15 Signs Your Sulcata Tortoise Is Dying [Immediate Action]

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

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It is always hard to say goodbye to our pet tortoises. But, unfortunately, Sulcata tortoises do not always die because of old age, and sometimes the sickness leads to death. But the sick tortoises exhibit signs before they die.

Abnormal shells, skin infections, mouth rot, obesity, weight loss, less hunger, urine issue, parasite attack, etc., are not common among healthy tortoises. In fact, these symptoms indicate that the pets are dying.

Get more details on each condition below.

15 Signs Your Sulcata Tortoise Is Dying

There are huge differences between a sick and a healthy Sulcata tortoise. While the healthy tortoise will be active and eat heartfully, the diseased one will be lethargic and weak. If you do not treat the ill tortoise, it can even die.

A dying tortoise drops hints every now and then. You can still save the pet if you can pick up the signs.

Here are 15 signs indicating that my Sulcata tortoise is dying,

1. Abnormal Looking Shell

People often ask whether a Sulcata can live without its shell or not. See, a tortoise can go inside its shell whenever it wants.

But it clearly does not mean the creature can slip off the whole shell. In fact, tortoises can not live without their shells. Therefore, no explanation of how crucial this body part is for the tortoises is needed.

No wonder why tortoises suffer miserably if the shell gets damaged by any means. Tortoise shell conditions are,

  • Cracked shell
  • Shell rot
  • Holes in shell
  • Soft shells
  • Red patches on the shell
  • Black spots on the shell
  • Metabolic Bone Disease
  • Shedding
  • Pyramiding
  • Shedding, etc.

None of these conditions is deadly at the primary level. But if ignored, those illnesses can take the lives of your Sulcata tortoise.


Each shell condition requires sensitive and distinct measurements to cure the Sulcata tortoise. Here is a brief note on deadly shell diseases,

Cracked Shell:

A tortoise shell is stronger than you can think of. In fact, the shells can withstand 200x more loads than the creatures’ weight. Yet, a fall from a height or enormous pressure can crack the shell open. Any entrance in the shell entices bacterial or fungal infection, causing deadly infectious diseases.

As a first aid, clean the wounded spot first with antibacterial and apply healing creams. Use a bandage to cover the injury and keep the bacteria away.

Though a Sulcata tortoise shell grows back naturally, it takes years. You can not afford to keep the wound exposed that long. So, take the Sulcata tortoise to a clinic, where the vet will fill up the crack with organic epoxies.

Shell Rot:

Shell rot starts with a scratch or cracks on the shell. Here, the shell begins to rot due to the bacterial or fungal attack.

Sometimes, the infection spreads to the blood. Hence, the internal organ and the whole shell plate fall off. Lethargy, foul odor, scute discharge, lethargy, black pits, etc., are symptoms of this condition. In such a state, the Sulcata tortoise can even die.

Home treatment can cure shell rot at the primary stages. For example, bathing the Sulcata tortoise with disinfectant and applying healing cream help a lot. Besides, keeping the tortoise isolated in a warm place will boost recovery.

However, you can not help the Sulcata tortoise if the shell rot reaches the final stage. You must ask for an expert’s advice. The vet will keep the pet on medication and feed it using tubes or so.

Metabolic Bone Disease:

MBD develops in a Sulcata tortoise when it lacks sufficient UVB rays. The insufficiency hampers vitamin D production and calcium absorption. As a result, the tortoise suffers from soft spots on the shell, bumps on the spine, walking troubles, etc. A quality UV light with a balanced diet can recover the Sulcata tortoise from this disease.

2. Skin Diseases

Similar to the shell conditions, the Sulcata tortoises can suffer from several skin diseases. For example, skin infection, bleeding, etc.

Skin infection generally starts from a small scratch or cut on the skin. The bacterial or fungal attack on the injury worsens the cut, and the spot starts to discharge a foul smell. If not treated, this infection can spread fast to the healthy tissues.

Again, breeding injuries are common in female Sulcata tortoises. According to observations, the male tortoises become aggressive and dominating during mating.

They tend to bite the females, which can give them a cut. Moreover, the continuous ramming during the coitus can cause the females to swell or bleed. Again, keeping the injuries exposed leads to bacterial or fungal infection.


Bathing the Sulcata tortoise with Betadine or any other solution daily and keeping the pet in a warm habitat can ensure a quick recovery. Sometimes, improper diet and poor husbandry quality also cause skin issues in tortoises.

Thus, you have to be more careful about what your Sulcata tortoise is eating. Besides, keep the enclosure clean and hygienic for the pet.

3. Parasite Attack

Sulcata tortoises are curious creatures. So, they will bite at everything near them just to taste. Such the nature of these tortoises often leads to a parasitic attack.

The worm or larvae get into the Sulcata tortoise’s system and grow the population there. As parasites live off the host’s body, the tortoise will lose weight drastically and show no interest in eating. Some parasites can get into the bloodstream causing internal complexities.

Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, appetite loss, weight loss, worms coming out of poop, etc., are signs of parasite attacks in Sulcata tortoises. So you may take it lightly at first. But remember, as the tortoise grows weaker, it becomes more vulnerable to diseases. Therefore, the pet may die with the burden of illnesses.


You can save the Sulcata tortoise from parasitic attack by two means,

  1. Deworm the Sulcata tortoise every 6 months or at least once a year.
  2. Keep the habitat clean and hygienic.

4. Shallow Breathing

Labored breathing never looks healthy on a Sulcata tortoise. If your tortoise is having trouble breathing, the chances are that the pet has a respiratory infection. Sneezing, wheezing, swollen eyes, puffy eyes, discharge from mouth, eyes, or nose, lethargy, etc., confirm the respiratory condition in the Sulcata tortoises.

It is a condition that develops due to prolonged, untreated vitamin A deficiency. Hypervitaminosis weakens the immunity among tortoises. Thus, the bacteria can attack the lungs of the tortoise. Hence, the pets suffer.

Do not ignore any signs of respiratory sickness in your tortoise. It can become worse and might be proven deadly for the pet.

NB Wheezing in turtles and tortoises sometimes indicates the sound of snoring. Find more details here.


You need to take the sick Sulcata tortoise to the nearest vet. He will prescribe the required medication, and the expert will suggest admitting the tortoise for observation in sensitive cases. A hygienic habitat and a balanced diet can prevent respiratory sickness in tortoises.

5. No Interest In Food

Do you know what the most common symptom of a sick Sulcata tortoise is? First, the pet will lose interest in eating.

Yes, a brumated tortoise or an old tortoise might have less appetite. But there is absolutely no reason why a young, healthy tortoise is not healthy. The only explanation is that the pet is sick.

Now the loss of appetite can indicate several diseases. That is why you need to look for other signs to determine the illness. Consult a vet anytime if you feel confused.


You must first determine the cause of appetite loss in the Sulcata tortoise. Then you take steps to cure the pet of that disease.

Constipation and impaction can be responsible for less food interest in Sulcata tortoises. Soaking the creatures in warm water and feeding them prescribed meds can better this condition.

Parasite attacks can also lead to appetite loss in these pets. Deworming the tortoises and improving the habitat’s hygiene is your way out of that situation.

Sometimes Sulcata tortoises refuse food because the diet routine gets boring. So, bring changes in the meals to boost the appetite of these tortoises. Follow the ideal food list for Sulcata tortoises from here.

6. Dehydration

Sulcata tortoises are not a big fan of water. But they can not live without water either. According to reports, a tortoise can survive 7 days at best without water. So, from time to time, these creatures have to hydrate their bodies to function well.

Now, the Sulcata tortoises may suffer from dehydration if the pen lacks water sources. But, of course, you can not build a deep water pool or a source with high walls for the tortoises. It will lead to dehydration, which will cause flaky skin, cracked shell, impaction, constipation, and bladder stone, later.


Generally, Sulcata tortoises drink water when bathing. But, again, these creatures tend to urinate or poop in the water at the same time. So, the absence of a proper water bowl causes severe issues in these pets.

So, start with building a shallow water source for the Sulcata tortoises. You can get tips on soaking Sulcata tortoises from this article.

If the tortoise exhibits signs of impaction or constipation, soaking the pet in lukewarm water helps. Besides, you have to focus on diet and medications. For bladder stones, you need to ask for professional help.

7. The Tortoise Is Cold

A Sulcata tortoise depends on external heat sources to function its body properly. Therefore, the pet slows its metabolism and becomes inactive if the temperature falls. To cope with the temperature drop, the tortoise has to cut on its oxygen consumption and energy usage. Such a state is called brumation.

Brumation is natural for the Sulcata tortoises, but unplanned brumation can kill these creatures. For example, the owners have to keep the pets on a strict diet for 1 or 2 months before brumation.

As the winter approaches, you may have to starve the pet. It is because any leftover food in the tortoise’s stomach can start rotting, causing a deadly issue.

Apart from this, a cold Sulcata tortoise is more vulnerable to diseases. For example, infectious illnesses and respiratory sickness can deduct years from the tortoise’s lifespan.


Regulate the temperature in the Sulcata tortoise’s habitat to eliminate this situation. Suitable temperatures for this species are 95 – 105 F on the warmer side and 75 – 85 F on the cool side. During the night, a temperature around 65 – 75F is preferable.

You can regulate the temperature using the heating lamp or heating pads. Even outdoors, you have to install heating pads during the cold season. I elaborated on the winter care for Sulcata tortoises in my previous write-up. Go and check it now.

Where To Buy Sulcata Tortoise

8. Organ Failure Or Paralysis

When there are cures for almost any tortoise disease, you can not do much in case of organ failure. For example, kidney failure or liver failure. In such scenarios, the pet has to be on medication to ease the pain. But eventually, the tortoise will die before its time.

Sometimes, organ failures and paralysis occur as a side effect of another illness or meds. Therefore, you must keep a close eye on the sick Sulcata tortoise to observe any abnormalities.

9. Unstable Weight

Fluctuation in weight is a red flag indicating that the Sulcata tortoise is sick. For example, weight loss is a common phenomenon in unhealthy pets. The creatures lose their appetite for food and, thus, shed weight.

Nevertheless, obesity is also considered unhealthy in Sulcata tortoises. Overfeeding the tortoises and stuffing the meals with improper items can make these pets fat. Again, obesity often leads to health complications like kidney stones or liver failure.


Determine the reason for the weight fluctuation first. For example, if the tortoise is shedding weight because of a sickness, take steps to treat the pet. Besides, focus on a balanced diet and be strict on the meal routine and quantity.

10. Swelling & Inflammation

Sulcata tortoises face skin swelling or puffiness due to an injury or a medical condition. Obesity, abscesses, lumps, or bumps under the skin can cause swelling. Puffiness or redness around the neck often indicates high blood pressure and kidney stones in the Sulcata tortoises.


A poor diet and improper husbandry are to blame for swelling in the Sulcata tortoises. Therefore, put extra effort into building the pen safe and perfect for these pets. Also, feed the Sulcata tortoises a balanced diet, maintaining a feeding schedule.

11. Puffy, Sunken, Or Closed Eyes

A healthy Sulcata tortoise has bright and clear eyes. But when sick, the tortoise’s eyes become dull and lifeless. In fact, sunken or puffy eyes are considered a sign of different diseases, for example, hypovitaminosis, respiratory illness, etc.


Determine what causes the puffy eyes in the Sulcata tortoises. Then take the necessary steps to treat that condition.

12. Blood Infection

Sepsis or blood infection is not uncommon in Sulcata tortoises. A bacterial attack on the bloodstream is responsible for this condition in the creatures. The sick pets exhibit lethargy, labored breathing, weakness, paralysis, etc., when suffering from a blood infection. Sepsis can kill the tortoises if not appropriately treated.


Take the Sulcata tortoise to a vet for diagnosis. The vet will prescribe antibiotics and a balanced diet for quick healing. Besides, let the tortoise bask under the sun to soak in the heat and build immunity.

13. Mucus Discharge

The mucus coming out of the eyes, nose, or mouth is a sign that the Sulcata tortoise is sick. Generally, a runny nose and watery eyes are common symptoms of respiratory illness and pneumonia. As you know, a respiratory infection can cause permanent damage to the tortoise. The pet can even die if the condition is not treated early.


Look for other abnormal behavior besides the mucus discharge. Only then can you determine the exact health issue of the Sulcata tortoise and treat it.

14. Mouth Rot

Low immunity in the Sulcata tortoises often causes mouth infections. In this condition, you will notice tissue buildup around the tortoise’s mouth and discharge coming out of those buildups.

The infection will start rotting soon, spreading a foul odor. If you do not treat the wound, the healthy tissues will get infected too.


Keeping the wound clean is the very first step of treating mouth rot. Use a disinfectant and healing cream on the spot. You may have to cover the injury with a bandage to minimize exposure to aerial bacteria and other diseases.

15. Urine & Stool Issues

You can tell a lot from the tortoise’s pee and poop. Generally, thin and clear or pale yellow urine with white urates is considered healthy. But the brown or green urine with hard urates indicate bladder stone, liver disease, kidney or dehydration. Similarly, runny stool or worms coming out of poop is a sign of sickness in the Sulcata tortoise.


You must first determine the root cause of these urine or stool issues in the Sulcata tortoise. Generally, a healthy diet and offering a fresh bowl of drinking water will solve this condition to an extent. Next, focus on husbandry hygiene and look for any disease in the pet.


Inactivity, loss of appetite, weight loss, shell condition, skin diseases, etc., are the common signs indicating that the Sulcata tortoise is dying. If you notice any severe symptoms in the pet, take immediate action to cure the disease. 

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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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