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tortoise impaction

Can A Tortoise Get Constipated? (My Tortoise Isn’t Pooping)

Last Updated on October 5, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Tortoises can get constipated. Tortoises that can’t poop will become lethargic and disinterested in food, appearing distressed and uncomfortable.

They 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 soaks in a tub or vet-administered laxatives or enemas can cure constipation.

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 on average.

Depending on what they eat and how regularly, tortoises may poop more or 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 a tortoise has stopped pooping, it’s likely due to constipation, which can be due to:

Dehydration

According to the Tortoise Library, many tortoises are dehydrated. Not only can this cause constipation, but it’s also responsible for bladder stones, digestive issues, and premature death.

The signs of dehydration in tortoises include:

  • Lethargy.
  • Dry, flaky skin.
  • Weight loss.
  • Sunken eyes.
  • Pyramiding shell.
  • Thick mouth mucus.

If a 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.

Without water in their system, tortoises can’t defecate.

how long can a tortoise go without pooping?

Intestinal Parasites

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 parasites in the tortoise’s poop, but over time, they’ll affect the gut’s function.

When severe, it can block the lumen in an intestinal segment. This prevents a tortoise from being able to pass feces. The symptoms of intestinal parasites include:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Diarrhea (before or after constipation).
  • Gurgling sounds.
  • Anemia.
  • Lethargy.
  • Depression.

A vet can take a stool sample, but this isn’t a simple process with constipated tortoises.

Foreign Objects

Tortoises often ingest foreign objects, blocking the gastrointestinal tract and causing constipation. Every day foreign objects include:

According to Research Gate, a box tortoise failed to defecate because it had ingested sand and gravel from its enclosure, which is standard behavior for captive tortoises.

Bladder Stones

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, which 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, a tortoise won’t be able to pass waste.

Egg Binding

Egg binding (dystocia) is a condition where complications leave female tortoises unable to lay eggs. The eggs come out through the cloaca, where 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 the problem is rectified.

Poor Quality Diet

Tortoises that overeat fruit or dried food, even when soaked in water, are most at risk of constipation. They need foods high in fiber and calcium while low in protein, sugar, and fat.

Replicate the tortoise’s wild diet to keep its bowel movements healthy and regular. Provide the tortoise with food it would naturally eat, like grasses, plants, flowers, bugs, and roots.

How To Tell if a Tortoise Is Constipated

There are several signs that a tortoise is constipated, including:

Reduced Appetite

If a tortoise is constipated, it’s likely to reduce the amount it eats or stop eating entirely.

Some owners believe their tortoise is constipated when 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 a tortoise is constipated.

Lethargy

Constipation could be the reason for the tortoise’s slowness and sluggishness.

The 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.

Stress

When tortoises experience stress, their digestive system slows down. Tortoises are usually calm animals, so you’ll know when they’re stressed. The symptoms of stress include:

Monitor the tortoise’s mood and demeanor.

Straining

If a tortoise strains to poop but nothing comes out, it’s likely due to constipation or fecal impaction. As well as straining, a 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 it out. You should suspect fecal impaction if the tortoise doesn’t defecate after several 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 food’s normal passage.

Impaction is more severe than constipation as the mass presses on the nerves, organs, and blood vessels, causing pain. The tortoise will eventually enter clinical shock, which can be 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 allowing the skin around the cloaca to absorb water, rehydrating the tortoise.

To create a soaking bath, you need to:

  1. Place the tortoise in an escape-proof tub or sink with enough room to move around.
  2. Fill the tub or sink with warm water until it reaches halfway up the shell.
  3. Add electrolytes for the tortoise to absorb.
  4. Allow the tortoise to soak for 20-30 minutes.

You may find the tortoise urinates and defecates in the water. This is a good sign because it shows the bath’s working. Remove poop and drain/replace the water.

To prevent constipation, leave a shallow dish of water big enough for th tortoise to sit in and place it in its enclosure. Some tortoises enjoy soaking and will rehydrate themselves this way.

how to tell if a tortoise is constipated

Improve Diet

Along with water, tortoises need weeds and plants to survive. If they become dehydrated, provide them with lettuce, cucumber, watermelon, and cacti.

Natural Laxatives

Bananas and pumpkins act as natural laxatives for tortoises, softening the stool and enabling it to pass through the gut. They’re high in soluble fiber, which is easier for tortoises to digest.

Raise the Temperature

Cold temperatures adversely affect a tortoise’s digestive system.

The temperature under the 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 the 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 the tortoise warm.

Never ignore the symptoms of constipation in tortoises because it can be life-threatening. While tortoises don’t poop every day, there’s likely something wrong if they don’t poop after 4 days.