Why My Tortoise Refuses To Eat? [12 Reasons & Solutions]

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

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Just like humans, tortoises may also skip a meal or two occasionally. But what if the pets keep refusing food day after day? What happens, then? And most importantly, why do the tortoises refuse to eat?

ReasonsSolutions
Mental stressLeave the pet alone
ConstipationHigh-fiber diet and regular soak
ImpactionLaxatives and surgery
Temperature dropReset to a high temperature
AnorexiaSeek a vet’s help
Boring mealAdd new and tasty items
SicknessDetermine the disease and offer treatment

Keep reading to catch more details.

Key Takeaways

  • Physical and mental sickness are often to blame for appetite loss in tortoises.
  • A boring and repetitive meal and hormonal changes during pregnancy will also mess up the ideal meal routine of tortoises.
  • Treating mental or physical illness will restore the taste buds of the pets.
  • Experiment with different meal items to boost the appetite of the tortoises.

12 Reasons Why Tortoises Refuse To Eat (With Solution)

Generally, a tortoise never misses any opportunity to enjoy a meal. So, if you notice a reduced appetite in the pet, there is definitely something wrong. Also, look for additional symptoms to determine why the creature has stopped eating.

In the upcoming sections, I will discuss the key 14 reasons that negatively influence a tortoise’s appetite. Also, I will add viable solutions to each problem. So, let’s start.

1. Mental Instability

Stress is nothing but a curse for tortoises. Anxiety or constant insecurity hampers the reptile’s growth and weakens its immunity. Inactivity, refusing to eat or drink, frequent hiding, etc., are other signs of stress.

Some people say tortoises get stressed easily. Well, they are not entirely wrong. Frequent handling, too much noise, excessive brightness, malnutrition, overfeeding, etc., often make these creatures agitated. Regardless of the cause, the tortoises show less interest in food whenever anxious or stressed.

Furthermore, tortoises hate changes. Thus, a new home or a routine can easily stress the pets. No wonder your just-bought pet refuses to eat and drink for the first few days.

Solution

Your pet tortoise will start eating again once they get relaxed. Remember, stress or anxiety is mostly a secondary result of another underlying disease. Hence, your tortoise will not catch mental stability until you resolve the root problem.

2. Constipation

Low humidity and low-fiber food are mainly responsible for constipation in tortoises. The creatures can not poop or urinate because of this condition. The worst type of constipation may lead to prolapse in reptiles.

In constipation, tortoises already have unprocessed food in their stomach. It makes them feel full, which is why they might refuse to eat at all.

Solution

Generally, soaking the tortoises in warm water for 20 – 30 minutes can encourage them to poop. If it does not work, feed the pets natural laxatives like bananas. When the natural laxatives fail to defecate the tortoises, vets suggest enemas or laxative meds.

3. Impaction

Impaction and constipation sound similar and show similar symptoms. But the causes of both conditions are different. Also, impaction is more severe and can be life-threatening.

We are all familiar with the rock and substrate eating habits of tortoises. Ingestion of these inedible objects leads to intestine blockage in the creatures.

Impaction not only prevents the tortoises from pooping but also reduces their appetite. It is because the pets always feel full.

The key signs of impaction are,

  • Refuse to eat
  • No pooping or urinating
  • Discomfort
  • Stress
  • Straining
  • Lethargy, etc. 

If impaction goes untreated, tortoises will suffer from malnutrition and grow weak immunity.

Solution

Offering the tortoises laxatives and soaking them in tepid or warm water may encourage defecation. But you can not always rely on these remedies.

Talk to a vet immediately. He will decide whether the tortoise needs surgery after an X-ray test. Removing the ingested object will restore the pet’s life to normal.

4. Temperature Drop

Unlike us, tortoises can not generate body heat. So, they depend solely on external sources like the sun or an artificial bulb to stay warm. If the outdoor temperature takes a hit by any chance, the pets will suffer the consequences.

Generally, a temperature drop slows the metabolism of tortoises. They refuse to eat and enter a partially inactive mode. It means the pets are active and awake. But they will spend the day at one spot, dozing off, instead of playing or climbing.

Solution

Restoring the temperature setting is the ultimate solution to make your tortoise eat again in such cases. The temperature requirement can vary depending on the species.

Generally, tortoises prefer a basking temperature around 95F to 105F with a daytime temperature around 75F to 90F. During the night, you can drop the temperature by a few degrees.

Click here for a complete temperature guide for your tortoise.

In the outdoors, the sun is the ultimate source of heat during summer. In winter, you have to install heating pads. Read this article to learn more about tortoise winter care.

On the contrary, heating lamps are mandatory in indoor habitats all year round. Keep the bulb on only for 12 – 14 hours a day.

5. Brumation

You see, the drop in the temperature for a day or two will not harm the tortoise. The pet will be sluggish for the time being and return to its energetic self as the temperature is restored. But what if the chilly temperature gets permanent in the pen? What, then?

If the temperature is continuously cold, the tortoise will start preparing for brumation. During the brumation, tortoises stop eating altogether and spend days sleeping in the burrow.

The brumation temperature for tortoises is 45F to 55F. I know brumation is a natural process. But the tortoise can die if it enters this state unprepared.

Solution

Of course, a brumating tortoise will not eat. However, the creature will require a nourishing diet when it comes out of the brumation in 12 weeks. 

6. Post-Brumation

We already know that tortoises do not eat during the 8 – 12 weeks of brumation. But sometimes, you may notice less appetite in the pets who have just emerged from brumation.

There are 3 logical explanations for this condition. Such as,

  1. Tortoises sleep during the brumation, which develops a slimy, sticky layer on their eyelids. The pets can not see food or eat until the stickiness is gone. Both closed eyes and loss of appetite are common phenomena after brumation.
  2. Staying away from food for up to 12 weeks during brumation can lead to anorexia in tortoises.
  3. The pet is taking some time to bounce back to the regular routine. Soon, it will continue with a healthy lifestyle.

Solution

If it’s no 3, then sit back and relax. Keep the meal at one corner of the habitat. The tortoise will eat whenever it feels hungry. Generally, the no-food mood continues for 10 – 14 days.

As for the sticky development, it will go on its own within a few hours. Otherwise, use a lukewarm soak to remove the sticky layer.

Among the 3 causes, anorexia is the deadliest. If not treated immediately, the tortoise may die of malnutrition. You can cure anorexia at home and must take the pet to an expert.

The vet will go for fluid therapy to heal the tortoise. He will inject tubes carrying water and electrolyte into the pet’s body. The tortoise will get around in 2 months or so.

7. Pregnancy Period

Tortoises act weird during their pregnancy because of the drastic hormonal changes. These pets also experience a loss of appetite around the nesting time.

Sometimes tortoises refuse to lay their eggs when they can not find a suitable nesting ground. This condition is referred to as egg binding or dystocia. Tortoises tend to avoid meals if they suffer from dystocia too.

Solution

Though tortoises avoid food during pregnancy, they need nutrition and energy for the upcoming nesting session. So, try to offer the pets their favorite diet in small portions. Experiment with the meals and determine if any combo works for these creatures.

As for dystocia, contact a vet. He will ask for an x-ray report to examine the egg binding condition. Removing the eggs will bring back the tortoise’s appetite.

8. Mouth Rot

Stomatitis is the inflammation and infection in the tortoise’s gum lining. The infection can be a viral, bacterial, or fungal attack.

Remember, stomatitis is not any specific mouth condition. But any mouth-related disease in tortoises is tagged as stomatitis or mouth rot.

A tortoise can get stomatitis in 2 ways. Such as,

  • The pet has an untreated scratch or open wound in the mouth. An infectious attack on the injury will develop mouth rot.
  • Low immunity can disrupt the bad and good bacterial balance in the mouth. An increase in the bad bacterial colony will lead to wear in the cavity and inflame the gum linings.

Not being able to eat is a major sign of stomatitis in tortoises. The infection spreads so rapidly, along with swelling, that the pets can hardly chew the meals. In the worst scenario, the tortoises have a shut mouth. Mucus discharge from the mouth, stress, and discomfort are other symptoms of this condition.

Solution

Maintaining enclosure hygiene and treating any wound immediately are enough to prevent stomatitis. Isolate the sick tortoise from the community habitat. Otherwise, the tank mates will also get this mouth infection.

For the treatment, consult a vet for an antibiotic prescription. Regular oral cleaning with an anti-bacterial solution might be necessary for sick pets.

Besides providing the tortoises with medications, focus on the meal plan. Keep feeding the pets a balanced diet with supplements for boosting immunity.

9. Sickness

In my previous write-up, I discussed 10 health problems in tortoises and their symptoms. Apparently, loss of appetite is a common sign of all these diseases. Well, it is no coincidence.

When the tortoise is sick, its system channels all the energy toward healing. As a result, the body can not process or break down the food nutrient accordingly. Therefore, we see a reduced appetite in the sick pet.

Solution

Well, proper treatment is necessary to cure the tortoise of the specific disease. Once healed, the pet can return to its regular feeding routine. However, for the quickest recovery, you must determine the sickness and treat it accordingly.

Some common tortoise diseases are hypovitaminosis, respiratory illness, shell rot, mouth rot, soft shell, MBD, pyramiding, etc. Each health problem is associated with different symptoms and different treatments.

You can access the primary knowledge on any of these diseases from my website. In any case, you have to consult a vet for proper direction.

10. Parasite Attack

Tortoises are curious by nature. Whenever they see anything, they try to take a bite and swallow it. Such curiosity often causes a parasite outbreak in your pet’s system.

Because of the worm attack, tortoises lose their appetite. Even if the pets eat something, they will throw it up immediately. Other symptoms of parasites are diarrhea, lethargy, worms in poop, etc.

Solution

Maintaining enclosure hygiene limits worm or parasite growth. You can also sterilize the rocks and other toys in the pen. Besides, deworm your tortoise twice a year to prevent and cure parasite attacks.

11. Repetitive Meal Routine

Can you deal with the same meal every day? No, right? Soon you fade up and lose your appetite. This can occur to your tortoises too!

In short, tortoises lose interest in boring food. You will watch them chewing on the substrate or rock rather than eating the vegetables.

You must spice up the meal plan immediately. Otherwise, the tortoise will take a serious blow. Irregular eating can cause pet malnutrition, weak immunity, and even anorexia.

Solution

Go through the safe food list for tortoises and experiment by coming up with new meal ideas. See which diet works better for the pets. Add fruits to boost their appetite and make them interested in the meals again.

12. At The Deathbed

Tortoises lose their appetite with their growing age. No wonder why the old tortoises barely eat. Experts suggest that older tortoises stop eating before dying.

Solution

There is no trump card to win death. Right? So, you can not really do anything about this.

However, as a responsible owner, you should be pre-prepared for your tortoise’s funerals and final rituals. Go through this article to find out how to say goodbye to your lovely tortoise for the last time.

How Long Can A Tortoise Go Without Eating?

The reports say a healthy adult tortoise can survive up to 6 months without food. It may sound a bit exaggerated, but the fact is somewhat true.

Tortoises have a slow metabolism and can live on stored energy for a long time. Take hibernation as an example. The creatures spend up to 12 months without eating a single meal.

But hey! This 3 to 6-month survival period is not the same for all tortoises. You need to consider the factors like access to water, age, health condition, humidity, etc. The pet will give up soon if there is no water and it is scorching outside.

Remember, starvation is only recommended as a pre-preparation for hibernation. Otherwise, do not force the pet to go without meals.

How Do You Get Your Tortoise To Eat?

If your tortoise avoids food, investigate the whole situation first. Eliminating the root cause will make your pet eat again. I have already mentioned all the solutions to why a tortoise might refuse to eat. Well, I am sharing those tips in brief once again for your convenience,

  1. Recheck the temperature setting of the enclosure. Make sure the basking temperature is between 90F to 105F.
  2. Allow the tortoise to graze in the backyard. It can boost the pet’s appetite.
  3. Prepare a balanced meal with sprinkled supplements. Try to add colorful vegetables and leaves to make the diet more appealing.
  4. Look for signs of sickness in the creatures. A proper treatment will cure the pets and bring back their lost taste in food.

Should You Force Feed Your Tortoises?

Tortoises tend to avoid food when they are sick. But they are in need of more nutrition during this time for healing. It is why experts often suggest force-feeding the ill tortoises.

Well, tortoises are not fans of force-feeding and will resist with all their energy. But do not take pity on the pets. You have to keep feeding the tortoises gently unless they can not recover quickly. Seek professional help to force-feed the pets if you are not confident.

3 Popular Methods Of Force-Feeding Tortoises Are,

1. Hand Feeding:

Wear rubber gloves and gently hold the tortoise from behind the ear flaps. Now make the pet open its mouth and put a chopped vegetable inside. The tortoise can throw up and struggle to get rid of you. Take a break and continue with the feeding again.

2. Syringe Feeding:

It is more convenient and less struggling. Blend the tortoise meal and fill up a 5mL or 10mL syringe. Now force the pet’s mouth open and push the food inside in small quantities.

3. Stomach Tube Feeding:

This method is more suitable for terminally ill tortoises or reptiles severely injured. In this method, you have to push a tube into the pet’s stomach through its throat. The tortoise will resist and might get injured during this feeding. I highly discourage stomach tube feeding at home.

What Do Tortoises Eat?

Tortoises will eat anything you offer them. But of course, not everything suits their sensitive tummy. The ideal meal for tortoises includes,

  • Grass and hay
  • Vegetables
  • Plant leaves
  • Pellets
  • Fruits
  • Supplements

Fill up the plate mostly with grass and vegetables. You can grow fresh vegetables and plants in your own tortoise garden.

Again, the pellet percentage should not exceed 25%. Fruit should be an occasional treat to boost the appetite of the pets. Finally, supplements are mandatory to back up any mineral deficiency.

Before You…

Just like tortoises, turtles may also refuse food occasionally. In the linked article, I have discussed why a turtle experiences appetite loss and their solutions.

10 Reasons Why Your Turtle Is Not Eating (& Solutions)

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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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