Why Is My Tortoise Not Very Active?

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

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Tortoises may be slow, but they indeed are active. You will catch these creatures playing in the pen from dawn to dusk. But what if the tortoise shows inactivity? What can be the reasons?

Causes Fixes 
The enclosure temperature has dropped under 70F.Raise the temperature above 70F. Depending on the species, the basking temperature should be between 80 – 100F.
Your pet is sick.Take the tortoise to the vet for treatment.
It is winter, and the tortoise is brumating.Build a cold-proof pen for the pet.

Catch more details on the causes and solutions below. 

6 Reasons Why A Tortoise Is Inactive With Fixes 

You should not take the inactivity of the tortoises lightly. Lethargy, along with low appetite, is always a sign of something abnormal in reptiles. 

Let’s understand why a tortoise can be inactive and what we can do,

1. The Temperature Is Falling 

Light and temperature have always been crucial parts of the tortoise’s well-being. As ectothermic creatures, they can not generate heat in their bodies. So, tortoises depend on environmental heating sources to warm up their bodies.

Ideal daytime temperatures on the cool and warm side in the tortoise enclosure are 75 – 85F and 95 – 105F degrees, respectively. Likewise, the night temperature should be in the range of 65 – 75F. 

A temperature fall from these safe ranges makes the tortoises cold. The creatures will slow down their metabolism to cope with the temperature drop.

The mechanism starts with refusing to eat and being inactive. In fact, you will find your pet tortoise sleeping most of the hours. 

So, if you find your tortoise inactive during the day and night, first check the enclosure temperature. The unfit heating source is the culprit here for the sluggish behavior of the pet.


Tortoises require both heat and UV rays to operate their bodies and daily activities. As we know, the sun is the ultimate source of heat and UV exposure. Thus, the wild and outdoor tortoises rely upon this energy vessel. 

However, the sun’s rays can barely make their way into the indoor habitat. Therefore, a heating and UV source installation is necessary for the pen. 

Nevertheless, setting up the lamps is not enough. The sources will be no help if the temperature range is not within the comfort range of the tortoises. Eventually, the pets will slow down their metabolism and be inactive. 

Hence, maintaining the temperature range and installing a quality heat or UV source is mandatory. Only then can you influence the activity of the tortoises and make them restore their metabolism. 

Let’s talk about both artificial heating lamps and UV light one by one

Heating Light And Temperature 

The primary purpose of a heating lamp in an enclosure is to keep the environment warm for the tortoises. You can regulate the temperature by installing the light at a distance from the floor. Setting the bulb at an angle is also a good idea to cover a certain portion of the pen. 

Temperature requirement for tortoises varies depending on their species. You will get a general idea of the suitable temperature range for different tortoises from the chart below, 

Tortoise Species Temperature Demand On Basking AreaTemperature Demand On Cool Side 
Sulcata Tortoise 85 – 105F 75 – 85F
Hermann’s Tortoise 85 – 95F75 – 85F
Russian Tortoise 90 – 100F70 – 75F
Leopard Tortoise 90 – 95F75 – 80F
Greek Tortoise 95 – 105F75 – 85F
Red Foot Tortoise 90 – 95F75 – 80F
Indian Star Tortoise 85 – 95F75 – 80F
Egyptian Tortoise 95 – 100F75 – 85F
Marginated Tortoise 85 – 95F75 – 85F

N.B. The temperature can be ± 5 depending on your region. Track the temperature in your tortoise enclosure with a digital thermometer.

I have only mentioned the daytime temperature. During the night, the temperature should be lower than this range but not below 65 – 70F. The cooler temperature will help the tortoise sleep better and for long hours. 

See also  10 Tortoise Health Problems, Symptoms, & Treatments

The heating lights should be kept on 10 -12 hours a day. Turn off the bulbs at night to cool down the heat.

Again, change the heating lamps once a year to maintain the quality. 

UV Lights 

Of course, we know the significance of UVB rays for tortoises. Exposure to UVB helps these creatures build a solid bone structure and develop a strong immunity. But little do we know about the importance of UVA rays. 

The UV lights emit both UVA and UVB. Here, the former directly or indirectly influences the tortoises’ mental state, activity, and appetite. 

Without quality UVA rays, the tortoises will be stressed and lethargic. In fact, you will notice them taking less interest in food. Hence, the UV lamp is equally essential to boost the energy of the tortoises. 

As mentioned, the U.V. lamps radiate both types of rays. Therefore, you do not need to invest in separate bulbs but a quality U.V. light. 

Check the U.V. percentage on the packaging. Depending on the tortoise species, the U.V. demand will vary. Generally, 10 – 12% of U.V. lamps are suitable for tortoises. 

The U.V. bulbs should be kept for 10 – 12 hours daily. Besides, you need to replace the old lamp with a new one every 6 months.

2. Your Tortoise Sick 

Lethargy or inactivity is the common sign of any tortoise sickness. Experts suggest that the creatures spend their energy on healing during this period. As a result, you see them sleeping most of the time. 

Tortoises return to their usual activities once they are healed. 


The treatment of a sick tortoise solely depends on the disease. Hence, you have to determine the illness first.

Tortoises exhibit abnormalities from the very beginning of their sickness. You must pick up the hints and match the symptoms to find the illness. Only then can you move to the healing stage. 

Ignoring the signs can make physical conditions worse. In some situations, tortoises may suffer and be deprived of medical care. 

You will find the 5 common tortoise diseases that make them inactive below. I will also add the symptoms and possible treatments for each condition. 

Hypovitaminosis A

Lack of vitamin A in the diet leads to hypovitaminosis in the tortoises. The sick pets are vulnerable and often exposed to other diseases. Again, the condition becomes more complicated when it goes untreated. 


  • Inflamed eyelids
  • Swollen eyes
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Wheezing
  • Abnormal tissue development on mouth and eyelid
  • Swollen limbs
  • Lethargy 
  • Refuse to eat 
  • Low immunity 


  • You need to add more vitamin A sources to the tortoise diet. For example, leafy greens, bell pepper, tomatoes, orange and yellow vegetables, etc. Of course, continue with the regular grass, hay, and weed, besides feeding these. Access a full diet routine for the tortoises from this article
  • Antibiotic shots or drugs are prescribed for a fast recovery.

3. Respiratory Illness 

Tortoises suffer from respiratory illness when their respiratory tract gets infected. Usually, a filthy environment with low immunity is responsible for this condition in the pets. Sometimes prolonged hypovitaminosis turns into this disease. 

See also  How Long Can A Tortoise Hold Its Breath?

Besides, respiratory sickness is common in post-brumated tortoises. It is because these creatures have low immunity. 

Furthermore, cold and chilly weather also leads to an inflamed respiratory tract. As per the vets, tortoises from dry and dusty enclosures are also exposed to this disease.

If ignored, the respiratory illness will become deadly. Experts suggest that the infection can spread to the lungs and cause pneumonia. 

Remember, a sick lung will never recover 100%. So, a late treatment just increases the risk of permanent harm. 


  • Runny nose
  • Swollen eyes
  • Discharge from eyes
  • Less active 
  • Appetite loss
  • Stressed 
  • Wheezing 
  • Sneezing 
  • Coughing 
  • Open mouth breathing 


Vets usually perform lab tests to diagnose respiratory illness in tortoises. But the symptoms are often enough to indicate this disease. 

Once diagnosed, the vets prescribe antibacterial, antifungal, or antiviral drugs to treat the tortoises. In some cases, the expert may suggest injection over oral medications. 

A blocked nose often leads to less appetite in tortoises. So a nasal drop is mandatory. Wiping away the nasal discharge with a soft fabric comforts the creatures.

Besides medications, you need to focus on the hygiene of the enclosure. Also, raise the pen temperature by a few degrees. The bacteria or fungus can not survive in a hot environment. 

With the routined treatment, the tortoises recover within a few weeks. 

4. Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

As the name suggests, MBD is an abnormal bone disease in tortoises. Even the shell may also get affected by this disease. 

A low vitamin D, poor calcium-phosphorus ratio, and weak U.V. rays are the leading causes of this disease. Let me elaborate a bit. 

The UVB rays from the sun or an artificial source influence vitamin D production in the tortoise body. This vitamin helps the reptile effectively absorb calcium from food and supplements. As a result, the pet can build a solid skeleton and a strong immunity system. 

But insufficient UVB or less calcium does not let the above process complete. Therefore, the tortoise suffers from weak bones and other related diseases.


  • Soft shell 
  • Pyramiding 
  • Deformed jaw
  • Weak limbs
  • Splayed out legs 
  • Beak deformation 
  • Overgrown nails
  • Paralysis 
  • Trouble walking 
  • Less activity 


  • Offer the tortoise a balanced diet according to the feeding routine. It means the babies should be fed daily and the adults 5 times a week.
  • Add calcium and vitamin D supplements to the meal. Both powder and solid supplements will work to back up the deficiency. 
  • Install a quality U.V. source inside the indoor tortoise pen.

5. Shell Rot 

Do you know a tortoise’s shell can carry 200X weights of its own? But it clearly does not mean that the scutes are unbreakable. Any strong blow and your tortoise will face a cracked or broken shell. 

The broken shells definitely come with discomfort for the tortoises. But the pain intensifies if the wounds get infected by bacteria or fungus. In such cases, your pets suffer from shell rot. 

In the beginning, shell rot is totally treatable. However, the difficulty begins as the infection spreads to the neighbor plates and internal organs. In some conditions, the whole plate falls off because of the rot. 

Again, the disease will chew off the internal organs and cause bone cavities if it gets into the bloodstream.


  • Lethargy 
  • Less appetite 
  • Soft areas around the injury 
  • Black pits in the wound 
  • White fluid accumulation under the tissue 
  • Smelly discharge from the infected scute
  • Plate falling off


  • Start with maintaining the hygiene of the enclosure. Clean the substrate and water bowl every day. 
  • Keep the sick tortoises in a dry and warm pen. Raise the temperature by a few degrees. 
  • Soak the tortoise with the prescribed antibacterial. Later apply a healing cream upon drying.
  • Feed the tortoise a balanced diet and offer them vitamin supplements for quick recovery. In severe conditions, the vets will feed the tortoises via tube.
  • The tortoise will get well soon if you perform the routine every day.
See also  Do Tortoises Like To Climb?

Catch more details on the treatment and prevention of shell rot from my previous write-up. 

Parasite Attack 

A parasite attack is more common in tortoises than you can think. Usually, a filthy substrate and habitat are responsible for this condition. 

The common symptoms of parasite attack in tortoises are, 

  • Fatigue
  • Less appetite
  • Vomit 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Worms in poop, etc. 

Deworming the tortoises at least once a year and maintaining enclosure hygiene are the ways out of this disease. Learn to read about tortoise poop and how it can be linked to the pet’s health from this article. 

6. It Is Brumation Period

You already know that tortoises can not tolerate cold temperatures. These reptiles slow their metabolism and overall activity to cope with falling degrees.

Tortoises will completely shut down their system if the temperature drops below 40 – 45F. We call it brumation. 

In the wild, the brumating tortoise stops eating a month before the winter. The creature clears its stomach from the digested and undigested food during the fasting period.

As the cold season comes, the tortoise will brumate into a pre-prepared burrow. 

The tortoise does not eat or participate in any activity during the brumation period. An outdoor pet tortoise also brumates if you do not take any action to warm it up. 


It is advisable not to brumate the pet tortoises. In most cases, you can not replicate the wild environment. As a result, there is a risk of life or permanent health damage. 

The only way to avoid brumation and cold-induced inactivity are to maintain a suitable temperature. As mentioned above, the ideal temperature for tortoises is above 70F. 

For an indoor tortoise, the regulation of temperature is easier. So, you can transfer the outdoor pets to the inside setup. 

However, modifying or customizing the summer outdoor pen into an indoor habitat is possible.

Here is how to build a winter enclosure for tortoises: 

  • Set up a dog house at one end of the yard.
  • The habitat should be on a platform inches above the ground. Build a ramp so that the tortoise can easily get in and out of the pen. Also, put a shade directly on the house. These setups are the safety precautions for unexpected winter rains. 
  • Attach heating pads to the walls of the dog house and a little exhaust fan at the back. Do not leave the loose wire ends behind to prevent electrocution. 
  • Tortoises will come outside the habitat during the day and walk on the ground. The soil can trap heat for a long time. So, the tortoises actually enjoy the warmth when outside. 

You can convert your storage room into a winter pen if you do not have a backyard. I have mentioned the process in this article

Apart from the accommodation, keep the diet and drinking arrangements as before. Yes, the pets may eat smaller portions or do less activity. But this should not be a concern as long as they are healthy and show no abnormality.

My Tortoise Is Always Sleeping: Is It Dying? 

The ideal sleeping hours for adult tortoises is 12 hours max. However, the baby tortoises can sleep for 19 – 22 hours at a stretch. So, do not get scared if your young tortoise is dozing for 10 hours and more. 

But here is the deal. 

Tortoises are diurnal and only sleep during the night. They will be wide awake and active during the daytime. 

So, sleeping more than 12 hours, staying inactive during the day, and refusing food altogether indicate something wrong. 

The probable causes can be a drop in temperature, sickness, and brumation. You can apply the exact solutions I have stated above. 

On another note, a dying tortoise also sleeps more than usual. The creature has no energy left to deal with daily activities. To cancel out the doubt, go through the 10 common signs of a dying tortoise. 

Before You Go

Inactivity in turtles is also a severe issue. The causes and solutions of inactivity in tortoises and turtles are pretty similar. Get more information on turtle’s inactivity and probable reasons from the articles below. 

My turtle is inactive: Is it dead? 

Why is my turtle not eating in winter?

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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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