10 Signs Of Your Tortoise Dying [With Treatment]

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

It absolutely breaks your heart to see your tortoise dying in front of your eyes. But remember, a tortoise does not develop severe conditions overnight. You can save your tortoise if you can spot the disease before. But what are the signs of your tortoise dying?

Generally, a dying tortoise drops the following signs,

  • Abnormal shell and skin
  • Swelling, pale mouth, runny nose, and dull eyes
  • Trouble breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Loose waste
  • Inactive and boring

As a keeper, it is your responsibility to know the primary symptoms and remedies of any tortoise disease. Do not freak out if you have no idea about sick tortoises. In the following article, I have talked about the 10 signs a dying tortoise shows and how to revive them. It is a must-read for all tortoise keepers.

Signs Of Your Tortoise Dying With Treatment

Tortoises can not talk or communicate with their owners like most other pets. But they leave hints around when they feel unwell.

Even a sick tortoise exhibits symptoms of its disease and cries out for help. But, if you ignore the hints for longer, a simple illness turns into something severe and deadly.

Of course, there are signs that indicate that your tortoise is on the verge of life. It can be challenging to save your pet from that severe illness. But you might be able to turn around the table and make it lively again by taking proper action and intensive care.

Here are the signs that suggest your tortoise has a limited time on this earth,

1. Shells Look Abnormal

Shells are the biggest indicator of whether your tortoise is in good shape. Here are the characteristics of healthy shells in tortoises,

  • The shells are smooth and firm
  • Scutes are flat
  • There is no gap in between the individual plates
  • Growth rings are visible on each scute
  • There are no bumps or abnormalities on the plates
  • The scutes are not soft or discolored

Anything that does not match the above requirements signals that something is wrong with your tortoise.

Again, open cracks and even a tiny scratch pose health hazards for tortoises, for example, infectious attacks. Generally, bacteria enter the tortoise body from the opening and harm them.

Moreover, shell wounds can turn into shell rot, which has a much worse impact on these creatures. In severe conditions, scutes get black, smelly, discharge musky fluid, and might fall off from the structure.

Also, shell injuries sometimes cause internal damage and mental stress in tortoises.

Thus, it is advisable to take immediate action if your tortoise has cracks on its shell. The primary attention can eliminate the life risk and cure the pet within a short time.


Shell is an attached and forever part of the tortoise. Unfortunately, many people think the shell is just an extended body part of the tortoises.

But no. These creatures can feel any touch on the scutes and pain as well.

So, do not ignore any shell condition. If you notice abnormalities on the scutes or plates, ask for help. Generally, shell diseases are treatable at home in the primary stages.

Here are some shell conditions and how you can approach the treatments,

 Shell Crack

Tortoise shells are hard to crack. Sources claim that the tortoise carapace can withstand 200x of its own weight. Tough, right?

Apparently, accidents or falling from heights can make dents or cracks on the tortoise shells. Therefore, it is mandatory to seek authorized medical help in severe conditions. However, as an experienced owner, you can carry out the procedure in minor cases.

To fix the cracked shell, you can approach the following method,

  • Wipe the injury with a dilute solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide, Nolvasan, or povidone-iodine.
  • Let the solution dry on the wound.
  • Seal the crack using a healing material, for example, epoxy resin, fiberglass patch, dental acrylic plastics, colored polyester resin, or hoof repair compound.

Depending on the injury, you might have to file the shell crackings using sandpaper or perform drilling and wiring on the carapace. Again, you have to protect the openings from dust and flies at any cost.

Nevertheless, reach out to a vet in an emergency. Also, you can check out this link for the first aid of different shell crackings.

Shell Rot

Shell rot is a common condition in tortoises. Generally, dirty surroundings cause this disease in these creatures. Hence, focus on keeping the housing clean and hygienic.

Next on, move to the home treatment part.

First, clean dirt from the wound using a scrubber. Then apply effective antibiotics to the infected injury. Usually, chlorhexidine and hydrogen peroxide work well to cure shell rot in tortoises.

Afterward, you can use a toothbrush to spread the antibiotics and rinse the area thoroughly. Later on, cover the scutes with a healing cream like Neosporin once the wound is dry.

Remember, it is essential to keep the tortoise in a dry and warm environment when it has shell rot. Moist and humid surroundings can spread the infection fast.

Other Shell Diseases

A tortoise can suffer from other shell issues like soft scutes, white patches on the carapace, pyramiding, etc.

Soft scutes and pyramiding are the outcomes of poor diet plans. While overfeeding the tortoises leads to pyramiding and bumpy scutes, malnutrition causes soft shells. Focusing on the diet plan and environmental hygiene can cure these conditions in the pets.

Click here to get a detailed shell treatment sheet for turtles.

2. Skin Issues Take A Severe Turn

Tortoise skin also carries hints of illness. These reptiles can fall victim to deadly skin diseases like flystrike, infections, injuries, etc.

Breeding Injuries:

Tortoises can cut their skins in an accident or while mating.

If you breed tortoises in captivity, I am sure you are familiar with breeding injuries. However, it is more common for smaller male tortoises like Hermann’s tortoises.

The small males try penetrating the large females, who outpace the suitor soon and get out. In such situations, the males try slowing down the females by biting their legs in order to complete the courtship. During that period, males keep snapping at their partners, making them bleed.

Though tortoises are toothless, they use their sharp jaws to grab the females. Aggressive behavior of this kind can cause severe skin injuries to female tortoises. In addition, the skin will start to rot or become infected if the cut goes untreated.


Breeding injuries can be severe in tortoises. If not treated, the skin gets infected with bacteria or fungus.

Therefore, you must separate the couples immediately if the breeding plan goes south. Then, clean the wounds of the tortoises and apply some antibiotics for healing. Finally, you can consult a vet if needed.

Generally, it is advised to put multiple females against one male to conduct a successful mating.

Fly Strike:

Tortoises prefer grazing outside, which can be a curse if you are not alert.

These creatures often take a dump outdoors while strolling. The fecal matter attracts blowflies to lay their eggs. Those larvae soon turn into maggots and bore into the tortoises’ skin.

Maggots can release toxins into the tortoise’s blood, affecting the heart and other organs. The creature can even die because of such fly attacks.


Flu strikes have been proven life-threatening for tortoises. Thus, rapid action is recommended.

Take your tortoise to a vet. He will remove the grub or any visible foreign body from the pet’s skin using tweezers. He will also suggest antibiotics to clean the infected area and prevent a further attack.

Sometimes, the specialist adopts fluid therapy to cure fly strikes in tortoises.

Ear Abscesses:

Any uninvited bump or lump on tortoise skin can be an abscess. Ear abscess is more common in turtles and tortoises.

In an ear abscess, you will notice swelling on the side of the head, behind the eyes. Those lumps are usually filled with cheese-like, semi-solid content. Nothing will help the tortoise unless you get the abscess removed with surgery.

If you let the tortoise sit with the abscesses, it will increase the risk of infections. The bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause more severe conditions in the pet.


Tortoises will require minor surgery to remove the abscesses. You have to take the sick pet to a specialist for the operation for such a purpose.

Vets suggest keeping the wound open for natural healing after surgery. Also, they will prescribe antibiotics for disinfecting the injuries.

3. Pale Mouth

A pink tongue stands healthy in tortoises. Pale tongue indicates anemia (lack of blood cells), internal bleeding, liver disease, or parasitic infection. The condition gets severe if it goes untreated.


Diagnosing the tortoise is the best decision you can take in pale tongue condition. However, a specialist’s intervention is advisable, whether it is anemia, liver disease, or parasitic attack.

Though anemia and parasitic infection are curable, liver failure is not. Therefore, the best you can do is provide the tortoise with proper care and medication to release its pain.

Tortoises can also suffer from mouth rot. Vets suggest oral cleaning solutions, antibiotics, and shots for treating the infection.

The pets have to undergo surgery to remove the rot in severe cases. A nutritious diet, hygienic habitat, and regular cleansing are mandatory after the operation.

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4. Runny Nose

Tortoise noses should be dry and clean all the time. If you notice a runny nose, the chances are the pet is sick.

Mucus discharge, wheezing, and bubbly nostrils often indicate infection, cold, respiratory infection, mineral deficiency, and pneumonia.


Runny noses in tortoises can be proven severe and life-threatening. If you spot your tortoise having a watery nose, first determine the cause.

In case of mineral deficiency or hypovitaminosis for particular, a vitamin A-rich diet is recommended. Besides, the pets might require antibiotic shots for healing.

Generally, prolonged hypovitaminosis leads to respiratory illness, resulting in pneumonia in severe conditions. Runny noses along with wheezing and sneezing is a sign of these conditions.

As a part of the treatment, you have to keep the pet in a warm and clean habitat. You must feed it a balanced meal. Again, the vets often suggest antibiotics or meds for rapid cure in these conditions.

5. Dull Eyes

You can see the sickness in the tortoise’s eyes. Yes, I mean it.

A healthy tortoise has clean and bright eyes. On the other hand, sunken, puffy, and teary eyes signify illness in these creatures. Any discharge from the eyes is also considered an indication of disease.

Tortoises tend to rub their eyes with the forelegs at the beginning of an eye infection. Take immediate action if you spot your tortoise doing so. Prolonged eye issues can cause blindness in these reptiles.


Fuzzy eyes stand as a signal for tortoises. If you notice dull and cloudy eyes in your tortoises, then something is wrong, and you better look into the condition.

Again, water eyes, mucus discharge from the eyes, and constant itching often indicate infection. You can wash the tortoise eyes with cotton wool soaked in lukewarm water as a home remedy.

A proper checkup from a vet is mandatory in case of eye infections. Then, the expert will prescribe antibiotics and eye drops for a cure.

Generally, an unhygienic environment and low habitat temperature are responsible for an infectious attack on tortoises. Thus, you must focus on cleaning and maintaining a warm, suitable temperature in the pet enclosure.

Again. a tortoise can suffer from puffy or swollen eyes due to hypovitaminosis. Hence, you have to give extra attention to the diet of these pets.

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6. Trouble Breathing

Respiratory illness, pneumonia, or a usual cold can make breathing difficult for the tortoises. The pets will wheeze while inhaling and exhaling or breathe with an open mouth.

Respiratory infection is a severe disease for tortoises. The condition gets life-threatening if not treated quickly.


Respiratory illness can turn severe among tortoises. As a result, a tour of the vet’s chamber is always mandatory.

The vet will do the checkup and prescribe medications accordingly. Generally, tortoises do the recovery with oral or injection form of antibiotics. Sometimes, the pets require nasal drops and additional oxygen support to get through this condition.

Besides the meds, you have to provide the pet with special care. Keeping the tortoises in a warm environment and feeding them a balanced diet is recommended.

7. Noticeable Weight Loss

Weight loss is a common sign in ill tortoises. It is because the pets refuse to eat in severe sickness. As a result, they start losing pounds.

However, you can not assume how much your tortoise weighs just by looking, considering the shell hiding the flesh. Thus, experts suggest tracking the regular weight of your tortoise.

Keeping a chart of the weight will help you spot the abrupt change easily, and you can take steps accordingly.


There are 3 probable situations why tortoises undergo weight loss. Such as,

  • Drop in the temperature/ hibernation
  • Sickness
  • Boring meals

If you catch your tortoise refusing food, determine the reason first.

You can experiment with different ingredients and food items when the meal is the issue.

Again, tortoises prefer a warm temperature in their habitat. A drop in the temperature forces them to slow down metabolism and enter into an inactive state.

These pets stop eating and start living on stored energy as part of the process. So, check the enclosure temperature and ensure it is in the suitable range.

In the worst case, your tortoise might be sick, which is why it is refusing food. You have to observe the pet closely to note down the symptoms and take action accordingly.

Illnesses like hypovitaminosis, respiratory infection, shell rot, metabolic diseases, parasite attacks, etc., cause weight loss in tortoises.

In many cases, an unhygienic habitat leads to parasitic attacks among tortoises. You will notice white worms in the poop of the pets. Deworming the tortoises at least twice a year will prevent such conditions.

8. Swelling Can Be Scarry

Well, swelling flesh is something that should concern you. Usually, overfeeding, renal, or pulmonary diseases cause swelling in tortoises. And, of course, neither of these conditions are good for your pets.


In most cases, swollen fresh does not wave a red flag. Yet, I suggest you better take no risks.

Go through the diet chart of the tortoise and make sure you are not overfeeding the pet. If you are, cut the quantity and feed the pet just the amount it needs.

However, in some cases, swelling indicates renal or pulmonary diseases. These conditions are more severe, and the tortoises require professional help.

9. Loose Waste

Do you know you can tell your tortoise’s health by examining the excrement?

Generally, clean urinary and dry, firm poop are signs of healthy tortoises. On the contrary, loose or bloody stool and worms or parasites in the feces indicate illness in the pets.


Digestive issues and parasites are why your tortoises suffer from excrement problems.

Usually, tortoises get an upset bowel if they have messed up their diet. So make sure that you are feeding the pet right and that the meals do not include any toxic elements.

Next, a dirty enclosure leads to parasites and larvae attack in tortoises. Deworming the pets and maintaining hygiene in the habitat are the only ways out of this condition.

10. Inactive & Boring

A tortoise’s activity level is linked to metabolism. True that.

However, inactivity often is a sign of sickness in tortoises. They can not move much as all their strength is invested in healing the wounds.

Any injury in the limbs also limits the movements of tortoises. Sometimes, egg retention or any other complexities cause paralysis in these creatures, restraining their activity.

Thus, try determining the cause why your tortoise is inactive. Otherwise, the condition will do permanent damage to the pet.


Tortoises are generally active unless they are aged or sick. So if you find your pet sitting tired all day, there is something wrong with it.

Take it to the vet if you can not match the symptoms with any probable diseases.

Limb injury sometimes limits daily tortoise activities. Applying healing, antibacterial cream and putting a bandage will work if it is a cut. You will have to take the pet for an x-ray if it has broken bones.

Again, tortoises can also spend inactive days when they are recovering from a disease. In such states, they invest all their energy in healing. Feed the pets a more nutritious diet during that time to quicken the recovery.

What To Do With A Dying Tortoise?

If your tortoise exhibits any sign of dying, take it straight to the vet. You can rely on home treatments only in the primary stages. But in severe cases, intensive care with proper medication is your best chance to save the pet from dying.

Here is how to deal with a dying tortoise,

  • Write down the abnormal behaviors and physical changes of the tortoise. Also, weigh your pet regularly to keep track of the weight.
  • You can start the recovery process in primary conditions by providing the tortoise home treatments. I have mentioned remedies for many diseases in the above sections.
  • If you see no improvement in the tortoise’s condition with home treatments, take it to the vet.
  • Disclose the full medical history of the tortoise to the vet. Also, mention the remedies you have provided the pet at home.
  • The vet will do the checkup and come up with a diagnosis. Depending on the intensity, he will suggest injections, oral antibiotics, fluid therapy, and anything that suits the pet. You have to follow the prescription word by word.
  • Besides providing the tortoise medicines, you have to focus on its habitat and food habits.
  • Do a thorough clean-up of the tortoise enclosure. Make sure the water area of the habitat is not filthy and replace the cloudy water with a fresh one every day.
  • Habitat temperature is also vital for tortoises. While low temperature favors bacterial spread, too hot temperature can make their skin and shell flaky. Therefore, maintain a suitable temperature range according to the species.
  • Feed the sick tortoise a nutritious diet. Tortoises are fans of grass, weed, hay, and veggies. Collect fresh food sources to feed the ill pet, maintaining the schedule and quantity. Here take a look at the meal chart of baby tortoises.

The chances are your tortoise will make a comeback with these special treatments. But you can never guarantee it. So, it is always wiser to take precautions to prevent diseases in tortoises and take them to the vet for regular health checkups.

What Can Cause A Tortoise to Die?

Several reasons can lead to a tortoise’s death. Such as age, accident, diseases, organ failure, poor diet, unhygienic surroundings, improper habitat arrangement, stress, prolonged health condition, lack of medical attention, etc.

Owners adore their tortoises more than anything. And, of course, you do not want your pet to die when you are so invested in it emotionally.

Hence, each tortoise keeper should know what makes this creature vulnerable and push it towards death. This way, they can ensure the top-notch care of the pet.

Here are the common cases that cause a tortoise to die,


Tortoises are blessed with long lifespans. While most species live 80 – 150 years, some have over 200 – 300 years of life expectancy.

When old, tortoises grow slower and more inactive than usual. Also, many health conditions pop up with age.

Tortoises die after living their shares on the earth like all other creatures.


Hitting by a car or falling from a height, such accidents can cause severe injuries in tortoises. In many cases, these creatures die on the spot. But, even if not, they die struggling without proper medications.

Again, there are cases of killing tortoises unintentionally.

Most people do not understand the basic difference between a turtle and a tortoise. So, they sometimes throw tortoises into the water, mistaking them for a turtle.

Here is the fact. Tortoises can not swim, nor can they hold their breath underwater for long. As a result, the creatures end up dead.

In captivity, sometimes the tortoises fall into the pool or pond because of the ignorance of the owners. But unfortunately, it can be too late when they notice the pets underwater.


Most tortoise diseases are curable at the primary stages. However, the illnesses can turn severe if untreated. As you know, any critical health issue deducts years from the tortoise’s lifespan.


Tortoises can not handle stress. Any minor event is enough to make the pet anxious and refuse to eat at all. Less appetite will lead to low immunity and more diseases in these creatures.

Diet Issues

It is crucial to feed your tortoise right. Both overfeeding and underfeeding can be proven horrible for it. For example, overfeeding the creatures causes pyramiding and shedding. While underfeeding leads to malnutrition.

If you constantly feed the tortoises wrong, it will mess up the pet’s growth and immune system. As a result, the creature will die prematurely.

Improper Habitat Management

Unhygienic and improper habitat management are often responsible for infectious diseases in tortoises. A bacterial or fungal attack might seem less harmful initially, but it causes permanent damage to the creatures. Even the tortoises can end up dead due to these illnesses.

Lack Of Care

Imagine your tortoise is dropping all the hints for illness, and you can pick up none. What will happen?

The pet will go untreated, and a minor health issue will become something big. Eventually, the sickness can go out of control, taking your pet’s life.

In such scenarios, you are to blame. It is your responsibility to provide the pet with proper care, including regular checkups. If you fail to treat the tortoise right, it will have a discounted lifespan.

How Long Can A Tortoise Be On Its Back Before It Dies?

A tortoise can be on its back for a few hours or less before it dies. Cases have mentioned that juvenile tortoises have survived less than an hour in that flipped position. On the contrary, the adults can make it to a few hours before dying on their backs.

Ending up on the back is a life-threatening situation for a tortoise. It is a struggle for these creatures to get back on their legs from that flipped position.

Evidence suggests that different factors influence how long a tortoise can be on its back before dying, for example, age, species, surroundings, etc.

Some tortoise species can survive longer on their back than others. In contrast, tortoises with slightly soft shells get injured badly in a flipped position and die quickly.

Again, the babies and juvenile tortoises can not stay flipped for long. Reports say the young tortoises can barely survive an hour on their backs. However, when it comes to adults, those tortoises can spend a few hours in that upside-down position.

Moreover, the surroundings, especially the lighting conditions, have a crucial impact on the tortoises’ survival rate. If the creatures are under direct sunlight or lamp, they will probably die sooner.

On the other hand, the pets can stay alive for one or two hours more if they are in a cool and temperature-controlled place.

Furthermore, if a tortoise gets flipped in water, it will not survive longer unless rescued. Again, it is because tortoises can not swim.

Will A Tortoise Die If It Falls On Its Back?

In many cases, a tortoise dies if it falls on its back for a long time. However, even if the creature does not die, lying on the shell can be fatal. Generally, tortoises can not function when flipped, leading to death.

But why do tortoises die if they are on their backs? See, these creatures can not access water or food in a flipped position.

On top of that, if they are under the light, they get dehydrated. So as a result, tortoises can not survive for long.

Again, many experts suggest that while on the backs, tortoise organs do not function as they should. Therefore, the creatures die.

But wait.

Many tortoises can turn themselves over, especially the ones with extended necks. It is because they push their weight by bracing their head against the ground.

In the meantime, they use their legs to rock the body side by side and roll on their feet. But, of course, this task gets easier if the tortoise has a doomed and smooth shell.

Tortoises with flat or saddle-shaped carapaces struggle a lot to turn themselves. If they stay in the back for hours under light, the heat will kill them.

Hence, you should be careful of your tortoise’s activities. Installing a monitor in its habitat can help you observe the pet 24/7.

However, if you find the tortoise on its back, look for injuries first. Then keep the tortoise under observation for a day or two. Finally, take it to a vet if you notice anything abnormal.

What Does A Dying Tortoise Look Like?

A dying tortoise looks nowhere near healthy. The pet will have sunken, dull eyes and a fragile body. Also, a severely ill tortoise shows no sign of activity and passes its time sleeping, breathing slowly. Sometimes, it seems more like a statue than a live animal.

A tortoise does not die overnight. Instead, it drops hints of sickness all the time. For example, a tortoise with hypovitaminosis has puffy eyes, less appetite, and infections. Again, pooping blood or worms is a sign that the pet suffers from parasites.

You should always pay more attention to the tortoise’s behavior and activities. Only then you will be able to spot the differences.

Usually, a dying tortoise loses weight drastically. Besides, infectious conditions and discharge from the mouth, nose, and eyes are common.

Furthermore, inactivity is another sign of a dying tortoise.

What To Do With A Dead Tortoise?

It is unfortunate if your tortoise ends up dead. But you should always know what to do if such an incident occurs.

Usually, tortoises breathe slowly. So, it is hard to say if the pet is resting or dead. However, you can hold a feather in front of its nostril to see whether the tortoise is breathing or not. Besides, the dead tortoise spread a bad odor.

Generally, you have a few options to say goodbye to your tortoise buddy. For example,

  1. You can bury the tortoise with proper respect in your backyard or at a pet cemetery. Dig a hole at least 3 – 4 feet deep so predators can not reach the tortoise.
  • There is a chance that you want to keep your tortoise’s shell as a memory. In that case, you have to contact a vet or animal control. They will remove the flesh and make the shell suitable for preservation.
  • You can also cremate your tortoise. The cremation center will give you the ashes for proper disposal. The cremation process is expensive and costs around $40 -$350, depending on the service.


A dying tortoise requires attention and care more than the healthy one. Also, if you can take action on time, the pet will get its life back.

However, it is always recommended to take precautions to prevent diseases in tortoises rather than curing them. Regular medical checkups of the pets can help diagnose any illness beforehand and provide treatments accordingly.

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.


This site is owned and operated by Muntaseer Rahman. TheTurtleHub.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This site also participates in other affiliate programs and is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.