How to Know If Your Tortoise Is Sick, According to 2 Veterinarians

POPSUGAR Photography / Ashley Broadwater

My partner and I have a red-footed tortoise named Quasimodo (like the character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, of course!) as a pet, and we love her. While we also love more typical pets, like cats and dogs, I’m allergic to both, unfortunately. However, having a tortoise as a pet is great in that they’re calm, sweet, and low-maintenance. But since Quasi is so small and I don’t know much about tortoises personally, I began to worry: how do I know if Quasi is sick? So much sickness is going around right now in people, and I’d hate for our tortoise to get sick, too. To understand all the important information we need to know about sick tortoises, POPSUGAR spoke with two veterinarians for their expert advice.

What Are the Signs My Pet Tortoise Could Be Sick?

When tortoises are sick, they can exhibit a variety of symptoms, similar to the ones people do. Try to not worry too much, though ー you probably know your tortoise better than you think. “It is important to remember that most observant reptile owners know their pet’s normal behavior very well. Small deviations from normal behavior could mean they are not feeling well,” said La’Toya Latney, DVM, a reptile and zoo animal veterinary specialist at The Animal Medical Center and an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “General signs of illness include the presence of ocular and/or nasal discharge, closed and swollen eyelids, increased breathing effort, open mouth breathing, decreased activity level, excessive sleeping, decreased appetite, and a decreased interest in interacting with their environment,” she said.

Also, remember that sickness isn’t the only reason your tortoise may change their behavior. “If you notice any change in behavior or eating habits, [or] if the feces look unusual, remember to check your tortoise for mites or any shell trauma,” said Vernard Hodges, DVM, a veterinarian at Critter Fixer Veterinary Hospital from the Disney+ show Critter Fixers: Country Vets.

Do All Tortoises Show the Same Symptoms When They’re Sick?

The usual signs of illness are the same in domestic tortoises. “I would say that in general, signs of illness in several species are similar, but their normal behaviors can vary based on species,” Dr. Latney told POPSUGAR.

Dr. Hodges added that different species can contract different illnesses. “Gopher tortoises are more prone to upper respiratory disease, and Testudo tortoises tend to carry herpes virus more than other species. Oftentimes knowing the husbandry of your tortoise is important. Introducing different species can result in one or both animals getting sick,” he told POPSUGAR.

At what point should I bring my tortoise to the vet?

While taking your pet to the vet when they’re sick is important, so are regular checkups. “We recommend bringing in pet tortoises for wellness exams at least once a year. We can screen your pet for disease and guide husbandry practices based on your tortoise’s species-specific needs,” Dr. Latney said. “If you have a pet tortoise that has any of the signs listed above, we recommend that you take your pet to a reptile veterinarian soon.”

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