What To Do With A Dead Tortoise?

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

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Goodbyes are hard, especially when the pet becomes an inseparable member of the family. I know tortoises have a really long lifespan, but they, too, have to die. But have you thought about what to do with a dead tortoise?

You can bury or cremate the dead tortoise. Cremation can be expensive but totally worth it. Apart from these, contacting a taxidermist and animal control for body disposal are also suitable options.

How to bury or cremate dead tortoises? Here is your answer.

Is The Tortoise Actually Dead?

I am sure you are familiar with the term brumatizing. When brumating, a tortoise enters a sleep-like state, slowing its metabolism.

Not only that. The creature also reduces its heartbeat and oxygen consumption rate. And, of course, it does not participate in daily tasks like eating, drinking, etc. Therefore, the newbies might mistake a bumating tortoise for a dead one.

So, look for any sign of life in the tortoise. For example,

  • The creature responds to any interactions.
  • The pet is drinking water.
  • You can feel the tortoise breathing.
  • Increasing the temperature wakes the tortoise up.
  • The pet poops and urinates.
  • There is no rotting smell coming from the pet.

Most of us are not familiar with the smell of rotting flesh. Then again, an infectious disease might also spread foul odor. Thus, you can not rely on the smell.

A breath test is often suggested to check whether the tortoise is dead or alive. Here, you just have to keep a feather in front of the tortoise’s mouth. The feather will move as the pet breathes.

But it is wiser to take the tortoise to a vet for 100% assurance.

On a serious note, you can save premature deaths in tortoises with the right action. Here are the signs indicating that your tortoise is dying. Pick up the signals and save your pet today.

What To Do With A Dead Tortoise?

I know you are in no mental state to make a quick decision when your lovely pet is gone. But you can not delay your decision for too long. Otherwise, the tortoise body will start decomposing.

Experts suggest that the dead tortoises start rotting within 2 – 3 days. I am sure you do not want a dead tortoise in your backyard. The rotten body will spread a foul smell and be unhygienic.

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Apparently, the rotten body attracts bugs, insects, bacteria, and fungi. As a result, the corpse can be responsible for spreading contagious diseases to other pets and humans. In addition, the smell of rotting flesh can also entice wild predators in the area.

So, you can only keep the dead tortoise in your basement or backyard for a short time.

Several options are open that you can do with a dead tortoise. For example,


A proper burial can be a good way to bid farewell to your tortoise friend. You can dig a hole in your property and bury your pet there.

First, dig a hole at least 3 – 4 feet deep. The deeper the grave, the safer it will be from floods and natural disasters. Next, lay your tortoise in the hole and pack it up with soil. You can build a memorial if you want.

People often bury the tortoises in biodegradable caskets, which is expensive. Again, many owners wrap the tortoise in plastic before putting it into the grave. Well, it may delay the corpse decomposition process but will not help you in any way.

However, in some states, a pet burial in the backyard is illegal. You can consult the vet clinic for proper instructions and check the available options in such cases. Contacting the local pet cemetery is also a good decision. Your little tortoise will be lying with other pets on that ground.

Some owners prefer keeping the shell or bone of the tortoise as a memory token. If you have such intentions, then follow the given steps,

  • Wrap the corpse with a biodegradable plastic or box.
  • Use ropes to tie the box or plastic, and make sure the rope heads stick outside the ground. This is not mandatory. Alternatively, you can mark the grave.
  • Bury the pet 3 – 4 feet deep.
  • Usually, it takes 3 – 12 months for body decomposition. After that period, you can dig out the corpse with the help of a rope or manually.
  • Separate the bones and shells from the leftovers.
  • Keep the shell and bury the bones without any box or plastic.


You also have the freedom to cremate your dead tortoise. In the USA, different crematoriums have special facilities for cremating pets. Though Cremation is expensive, it can be the best way to say goodbye to your tortoise.

You can keep your pet’s ashes in a little pot. Again, some people turn the ashes into jewelry and wear them as a token of love. Moreover, you can scatter the ashes in the wild or a river.

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Now, if you decide to cremate your pet tortoise, there are 3 types of services available,

  1. Communal Cremation: It is the least expensive facility, where your dead pet is cremated with other dead animals. There is no viewing room, and you can not separate the ashes. So, avoid this service if you want to keep a part of your tortoise and bid it a good farewell.
  2. Private Cremation: This service allows the owner to watch his pet cremate. But the pet is cremated with other dead animals. However, the organization uses a separator so that ashes do not mix. Private Cremation is quite popular as this facility comes at a reasonable price.
  3. Witnessed Cremation: I understand if you want to be there when your pet is cremated. The witnessed cremation service lets you watch the pet on its last journey. Again, the tortoise is cremated alone. So, there will be no confusion with the ashes, and you can turn them into memory.

You should go through the price ranges of cremation facilities before taking the pet to them. Otherwise, they may overcharge you.

As I have warned you, the Cremation of tortoises can be expensive. Depending on the size and type of reptile, the crematories can charge $59 – $350 for basic services. The cost goes up if the tortoise dies sick.

Again, you have to pay more money if you want extra services. For example, the least charge for picking up the tortoise is $40, which will vary depending on your distance. Sometimes, the basic package does not cover the viewing room cost. In such situations, you have to pay $40+ to avail of that facility.

Again, owners may want to collect the ashes in an urn. You can buy beautiful urns from the crematorium for $100 and more. Moreover, the additional costs could increase if the tortoise is bulky.


Taxidermists generally work on the dead tortoise’s shells. Hence, you can contact them for the corpse’s disposal. Though they offer this service free, you get no remains of the tortoise. But yes, if you want to take a bone or shell of the tortoise, you have to pay them for the service.

Animal Control Organizations

Different animal rescue centers work on disposing of roadkill animals. So, you can contact them for more details.

Take Shell & Decompose The Remain

What if you want the shell of the tortoise without waiting for 12 months? Of course, burial is not an option then. But do not worry, as several tricks can fulfill this purpose. For example,

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Beetle Method: Collect dermestid beetles from the taxidermists. Now influence them to make a colony on the dead body. These beetles feast on the flesh. So you will get a solid shell within a week.

Metal Drum Method: This technique requires months to separate the flesh from the shell. As per this method, wrap the dead tortoise in a mesh bag and place it into a metal drum. Seal the cover and let it soak heat under direct sunlight. You can collect the shell within a month or two.

Ant Bed Method: Select a red ant bed away from your home and leave the tortoise there. The ants will eat away the flesh within a week.

Manual Separation: You can cut away the tortoise flesh all by yourself and separate the shell. However, this is not for newbies.

Pithing The Tortoise

Vets or experts do pith on all dead tortoises before burial or Cremation. But what is the logic behind it?

Well, sometimes, there comes a situation when it is impossible to save the tortoise. The creature might be ill, infectious, or injured. The pets are virtually dead in those cases, but their brains still function.

As you know, tortoises can survive on low oxygen consumption and slow heartbeats. Thus, breathing when they are virtually dead is not impossible.

Considering the history and overall conditions, the vets pith the tortoises to ensure their death. Pithing involves piercing the tortoise’s brain with a sharp tool to destroy the brain cells. As a result, there will be no brain function, and the pet can be buried or cremated peacefully.

I know this process seems cruel and unfair as the pet will still feel pithing pain. But the vets assure that they only pith when there is zero survival chance.

Precautions To Follow

You can not deal with dead animals with bare hands. The corpses can carry germs and spread diseases. Hence, wear gloves when handling the dead body and wash your hands properly.

Again, if you are keeping the shell, clean it with hot water and brush regularly. This will keep bacterial growth away.


Death of your tortoise is always painful. But you can not delay the goodbye for too long. Any type of farewell is okay as long as you say it with a pure heart.

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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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