5 Reasons Tortoises Refuse To Eat In Winter

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

So, it is winter again, and your favorite little tortoise shows less interest in food. Is something wrong with the pet? Or is it the food? Well, let’s find out.

Meals are tasteless.Bring variety to the meals.
Temperature below 60 – 70F.Maintain an 85 – 85F temperature.
Tortoise is sick.Take the pet to a vet.
The pet is stressed.Avoid frequent handling. 
Messed up diet schedule. Feed the babies daily and the adults 5 days a week.

Well, I have pinpointed the issues and the solutions. Don’t you want more details on each condition?

Give this article a read to find out how you can bring back the lost appetite of your tortoise.

5 Reasons Tortoises Refuse To Eat In Winter

Starving is never good for tortoises. It will cause weight loss and physical complexities. 

Several reasons can lead to the appetite loss of your tortoise. The common causes, along with the solutions, are mentioned below,

Problem 1: The Meals Are Not Yummy 

Tortoises basically live on greens. If you look at the diet list of this species, it is full of grass, weed, plant, vegetable, and other greens.

A few subspecies, for example, red footed tortoise, may prefer animal protein once in a while. The protein percentage should be below 15%.

Though the tortoise meals are plant-based, you can not just add any green.

Sure, the nutritional value is important. But you can not feed the animals the same diet routine daily because it is nutritious.

Tortoises can get bored of the taste if you repeat the meal. Even your poor food selection can make the tortoise lose interest in the diet.

Solution: Bring Variety In The Meal 

The ideal meal for a tortoise includes high-fiber, low-calorie, and low-protein greens. Make a list of all the grass, weed, hay, and veggies with the required nutritional value.

Now, chop the items, mix them and feed the tortoise. Note if the tortoise likes the meal or not. Try out different combinations to find out the preferences of your pet.

Remember, not all tortoises have the same taste bud. So, just because one of your tortoises is a fan of alfalfa grass does not mean all pets will like the same.

Hence, experimenting with food is essential. It will bring variety to the tortoise’s taste buds and boost its appetite.

Besides, add fruits to the diet list occasionally. The sweetness of the fruits makes the tortoise devour the meals. But fruits are high in sugar, and excess amounts can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach ache in pets. 

Furthermore, offer tortoises, insects, and worms if the creatures eat animal protein. Also, do not forget to sprinkle calcium and vitamin supplements on the meals.

Finally, your tortoise will start eating again. 

Here is a diet chart for the tortoises,

1. Grass & Hays

  • Bermuda grass
  • Rye grass
  • Clover grass
  • Oat hay
  • Alfalfa hay, etc.

2. Greens

  • Broccoli
  • Clover
  • Chickweed
  • Duckweed
  • Mulberry leave
  • Cactus pads
  • Cucumber
  • Bell pepper
  • Endive
  • Yum
  • Zuccini, etc.

3. Fruits

  • Figs
  • Corn
  • Kiwi
  • Berries
  • Mango, etc.

4. Supplements

  • Vitamin D3
  • Calcium

Get a full diet chart for tortoises from this link.

Problem 2: A Fall In Temperature 

Tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles. As a result, these creatures can not generate body warmth by themselves. Instead, tortoises are dependent on the environmental temperature for heat. 

So, tortoises must adapt to the cold if the surrounding temperature falls by chance. For such adaptation, they enter a sleep-like state throughout the cold.

As a part of the process, these reptiles slow down their metabolism and regular activities. Besides, they stop eating or drinking and spend their days on stored energy.

The above phenomenon is called brumation. This period lasts for almost 3 months. Tortoises can survive these months on low energy as they lower their heart rate and oxygen consumption.

Generally, the ideal temperature for a tortoise enclosure is 70 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The basking temperature for some subspecies can touch 95 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, the enclosure becomes cold for the tortoises if the temperature falls below 60 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, the creatures will enter into brumation when the temperature touches 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brumation is a potential cause of why your tortoise refuses food. 

When the temperature drops below the warm zone, the tortoise will stop eating to prepare for brumation. So, no matter how delicious the meal is, the pet will not touch it. 

Solution: Restore The Pen Temperature

Though brumation is a natural process, it is not suitable for captive tortoises.

See, a tortoise needs to be physically prepared for brumation. For example, in the wild, these reptiles start starving 1 month before the winter. They do it intentionally so that no food is left in their gastrointestinal tract.

The leftover can produce gas and lead to bloating during the brumation. Hence, there is a life risk if a tortoise brumates with a full stomach. 

Besides preparing the tortoise, a replica of the wild environment is required. You can not just let the creature burrow in the middle of your backyard. An uphill area, fenced and free from the risk of flooding, is perfect for tortoise brumation.

I know it sounds like a hassle. Therefore, it is better to avoid the whole brumation situation.

Instead, regulate the temperature of the habitat. You can raise the chilly temperature by installing heating pads or heating rocks. Also, move the tortoise to an indoor warm setup if possible.

An outdoor habitat also works if you make arrangements to retain the heat. Here is how I have built my Sulcata winter habitat.

Problem 3: The Tortoise Is Stressed 

Well, your pet tortoise does not always stay in a happy mood. In fact, the surroundings can often piss the creature off. 

Take a loud noise, for instance. Such chaos disturbs the tortoise and forces it to hide in the shell. 

The same thing happens when you continuously pet your tortoise. Yes, tortoises are friendly and love interacting with their owners.

But remember, they are not like traditional pets who love continuous touching. Instead, the frequent and rough handling can cause anxiety in the tortoises. 

Similarly, a sudden change in the lifestyle of the tortoise is enough to stress it. For example, switching home or environment, improper temperature, poor diet, etc.

It is observed that mental stress or anxiety can make the tortoises starve.

Solution: Make Peace With The Pet

As you have seen, several reasons stress out the tortoise. Your tortoise will return to a healthy feeding habit if you can resolve the issues. Here is how to tackle the situation,

  • Be gentle when handling the tortoises. These creatures are big and bulky. Therefore, ask for help when picking them up and transferring from one place to another. Also, keep their body closer to the ground so that any accidental fall does minimum damage. 
  • Avoid touching the tortoise too frequently. 
  • Leave the tortoise alone if it is aggressive.
  • Tortoises require some time to cope with the new environment if that is causing the issue. The pets will start eating again when it is suitable in the surroundings.
  • Build the tortoise habitat in a calm and quiet spot. 
  • Make sure the temperature and humidity level in the enclosure is in a healthy range. Also, provide the tortoise with a balanced diet.

Problem 4: Mismanagement Of Diet

Tortoises have a slow metabolism. Thus, they require more time to digest the meal. If you force the tortoise to eat more frequently, it will simply refuse the meal. 

Overfeeding the tortoise can turn more terrible. For example, the pet may suffer from obesity and other health complexity.

Solution: Follow A Feeding Routine  

The baby tortoises need to be fed every single day. Of course, the hatchlings require more nutrition to build a solid structure. 

Again, a 5 days feeding schedule is perfect for young and adult tortoises. Hence, a break of 1 or 2 days is mandatory. 

Also, feed the tortoises early in the morning and evening. These creatures have more appetite during those hours.

Problem 5: The Tortoise Is Sick 

Any major or minor illness in the tortoises affects their appetite. In fact, refusing to eat is one of the common symptoms of any tortoise disease. The pets will switch to the previous diet routine when they recover. 

A sick tortoise always acts abnormally and drops hints of the condition. Some signs of illness are, 

  • Cracked shell 
  • Redness in skin
  • Mouth rot 
  • Puffy eyes
  • Closed eyes 
  • Black spots in the shell 
  • Shell rot 
  • Hypovitaminosis 
  • White patches on the shell
  • Soft shell 
  • Limping 
  • Respiratory infection 
  • Blood infection 
  • Parasite 
  • Discharge from eyes, mouth, nose, etc.

Solution: Offer The Tortoise Necessary Treatment 

Taking precautions to prevent any common disease is always appreciated. But if the tortoise falls sick by any chance, you should offer it immediate medical care. 

The treatment of tortoises varies depending on the disease. Brief recovery processes for some common illnesses are added below,

Mouth Rot: A bacterial attack in the cavity is responsible for this disease. Clean the rotten wound daily and use a bandage to cover the spot. The tortoise needs a vitamin A-rich diet along with antibiotics for quick recovery.

Shell Rot: Damaged shells are prone to this infectious disease. You have to move the tortoise to a dry and warm place. Clean the injured scute area daily with an anti-bacterial solution and apply a healing cream.

Mycoplasma: It is a deadly disease and often takes months to diagnose. The cell walls and tissues get affected by the bacterial infection. Keeping the tortoises on antibiotics is the only way of recovery from this sickness.

Constipation: Parasite attack, egg binding, or poor diet often cause constipation. Improving the meals and soaking the tortoise every day in lukewarm water will treat the pet.

Hypovitaminosis: The lack of vitamin A is the only reason behind this illness. Hence, adding vitamin A to the diet will heal the pet. Also, the vet will suggest antibiotics for severe conditions.

Respiratory Illness: An infectious attack on the lungs leads to this deadly disease. The sick tortoise needs immediate medical help for respiratory illness. Besides, a clean husbandry and balanced diet are mandatory.

Access 10 tortoise health problems with causes, symptoms, and treatments from this write-up.

How Long Can A Tortoise Survive Without Eating?

According to many sources, tortoises can survive 2 – 3 years without eating. Yes, I am not joking.

But of course, tortoises do not fast during this time. Instead, they eat fruits or drink water. No creature can live that long without proper food. 

Now, as I always say. Surviving is not living a normal life. So, in no manner should you starve the tortoise.

During the brumation period, the tortoises spend 3 – 6 months without food. But still, they drink water. 

The important fact here is that the tortoises can not survive over a week without water. In hot weather, the survival period will be 3 – 5 days at best. 

Well, the tortoises slowly return to their food habits after waking up.

Remember, a brumating tortoise lives for months without food does not mean that a regular tortoise can do the same. As mentioned, the tortoises in the wild self starve to prepare their bodies for the long cold month.

So, you can not just remove the meals from your tortoise’s everyday routine. The pet will die. 

In short, a tortoise can indeed survive months and even years without food. But in the former case, the creature prepares itself for the process. In the latter, the reptile lives on low-key alternative food sources.

However, intentionally starving the tortoise is unhealthy and always discouraged.

Before You Go

Turtles have a similar habit of refusing food in winter. Learn why your turtle is not eating in the cold season and what you can do about it. 

Why is my turtle not eating?

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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