Why Did My Sulcata Tortoise Die? [8 Probable Reasons]

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

I believe each tortoise owner does his best to keep the pet happy and healthy. Yet, sometimes, he ignores the most obvious signs of illness in his tortoise. While a minor sickness does nothing to the tortoise, a severe one can kill it.

A Sulcata tortoise can die because of,

  1. Underfeeding
  2. Overfeeding
  3. Lack of minerals
  4. Stress and anxiety
  5. Accident
  6. Illness
  7. Age
  8. Drowning, etc.

The good news is that you can stop the premature death of Sulcata tortoises. How? Well, by ensuring proper care. The following article includes the probable reasons behind a tortoise’s death and how you can fight them.

Why Did My Sulcata Tortoise Die?

Several reasons can push your Sulcata tortoise towards death. First, remember that your tortoise does not die in one day. Instead, the pet sends signals from the day it starts feeling unwell. Unfortunately, it might be you who have misinterpreted those indications.

The probable reasons why a Sulcata tortoise dies are discussed below,

1. You Did Not Feed The Sulcata Tortoise Enough

Underfeeding leads to malnutrition in Sulcata tortoises. The lack of minerals not only hampers the average growth of the pet but also weakens its immunity system. As a result, the tortoise falls sick more often.

An underfed Sulcata tortoise can not always recover entirely from its diseases. With each illness, the creature loses years of its lifespan.


I know no owner will underfeed his Sulcata tortoise purposefully. The cheap internet knowledge is to blame here. There are so many feeding guides available that the keeper gets confused quickly.

Here is an interesting fact about the Sulcata tortoise diet. Its feeding habit is not stable and changes with growing age, location, and some other factors.

If you want your Sulcata tortoise to be healthy and enjoy a long lifespan, you should know the ins and outs of its diet preference. This way, you can save the tortoise from underfeeding and premature death.

The food requirement varies with the growing age of a Sulcata tortoise. While the babies need less but more frequent feeding, the adults settle for spacing between meals.

It is because the hatchlings call for more nutrition that they spend on building their bodies and immunity. But, on the contrary, the old tortoises already have a developed body, which they need to maintain.

Usually, it is advised to feed the baby Sulcata tortoises twice a day until they become young. Again, the adult tortoises can adjust to a 5-days-a-week meal system.

While measuring the quantity, owners use different techniques, but I prefer the shell method. As per the rule, you have to imagine a bowl similar to the size of the tortoise shell and then fill it up with greens.

Your Sulcata tortoise might avoid food sometimes even though you offer them the correct quantity. For example, weather, environment, stress, or illness are some reasons that stop the Sulcata tortoise from eating.

You will find all the factors why your Sulcata tortoise is not eating from my previous article. Resolving the issue can restore the appetite of the pet.

2. You Have Overfed Your Sulcata Tortoise

Overfeeding is nothing but a curse for the Sulcata tortoises. However, the pets hardly say no to food and keep munching on the meal.

However, as the Sulcata tortoise diet consists mainly of greens, why would overfeeding harm them?

About 80 – 90% of the Sulcata’s diet involves grasses and greens. While most weeds are safe for these tortoises, some may contain high protein, phosphorus, etc. Though feeding those grasses at a moderate amount does no harm, offering a bulk of them can backfire.

Overfeeding the Sulcata tortoises will undoubtedly lead to obesity. Bulged thighs, limbs, and necks are signs of obesity in these creatures. This condition hampers the regular movement of the tortoises and makes them tired easily.

Besides, overfeeding increases the risk of kidney and liver failure in the Sulcata tortoises.

Feeding your tortoises more than enough once in a while has no negative impact. But overfeeding the pets for a long time will definitely push them towards these deadly conditions.


Unlike turtles, Sulcata tortoises barely participate in opportunistic feeding. Yet, you should be alert to the food quantity and routine.

The diet of a Sulcata tortoise should include 80 – 90% greens. This species prefers freshly cut grass among the vegetables, plants, stamps, grasses, and hays. Hence, do not forget to include more of these weeds in the list.

If you want a shop to buy grass for Sulcata tortoises, give this article a read.

The rest of the meal can be vegetable pellets to back up any mineral deficiency of the greens. Finally, you have to sprinkle vitamin D3 and calcium supplements on the food to ensure healthy bone and shell growth.

Owners often get confused about the safe plant options for the Sulcata tortoises. The below list suggests the available greens that suit this species,

  • Dandelions
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Timothy hay
  • Orchard grass
  • Fountain grass
  • Pampas grass
  • Cactus pad
  • Ryegrass
  • Beet
  • Mallow
  • Trefoil
  • Hawkbit
  • Carrot
  • Hawkweed
  • Duckweed
  • Chickweed
  • Bindweed
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Mulberry leaves
  • Cat’s ear
  • Nettles
  • Tomato
  • Turnip
  • Goat head weed
  • Clover, etc.

To measure the meal quantity, follow the shell method. Again, when determining the feeding schedule, feed a baby Sulcata tortoise daily and an adult tortoise 5-days-a-week.

Get a glimpse of a complete take care guide for the Sulcata tortoise from here.

3. Hypovitaminosis

Hypovitaminosis or lack of vitamins occurs in a tortoise when you fail to add the right foods to the meal chart. It is not the same as underfeeding.

Imagine feeding the Sulcata tortoise lots of fruits, cabbage, cucumbers, and lettuce. The pet will have a full tummy but not get the required nutrition. It is because cucumbers and most lettuces are high in water content and low in fiber or minerals.

Similarly, fruits include some mineral values but are not enough for Sulcata tortoises. Again, the high sugar content upsets the stomach of the pets.

The lack of vitamins and minerals might sound minor, but it can become severe. Take examples of vitamin A deficiency and vitamin D deficiency.

Sulcata tortoises suffer terribly due to these two conditions. Not to mention the abnormal growth they undergo because of hypovitaminosis. The tortoises can even die if the illnesses go untreated.


Feeding right is the only way to prevent hypovitaminosis in Sulcata tortoises. You have to add a lot of nutritious items to their diet.

It is suggested to fill 80 – 90% of the Sulcata tortoise meal with grasses, weeds, and vegetables. While selecting the items, ensure they have actual mineral values for the pets. You can offer the tortoise fruits once in a while to boost their appetite. But making them full on fruits is not a good idea.

Finally, add pellets and sprinkle supplements on the meals to back up any chance of mineral deficiency.

4. Sulcata Tortoises Do Not Thrive In Filthy Pen

You will be surprised to know that an unhygienic enclosure can kill a Sulcata tortoise. Yes, I am not kidding.

Unsanitary pens cause too many problems. First, a filthy environment is suitable for the bacteria or fungi to thrive. Consequently, the tortoises are always at risk of an infectious attack.

The bacteria or fungi can enter the tortoise body via minor cuts or cracks and make the shell or flesh rot. Not only that, diseases like mouth rot, ear rot, respiratory infection, etc., all are caused by these parasites.

The sick tortoises become lethargic, malnutrition, weak, and vulnerable to more diseases. In a prolonged illness, the pets can die.

Again, an unhygienic enclosure leads to worm attacks in tortoises.

The Sulcata tortoises are curious by nature and take a bit of everything around them. As a result, they may ingest parasites. Unfortunately, those microbes outgrow the pet’s gut and make them suffer.


As I always say, it is better to prevent diseases than curing.

Treating parasites or infectious diseases may not be complicated, but they cause permanent damage to the tortoises. Therefore, you should always focus on maintaining sanitary conditions in the enclosure.

Clean the habitat at least twice every month and desterilize the soil, water bowl, or toys. Besides, do not forget to deworm your Sulcata tortoise to avoid parasite attacks.

What to do if your tortoise gets infected by a bacterial or fungal disease? First, you have to offer treatment as soon as possible.

Observe the behavior and abnormalities in the ill Sulcata tortoise. Try to pick up the signs and determine the particular disease. Only then can you offer proper home treatment to the pet.

Take the tortoise to a vet if you are confused. He will make a proper diagnosis and prescribe medications.

5. Stress Is Real In Sulcata Tortoises

I have seen owners who do not believe a Sulcata tortoise can get stressed. But the truth is, like us, the tortoises can also undergo anxiety or panic. In fact, in severe conditions, the pets can even die due to stress though such incidents are rare.

But how can stress push a Sulcata tortoise towards death? Researchers have come up with two reasons.

First, they believe anxiety can create immunity issues in the Sulcata tortoises. According to them, stress messes up the body’s response to complex molecular reactions and weakens the capability to fight off diseases. As a result, the tortoises fall sick easily.

Second, depression makes the Sulcata tortoises lack motivation. As a result, the pets become lethargic, barely participate in daily events, and show no interest in eating. As a consequence, the tortoises get weak and vulnerable to diseases.

Stress does not kill a Sulcata tortoise instantly. But this mental condition makes the pet suffer for a long time, and the creature dies out of weakness or disease.

Take a look at the factors that stress a Sulcata tortoise and how you can relieve the pet,

Rough Touch

Sulcata tortoises are not domesticated animals. Instead, they are wild creatures in captivity. Hence, unlike your cat or dog, you can not cuddle or pet them whenever you want. In fact, frequent touch or handling stresses these tortoises.

Rough handling can make the tortoises threatened and frightened. The tortoises can initiate an attack if you are not polite with the touch.


  1. Be gentle when picking up the Sulcata tortoises.
  2. Be brief when interacting via touch.
  3. Again, leave the tortoises alone if they seem irritated.

Tortoises Are A Bully

Do you know turtles bully each other? Unfortunately, yes. It can be over food, space, basking spot, and sometimes to show dominance.

The scenario is the same for the Sulcata tortoises.

A bullying situation can be seen when you house more than one Sulcata tortoise. If you do not stop them instantly, prepare to witness a bloody fight.

The tortoises bully each other by repeatedly nipping, biting, kicking with legs, or spinning around one another. Such behavior impacts the victim’s mental health and causes it to stop eating.


In most cases, Sulcata tortoises are well behaved. Yet, there is a minimum risk of bullying in multiple housing tortoises at once.

Provide the pets with a spacious habitat and enough food options. Also, build hiding spaces for the tortoises as an escaping option. Furthermore, do not pair the tortoises if they are hostile toward each other.

Transferring Tortoises

As you know, Sulcata tortoises are no fan of handling. It creates an issue while transferring tortoises from one point to another. If you are not careful when picking up the creature or placing it, the pet will get anxious and threatened.


  1. Be gentle while picking up a Sulcata tortoise.
  2. Always grab the tortoise by the rear end to avoid biting.
  3. Again, keep its body as close to the ground as possible to eliminate the risk of impact damage.
  4. Finally, take help from others if the tortoise is giant.

New Home

Have you noticed Sulcata tortoises in their new home do not eat much? It is because the changes stress them out and make them vulnerable. They doubt their security and try to cope with the new environment.


The Sulcata tortoises will start eating after adapting to the new surroundings. But in the meantime, you have to offer them meals no matter what, even if they refuse to eat.

Noise Everywhere

A noisy environment with loud music is not suitable for Sulcata tortoises. Instead, they prefer a calm enclosure that mimics their natural home. In addition, the loud surroundings can stress these creatures.


Eliminate any source of loud noise from around the tortoise habitat.

The Sulcata Is Not Feeling Okay!

Illness is a major reason why the Sulcata tortoise is stressed. The physical pain often comes with mental trauma. Experts have noticed that any accident impacts the mental health of the tortoises equally. As a result, the pets stop eating out of demotivation.


You have to take immediate steps to treat the sick tortoises. Home treatment is an option if you are an experienced owner. Otherwise, seek help from an expert for proper guidelines and medications.

6. You Have Been Ignoring The Signs Of Illnesses

In most cases, any severe disease is responsible for the sudden death of a Sulcata tortoise. However, the pet exhibits signs of illness for a long time before it gets severe. Therefore, you can save the tortoise by recognizing the indications and taking action. Otherwise, you will notice degradation in the tortoise’s health and slowly approach death.

Go through some of the common diseases of Sulcata tortoises and possible home treatments,

Vitamin A Deficiency

The lack of vitamin A in the diet causes this disease in the Sulcata tortoises. The condition is spotted by swollen eyes, mouth infection, respiratory illness, lethargy, and weight loss in tortoises. Vitamin A deficiency can become a massive health issue if not treated.


Feed your tortoise vitamin A-rich food and include more greens in the diet. Vets often suggest vitamin A shots and antibiotics for quick healing.

Respiratory Infection

Prolonged hypovitaminosis leads to a weak immunity system in Sulcata tortoises. As a result, they get infected by bacteria more easily.

When living in a filthy environment and with an untreated vitamin A deficiency, the Sulcata tortoise can fall victim to respiratory infection. It is a condition when bacteria attack the lungs of the tortoise.

Some signs of respiratory infection in tortoises are,

  • Fear of water
  • Weight loss
  • No appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing, etc.

Respiratory illness is not something you should ignore. When untreated, this disease becomes pneumonia, making the tortoise suffer even more. A tortoise can die in the worst-case scenario.


A Sulcata tortoise needs emergency care if it is diagnosed with a respiratory infection. First, isolate the pet from other tortoises and keep it in a warm enclosure. Next, feed the creature a vitamin-rich diet along with necessary medications. With time, the Sulcata will heal.

Soft Shell/ Metabolic Bone Diseases

A Sulcata tortoise is supposed to have a solid shell. Right?

However, sometimes you might spot soft scutes on the shell. It can be a birth defect, but chances are, your tortoise is not getting the proper nutrition.

It is the same with deformed bones. Metabolic bone diseases are also an outcome of insufficient minerals.

Vitamin D3 and calcium are responsible for shell and bone growth. The lack of these minerals and vitamins leads to irregular and abnormal development in the tortoise.

A Sulcata tortoise with MBD does not experience total carapace growth. The signs of this condition are bumpy scutes, abnormal bones, lumps on spines, trouble walking, etc.

Improper selection of UV light and insufficient vitamin D3 in the diet are to blame here. A report suggests that a tortoise without sufficient UV rays can die within a year or experience irregular body development.


Of course, feeding your Sulcata tortoise a balanced diet is the first thing you should do. Besides, you have to replace the ordinary UV light with a quality one.

If your tortoise is in an outdoor shade, the problem might be in the diet. Talk to a vet and come to a solution.

Shell Rot

Bacteria can get into the tortoise shell via a minor scratch or opening. When these bacteria outgrow in number, you observe a blackish spot on the scute, which starts rotting with time.

Shell rots can get severe and lead to pitting on the scutes. In severe cases, the plates fall off the structure, spreading a foul odor. Besides, you will notice a mushy discharge from the wound, and the tortoise will be inactive.

If not treated, shell rot permanently damages the Sulcata tortoises. Even the tortoise can die because of this condition.


Shell rot is home treatable at the primary stage. You have to isolate the tortoise and disinfectant the wound daily. Besides, you need to apply some healing cream to the rot and let the pet roam on dry, warm land. The tortoise will heal soon with a balanced diet and proper care.

Damaged Shell

A Sulcata tortoise shell can withstand almost 200x weight of its own. So then, it must be strong. Right?

Well, a tortoise shell is undoubtedly robust but not indestructible. Falling from a height or meeting an accident can create holes or cracks on the scutes.

Though tortoises seem to survive a punctured or cracked shell, they will suffer from immense pain. An open wound is tempting to bacteria or fungi and causes diseases like shell rot, black spots, white spots, etc. If not treated, the scutes fall off the structure exposing the flesh and internal organs. Sometimes the infection spreads inside the body and can spread via blood.


You have to cover the wounds of the Sulcata with a bandage first. Though the shells heal naturally, it takes years.

Of course, you can not leave your Sulcata tortoise with a cracked shell for so long. So, try the alternative filling materials to heal the wounds.


Unfortunately, a Sulcata tortoise also suffers from prolapses, and in the worst cases, the pet has to die a terrible death. In general, a high oxalate diet and dehydration cause prolapse in tortoises.

Again, infection in the sex organ, traumatic separation during copulation, swelling from sex determination probing, constipation, and neurological dysfunction can also be responsible for prolapses.

In severe conditions, the internal organs come out of the urates due to this disease.


You have to take the Sulcata tortoise to a vet without delay. He will wrap the prolapse with a desterilized bandage to keep the area clean and out of bacterial range. Next, he will approach the condition with prescribed medications. Some say a quality diet and hydration can prevent prolapses in Sulcatas.

7. Sulcata Tortoises Can Not Swim

A more common reason why Sulcata tortoises end up dead is by drowning. Unfortunately, many of the owners forget that the tortoises can not swim. So leaving your tortoise free near a pool is not a good idea.

Unlike turtles, tortoises are not the master of the water. They have elephant-like feet instead of webbed feet or flippers. Again, their shells are not streamlined but doomed, which can not cut water. Hence, all the tortoises can do is float in the water.

If a tortoise falls in the water, it can manage to breathe for 2 – 3 minutes max. After that, the pet will lose consciousness and drown at the bottom. If not rescued, your Sulcata tortoise will die.


You have to put fences around the pool if you have a Sulcata tortoise at home.

However, if you find your tortoise at the bottom of the pool, bring it to the surface first. Then, instead of taking it as dead, try the primary treatments to remove the water from the lungs. Next, take the pet to a vet for proper recovery.

Click on this article to get a detail on the first aid treatment of a drowning Sulcata tortoise.

8. The Tortoise Had Lived Enough

A Sulcata tortoise has a lifespan of up to 150 years. However, in captivity, the species live slightly over 80 years. So if your tortoise dies around this stage, aging can be the reason.

An old Sulcata tortoise stops eating and stays inactive in its last days. However, you can take the pet for a checkup just to be sure.

Can Sulcata Tortoises Die From Heat?

A Sulcata tortoise can die from overheating. Exposure to the high temperature makes this creature vulnerable and dehydrates fast. In such a scenario, Sulcata tortoises start finding a cooler spot. They suffer from a heat stroke and die if there isn’t any.

The sick tortoise exhibits symptoms like a foam discharge from the mouth and vomiting. Besides, lethargy and loss of appetite are always there if they are continuously exposed to heat. Therefore, you have to transfer the pet to a cooler spot if any of these signs are seen.

Sulcata tortoises suffer from heat stroke because they are dependent on external temperature sources. Just like they can not function in a severe cold, they can not operate in burning heat.

It is wiser not to put your baby Sulcata tortoises outside in scorching heat. The hatchlings are of small dimensions, and the heat spreads more easily. As a result, the pets die quickly.

For such reasons, you should build shades for the Sulcata tortoises in case of an outdoor habitat. Furthermore, it is advisable to create a temperature gradient inside the pen. This way, the tortoises can move to their desired and comfortable temperature.

Again, you can plant herbs and grasses around, which will act as shades for the tortoises and keep them safe.


There are many reasons why your Sulcata tortoise can experience death. Of course, you can not control the lifespan of a pet. But you can obviously ensure proper care to make it live longer.

Prove the tortoise with a spacious habitat, maintain cleanliness, offer the pet a balanced diet, and go for regular health checkups.

If you follow these guidelines, the chances are that your Sulcata tortoise will live to the fullest.

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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