Tortoises don’t poop as much as other animals but can become constipated. Tortoises that can’t poop will become lethargic and disinterested in food, appearing stressed and uncomfortable.
Tortoises develop hard stools due to dehydration, diet, intestinal parasites, egg binding, bladder stones, abscesses, and foreign objects (substrate, grass, and dog hair). Chin-deep warm water soaks in a tub or vet-administered laxatives or enemas can ease constipation and avoid impaction.
Fecal impaction is where the gastrointestinal tract becomes blocked by something that can’t be digested, preventing food from passing through the gut and feces from exiting the cloaca.
How Long Can a Tortoise Go Without Pooping?
Healthy tortoises poop every 2-3 days.
Depending on what they consume and how regularly, tortoises may go to the toilet less frequently. This is less than other animals, so some owners worry that their tortoises are sick or have digestive problems.
Tortoise poop is brown or dark green, depending on their diet. This may be accompanied by white urates from the kidneys, a by-product of protein found in the urine stored and released from the bladder.
Why Is My Tortoise Straining to Poop?
If your tortoise has stopped pooping, it’s likely due to constipation, which can be due to:
The signs of dehydration in tortoises include:
- Dry, flaky skin
- Weight loss
- Sunken eyes
- Pyramiding shell
- Thick mouth mucus
If your tortoise can pass a small amount of poop while dehydrated, it’ll appear lumpy or grainy, which indicates a lack of water. The more dehydrated the tortoise gets, the dryer the poop will become.
Without water, your tortoise won’t be able to defecate.
Tortoises are susceptible to parasitic infections. According to the Journal of Parasitology Research, researchers found seven species of internal parasites infecting 123 tortoises. At first, you’ll notice them in your tortoise’s poop, but over time, they’ll affect the gut’s function, causing constipation.
When the infestation’s severe, it can block the lumen (cavity or channel within a tube) of an intestinal segment. This is what prevents a tortoise from being able to pass feces.
The symptoms of intestinal parasites include:
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea (before or after constipation)
- General sickness
Your vet can take a stool sample, but this isn’t a simple process with constipated tortoises.
Tortoises often ingest foreign objects, blocking the gastrointestinal tract and causing constipation. Common foreign objects include:
- Dog hair
- Absorbent substrate
- Small stones or pebbles
According to a journal on Research Gate, a box tortoise failed to defecate because it had ingested sand and gravel from its vivarium, which is common behavior for captive tortoises.
Veterinary Information Network stated that one of the most common causes of constipation in reptiles is a solid urate mass in the cloaca, causing colon and cloacal obstruction.
In tortoises, urine is produced as a semi-solid uric acid salt (urates). Urates appear as the white or whitish-yellow portion of the feces. Bladder stones occur when minerals form crystals in the urine, which stick together to form stones.
Tortoises don’t have a separate opening for urates and feces to pass through. They have a cloaca called the vent, located on the underside of the tail. It receives urates from the kidneys and feces from the colon, exiting the body through the cloacal opening.
Bladder stones block feces coming out of the cloaca, causing constipation. Until removed surgically by a vet, your tortoise won’t be able to go to the toilet properly, becoming a life-threatening problem.
Egg binding (dystocia) is a condition where complications leave female tortoises unable to lay eggs. The eggs come out through the cloaca, the same place feces and urine exit.
Dystocia happens when the eggs are too large to pass through the pelvic canal. If the housing, substrate, and temperature are unsuitable for a female to lay her eggs, she won’t be able to until her owner rectifies the problem.
Poor Quality Diet
Tortoises that eat too much fruit or dried food, even if it’s soaked in water, are most at risk of constipation. Tortoises need foods high in fiber and calcium while low in protein and fat.
Replicate your tortoise’s wild diet to keep its bowel movements healthy and regular. Provide the tortoise with food it would naturally eat, such as grasses, plants, flowers, bugs, and roots.
How To Tell if a Tortoise Is Constipated
There are several signs that a tortoise is constipated, including:
If your tortoise is constipated, it’s likely to reduce the amount it eats or stop eating altogether.
However, some owners believe their tortoise is constipated when it’s not eaten for a few days. With no food in its system, it has nothing to excrete.
Tortoises stop eating for several reasons, including:
Rule out other health conditions before concluding that your tortoise’s constipated.
Constipation could be the reason for your tortoise’s slowness and sluggishness.
Your tortoise will appear tired and lethargic and stop moving as much as it once did. Also, it’ll sleep more often because it has no energy.
Lethargy can be a by-product of intestinal parasites, another cause of constipation.
Tortoises are usually calm and peaceful animals, so you’ll know when they’re stressed.
Symptoms of stress include:
- Hiding inside the shell
- Loss of appetite
Monitor your tortoise’s mood and demeanor.
If your tortoise strains to poop but nothing comes out, it’s likely due to constipation or fecal impaction. As well as straining, your tortoise may grunt or vocalize as it attempts to poop.
Is My Tortoise Impacted?
A fecal impaction is where a hard stool mass gets so stuck in the alimentary canal that the tortoise can’t push out. You should suspect fecal impaction if your tortoise doesn’t defecate after a few days.
Fecal impaction mostly happens when tortoises consume something they can’t digest, like small rocks and sand. The debris accumulates, causing a blockage.
Not only does it stop feces from exiting the body, but it prevents the normal passage of food.
Impaction is more serious than constipation as the mass presses on the nerves, organs, and blood vessels, causing pain. The tortoise will eventually go into clinical shock, which is fatal.
How Can I Help My Tortoise Poop?
There are things you can do to encourage healthy bowel movements, including:
Warm Water Soak
A warm water soak is an effective natural tortoise constipation treatment. It allows tortoises to drink water freely while giving the cloaca a chance to absorb water, rehydrating your tortoise.
To create a soaking bath, you need to:
- Place your tortoise in an escape-proof tub or sink that’s big enough for it to move around.
- Fill the tub or sink with warm water until it reaches halfway up the shell.
- Add electrolytes for your tortoise to absorb.
- Allow your tortoise to soak for 20-30 minutes.
You may find that your tortoise urinates and defecates in the water. This is a good sign because it shows the bath’s working. However, you should remove any poop and drain/replace the water.
To prevent constipation, leave a shallow dish of water big enough for your tortoise to sit in and place it in its enclosure. Some tortoises enjoy soaking and will naturally rehydrate themselves this way.
Along with water, tortoises need weeds and plants to survive. If they become dehydrated, provide them with lettuce, cucumber, watermelon, and cacti.
Bananas and pumpkin act as a natural laxative for tortoises, as they can soften the stool and enable it to pass through the gut. They’re high in soluble fiber, which is easy for tortoises to digest.
Raise the Temperature
Cold temperatures adversely affect a tortoise’s digestive system.
The temperature under your tortoise’s heat source should be between 32-35°C (90-95°F). The colder end of the enclosure should be no lower than 20°C (68°F).
Setting up a thermal gradient across the enclosure gives your tortoise somewhere to go when it gets too cold or hot. Maintain a temperature of around 5-18°C (60-65°F) at night, keeping your tortoise warm.
Never ignore the symptoms of constipation in tortoises, as it can be life-threatening. While tortoises don’t poop every day, there’s likely something wrong if they don’t poop after 3 days.