How to Look After a Sick or Dehydrated Tortoise

How to Look After a Sick or Dehydrated Tortoise

Looking after a sick or dehydrated tortoise means making sure the animal is placed in a safe, warm, clean and comfortable environment so a speedier recovery can be achieved. Most things you have to do are pretty obvious, however, a few are not. The very first thing you need to take care of to is make sure the environment has enough good quality light, heat and ventilation.


Your sick tortoise will need to have enough heat so they are comfortable but not too hot. You have to avoid subjecting them to high temperatures making sure there is a slight drop in temperature at night. If your vet has put the tortoise on certain types of antibiotics, then normally you would need to keep the temperature as stable as possible until your pet has recovered.

Good Quality Lighting

It is crucial to invest in some good quality lighting, because this will help speed up the recovery process. The best sort of light is as natural a daylight sort of lighting as possible. You can find many types of specific lighting units online, and it's definitely worth investing in as this type of light produces the best quality natural daylight. This in turn ensures your tortoise gets a full spectrum of light which helps prevent metabolic bone disease and other health issues.


Ventilation is crucial to tortoises and one thing to bear in mind is they are not really suited to live in a “typical” vivarium. More often than not, a tortoise that lives in a badly ventilated fish tank style unit, will develop respiratory problems as well as very sore eyes. It is far better to buy a purpose built indoor tortoise pen or to build one yourself.

Creating a Hospital Type Pen For Your Sick Tortoise's

If you are good at DIY, then you can build a hospital pen for you pet to live in until they have made a full recovery. The pen should measure 500mm x 500mm and needs to be made out of plywood with a 200mm high lip all around it. This will stop your pet tortoise from climbing out. Next, you would need to fit a 40W mini spot-lamp at one end of the pen – ideally on an overhead rail so your pet can bask under it when they want to. You should use an 18” full spectrum fluorescent tube which will supply a really natural daylight-type background light to your hospital pen.

You also need to fit a small tubular heater to the side wall of one of the walls in order to provide warmth at night. These little heaters can be purchased from good pet shops or from specialist online tortoise equipment suppliers. The base of the heater unit needs to be fitted with vinyl tiles which it makes easier to keep it clean and to sterilise the heater when needed.

Taking Care of Your Sick Tortoise

There are two main concerns when dealing with a sickly tortoise, the first being to make sure the illness has been correctly diagnosed and therefore the right treatment and medicines are given to your tortoise. The second is to make absolutely sure the tortoise's metabolic functions remain normal in order to speed up the recovery process. Your vet and veterinary nurse will be able to advise you about this and if you have any concerns or doubts, you should not hesitate in taking your sick tortoise to see them.


Many tortoise owners have to deal with acutely dehydrated tortoises on a regular basis which is why it is so essential to keep a watchful eye out and be able to recognise the symptoms, the metabolic implications and the sort of therapy that's needed in order to help a dehydrated tortoise make a quick and full recovery.

Symptoms of Dehydration to Watch Out For

  • Your tortoise will be underweight
  • Sunken eyes – in severe cases the centre of the cornea can be depressed
  • Muscular tissue will be slack
  • The skin is often dry and powdery on the surface
  • Oral discharge that's quite smelly – putrid in acute cases

How to Deal With Dehydration

When tortoises become dehydrated it can damage their renal function quite dramatically and if this is the case, then you need to seek veterinary advice as soon as you can. The proper treatment needs to be administered so the tortoise is rehydrated quickly and effectively.

Your vet may advise force-feeding your pet, especially if the dehydration has ultimately led to anorexia, sight damage or in any instances when the sickly tortoise will not or cannot feed itself. Luckily, tortoises are pretty easy to force-feed as they don't find it as distressing as other animals do. This makes the procedure pretty easy with little risk of causing injury to the animal or yourself. There are three ways of force-feeding your tortoises which are listed below:

  • Hand-feeding
  • Syringe-feeding
  • Stomach-tube Feeding

When it comes to hand-feeding this generally entails encouraging your tortoise to feed as they would normally. Syringe-feeding on the other hand, sees owners having to gently syringe selected food down the tortoise's throat. Lastly stomach-tube feeding is when semi-fluid food is gently introduced directly into the animal's digestive system. This is done by way of a tube which is passed down the tortoise's throat. It is however, a procedure that needs to be done either by a qualified vet or veterinary nurse and should not be done by anyone who doesn't know how because if you get it wrong, you can seriously injure your pet.

How to Hand Feed Your Tortoise

If your tortoise's condition is not severe, then hand-feeding is the ideal way to make sure they are eating something. All you have to do is encourage your sick or dehydrated tortoise to take food and you do this by gently opening their mouths and placing the chosen food inside. To open your tortoise's mouth you need to be firm yet very gentle and grasp your pet just behind the ear-flaps and jaw with your thumb and second finger and gently force down the lower jaw with your other thumb and first finger. If you are unsure on how to do this, ask your vet or veterinary nurse to show you how.

How to Syringe Feed Your Tortoise

Ask your vet for a 5 or 10ml syringe or you may be able to buy one at the chemist or pet store. Ideally, you should try to combine hand-feeding with syringe-feeding to encourage the sick tortoise to eat on its own. The same technique as describe above should be used to open your tortoise's mouth and only small amounts of food should be given in each syringe, ensuring your pet takes a little at a time, swallowing the food naturally.

Stomach-feeding Your Tortoise

This is a much more difficult way of having to feed any animal, including a tortoise and is much better left to the experts. Vets and veterinary nurses are able to do this without injuring an animal's trachea which can lead to all sorts of secondary infections and health problems.

If you have any doubts as to the condition and are concerned about the weight of your pet tortoise, you must seek veterinary advice straight away. The earlier the tortoise is treated the quicker it will recover which is crucial to the animal's well being.



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