin cells and tissues, causing wrinkles all over the body.

Experts suggest a squeezing test to confirm dehydration in tortoises. In this technique, gently pinch the pet’s skin and release it. A healthy tortoise’s skin is elastic and will quickly bounce back. On the contrary, the wrinkled skin of a dehydrated tortoise will stay loose.

The effect of low moisture content is visible on shell health too. Apparently, the scutes look dry and flaky.

Sometimes, the lack of collagen tissue in dry skin leads to tearing. As a result, pets are at risk of bleeding and infectious diseases.

6. Struggle With Bowel Movement

Tortoise prefers pooping and urinating in water, which is why regular bathing is essential for them. Therefore, dehydrating tortoises find it harder to release waste. Constipation is common among them.

If the tortoises manage to excrement, the poops are harder than usual. The same thing happens with urates too. The urine appears denser and thicker.

Go through this article to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy tortoise poop.

7. Late Response

Dehydration can affect the muscle reflexes of tortoises too. For example, if you pull the pet’s leg, it will show no hurry to retract into the shell. But in cases of healthy tortoises, they will withdraw in the shell as quickly as possible.

8. Mucus Coming Out Of Mouth

Thicker saliva is another sign that the tortoise’s system requires water. Because of dehydration, bodies can not replenish the water leaving the system.

When Should You Call A Vet?

As I said, home treatment is totally effective in curing dehydrated tortoises. But sometimes, the lack of water in the system creates complex health issues. For example,

  • Serious constipation
  • Digestion problem
  • Shell deformation
  • Cognitive imbalance
  • Chemical imbalance
  • Articular gout
  • Kidney damage
  • Bladder stone, etc.

There is no way you can detect these diseases by visual observation. Thus, I advise you to consult a vet if you see dehydration signs in the pets. The expert will call for more diagnosis if necessary.

My Tortoise Does Not Drink Water: Why?

You can not force a tortoise to drink water anyway. The pet gets a sip whenever it feels thirsty. Sometimes this reptile can go a few days without consuming a single drop of water.

Does it mean tortoises do not need water? Well, no! These pets require water just like any other animal on the planet.

In reality, tortoises can fulfill their moisture requirement by absorbing humidity from the environment or eating a water-rich diet. Again, the pets rehydrate their tissues during a bath. So, drinking water directly from the bowl is not necessary for these creatures.

How Long Can Tortoises Go Without Water?

In our previous article, we discussed tortoises can survive up to 6 months without food during hibernation. Though the pets may go without food for that long, they will die within a few weeks without water.

According to sources, a tortoise can live a maximum of 1 week without water. The survival period will get down to a few days if the weather is hot and less humid.

Remember, even if the pet survives, it will experience fatal health damage. As a consequence, the tortoise will live a discounted lifespan.

Is Tap Water Safe For Tortoises?

You can use tap water to bathe the tortoises, and the pets can even drink it. But make sure that the water includes no toxic elements like chlorine, ammonia, arsenic, etc. You can use a test kit from the superstore to detect the abovementioned elements in the water.

Use a water conditioner or dechlorination solution to remove the harmful traces. Go with filtered water if you do not want to take any risks.

A safe water element breakdown for tortoises is given below,

Chlorine content0
Ammonia content0
Nitrite level0.5 ppm or less
Nitrate level40 ppm or less
Water pH level6 – 8

Before You Go…

Sometimes tortoises seem to avoid water altogether. It can be proven severe for pets. You must determine the cause and take immediate action to resolve the issue. In the meantime, apply the following tricks to keep the pet hydrated.

How To Make Your Tortoises Drink Water [Pro-Tips]

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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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