Why is My Tortoise Not Eating: 12 Possible Reasons and What to Do

Walking tortoise in wild

Why is My Tortoise Not Eating: 12 Possible Reasons and What to Do – To stay healthy, tortoises are supposed to eat regularly. By regularly here doesn’t mean they have to eat daily. There are some days that are known as starving days when they don’t eat. This is because they have a slow metabolism, and starving days give their digestive system to work correctly. Overfeeding will disrupt their natural digestive system and make them feel uncomfortable. 

The starving days period may vary, but usually, it takes two days per week. Therefore, if your pet tortoise refuses to eat for more than two days, it can indicate other problems to which you may need to pay attention. Some of the causes are not dangerous, but some can be fatal. So what can you do to prevent that?

Possible Reasons Why Tortoise Not Eating

Why is My Tortoise Not Eating: 12 Possible Reasons and What to Do – There are plenty of reasons why your tortoise refuses to eat or lacks appetite. The following are the 12 most common reasons that make your tortoise experience an appetite problem. 

1. Having Mouth Rot Problem

Tortoise Mouth Rot Problem

One of the most common causes of a tortoise’s lack of appetite is when they experience a condition called stomatitis or mouth rot. A bacterial infection can cause this condition through an open wound in the mouth. It can affect the tortoise worse when its immune system weakens. Some stomatitis symptoms include a swollen mouth, dead tissue in the mouth, and white discharge around the mouth.

2. Post-Brumation Adjustment

Post-Brumation Adjustment

Tortoises periodically go on a brumation period, usually during the colder month, to deal with the colder weather and preserve energy. Before the brumation period, they typically become less active as they prepare themselves for hibernation. The same goes after the brumation period, where they are still disorientated and try to readjust to the current state. Brumation also makes their body dehydrated, so in this state, they usually focus on rehydrating themselves before eating some food. 

3. Intestinal Blockage

Tortoise Intestinal Blockage

Sometimes, tortoises lose their appetite because they experience an intestinal blockage holding the food waste from moving through the guts. This problem occurs when they have a terrible diet with insufficient fiber, need to be hydrated enough, or even swallow strange objects such as little stones. It can cause discomfort and may lead to a more serious medical condition. Some symptoms of intestinal blockage include lethargy, no defecating, respiratory issues, and low appetite. 

4. Egg Retention

Tortoise laying egg

In the postovulatory state, female tortoises can experience something called dystocia, a condition when the egg is stuck and unable to be laid. This condition leads female tortoises to feel uncomfortable and focus on trying to lay their eggs, making them ignore other activities, including feeding. Several factors are causing this problem, including the egg being too big or coming out in an odd shape, insufficient humidity, or lack of calcium. They are likely going to eat food after the problem is solved. 

5. Stress

Like humans and other animals, they may refuse to eat when tortoises get stressed. They will try to hide and not do any activity. This can be dangerous and lead to death if the tortoises starve themselves for too long. Stress can be caused by several factors, including an unsuitable environment, moving to a new place, other animals, or being handled too often. Adjust the environment as soon as possible to suit their needs better to help them adapt to the environment better. 

6. The Temperature is Too Cold

Old Tortoise 2

Tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles making them depend on the external source of heat to warm themselves. When their enclosure lacks a basking area, their body temperature may drop to the point they start to enter a brumation phase to save energy. They will become less active at this point and refuse to eat. Ensure they have enough basking area and set a more suitable temperature. 

7. Constipation

Big Tortoise

Since tortoises have a low metabolism, they need more time to digest their food. When they keep eating when they shouldn’t, they will have too much food waste in their system, making them uncomfortable. Even worse, it can lead to constipation, making them unable to defecate. At this point, they will only eat once they get some of the waste out of their system. 

8. Respiratory Infection

Old Tortoise

Respiratory infection is a common problem experienced by tortoises. Some factors causing this problem include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. These factors can grow and attack the tortoise when the enclosure is unclean, too humid, or too cold. Some symptoms include nasal discharge, swollen eyes, heavy breathing, sneezing, and lack of appetite. 

9. Worm Infection

Shell Cleaning

Worms are parasites that suck and steal nutrients from the tortoises. When tortoises get infected by worms, they will be lethargic, weak, and refuse to eat. This can be dangerous to the tortoise’s well-being. Since the parasites are very small, it is almost impossible to be recognized by human eyes. Therefore, you need to take the tortoise to the vet to get checked in a lab. 


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10. Endure an Injury

Injured Black Tortoise

When tortoises endure pain, it will make them uninterested in food, especially when the injury occurs in their mouth or digestive system. It may make them refuse to eat because the feeding process is painful. It would be best if you took your tortoise as soon as possible so it can get proper treatment for its injuries and recover. 

11. Dying

Dying Problem

Tortoises can live for a long time, up to 100 years. However, even young tortoises are not immune to death. Lack of appetite can signify that your tortoise has reached their end of life or endured some complication leading them to death. You cannot do much to help them but hope they will rest in peace. 

12. Picky Eater

Eating brown tortoise

Even though some reasons for tortoises’ lack of appetite are pretty dangerous, some are relatively simple and not so dangerous. Some tortoises can be picky eaters making them refuse to eat food other than the ones they favor. You can test them by giving them a variety of food to see which one they prefer. But keep in mind to provide them with a balanced diet, so they get all the nutrients they need. 

Tips to Increase Tortoise Appetite

Baby tortoise eat vegetable

If a medical condition causes their lack of appetite, the right thing to do is take them to the vet for proper treatment. But if they lose appetite without severe conditions, you can follow some tips below to increase their appetite.

  1. Give them time to adjust and readapt if they wake up from their brumation period. The period may vary for each tortoise, but it can take up to two weeks until they reach their normal state and do their activity normally. 
  2. Adjust the temperature of their enclosure to suit their needs. The suitable temperatures are also different for each type of tortoise. Consult a professional to get the best temperature setting for your pet. 
  3. Help them rehydrate by soaking them in a warm water bath. Hydration is essential for tortoises, and lack of hydration may lead them to some digestion problems that make them refuse to eat. Besides drinking water, they can also hydrate by taking a bath so that you can provide them with bath water. 
  4. Offer fresh and more varied food. Your tortoise might be getting bored with the food variation you provide. Therefore, keeping the menu diverse and new can help keep their interest. 
  5. Give them their favorite food. This especially works for tortoises who are picky eaters. But remember that you might need more than just offering them one type of food for their needs, so you still need to provide them with different food. But if they still refuse to eat, you may need to consider adding supplements to their diets. 
  6. Ensure they get a proper and balanced diet with enough fiber and hydration. As we’ve mentioned, fiber and hydration are key for a tortoise’s digestion condition, so no matter how picky they are, these two factors should be noticed in their meals. 

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What does it mean when your tortoise doesn’t eat?

Why is My Tortoise Not Eating: 12 Possible Reasons and What to Do – When tortoises don’t eat, it doesn’t always mean they are dying. There are several reasons and causes, as we’ve mentioned above. In several cases, you can wait until they adapt to the environment. However, you may need to take your tortoise to get medical help as soon as possible to ensure they don’t endure more severe problems. 

How long can a tortoise go without eating?

The range of tortoises not eating varies and has an extensive range from several months to years. It depends on the tortoise’s condition, size, age, environment, etc. However, young tortoises in their growth period need more food and may feed more regularly compared to their older pals. 

How do I get my tortoise to eat?

It depends on the root cause that makes them refuse to eat in the first place. If they don’t eat because they are adjusting to the environment or after their brumation period, you can wait until they get better. But if it is because of a medical condition, you must take care of the problems first. However, if your tortoise is a picky eater, you can provide them with various food, mainly the ones they love. 

What to do if a tortoise stops eating?

The first thing you can do is to check their activity. If they just woke up, they usually are less active and may seem uninterested in food. They will need time to adjust if they leave their brumation period. You can also check their physical condition to see if there are any injuries or infections so you can take the right next steps. 

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