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what causes tortoise prolapse?

Can A Tortoise Live with A Prolapse?

Last Updated on October 7, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Prolapse occurs when a tortoise strains so hard that one of its internal organs (intestine, cloaca, colon, hemipenis, phallus, uterus, or bladder) slides out of its vent.

It’s usually a secondary complication, so the existing health problem must be resolved before the tortoise can recover from the physical and mental trauma.

Tortoises need veterinary care to return their internal organs to the inside of their body. The tortoise is in danger of ripping, dragging, cutting, or damaging the exposed organ.

The longer the tissue remains exposed, the more likely a tortoise will develop an infection and experience necrosis (tissue death).

A herp vet will diagnose what caused the prolapse and what organs have slid free before cleaning, repositioning, and putting the internal organs in place.

What Causes Tortoise Prolapse?

Anything that puts excessive pressure on certain internal organs is a risk factor for prolapse in tortoises. A prolapse looks like the tortoise’s insides are coming out.

There are several types of prolapse in tortoises:

  • Colon prolapse.
  • Oviduct prolapse.
  • Urinary bladder prolapse.
  • Copulatory organ prolapse.

Prolapse can occur due to any of the following:

Infections And Disease

An infection may cause your tortoise’s internal organs to become inflamed.

Depending on the type of infection and its location, it may also weaken the muscle structure around the organs. A combination of the two may lead to the tortoise appearing to poop out its insides.

This can be due to diarrhea, intestinal parasites, bladder stones, cystitis, or hypocalcemia.

Internal Injuries

If a tortoise has a bad fall, is attacked, or gets into a fight with another tortoise, it may be injured internally. Also, getting butted or flipped over by another tortoise can sometimes lead to prolapse.

Eating Non-Food Items

Tortoises can unintentionally eat stones, gravel, pebbles, and other inedible items.

Unfortunately, these can get caught or build up within the digestive tract. As the tortoise tries and fails to pass them, they may eventually be pooped out, taking the tortoise’s internal organs with them.

Copulation Ended Prematurely

If a tortoise is separated forcefully during copulation, it can lead to copulatory organ prolapse.

Male tortoises have a hook at the end of their penis, which attaches to the inside of the female. If the mating process can naturally conclude, it’ll unhook, and the two can separate harmlessly.

If the breeding tortoises are forcefully pulled apart, this can pull out their sex organs.

Egg Binding (Dystocia)

An egg getting stuck in the reproductive tract can cause oviduct prolapse. A radiograph examination will be required to identify eggs in the coelomic cavity.

Egg binding is an unavoidable cause and can happen to any female tortoise, captive or wild.

Signs of Tortoise Prolapse

Prolapse in tortoises has the following signs and symptoms:

Protruding Guts

The main sign will be an internal organ protruding from the vent (butt). It usually looks like a pink or red mass due to inflammation.

However, not all organs pushed out of a tortoise’s body are exposed by prolapse.

Some male tortoises deliberately push out their penises for display when bored. Male tortoises have large, dark-pink sex organs, accounting for up to half their length.

However, a penis pushed out for display should retract automatically after a while. If it’s a prolapsed penis, it’ll be red and swollen, and your tortoise can’t retract it.


A tortoise straining to go to the toilet is a sign of prolapse, so check its vent for prolapse if you see your tortoise pulling its head into its shell during an attempted bowel movement.

No Fecal Matter

Tortoises usually poop every 2-3 days. Prolapse is painful and complicates the digestive process, which means a tortoise prolapsing will experience difficulty pooping.

Dehydration And Inappetence

Your tortoise will display symptoms of dehydration and lack of appetite (anorexia) during prolapse.

This is a response to the feelings of extreme sickness the tortoise experiences, and it’ll mean that its inners are too cramped and poorly rearranged to eat or drink properly.

how to treat a tortoise prolapse

Will Prolapse Go Away On Its Own?

If one of the tortoise’s sex organs has prolapsed, it should return inside within a few minutes. However, internal organs won’t retract on their own.

According to the Indian Journal of Veterinary Surgery, internal tissues rot during prolapse. The longer a tortoise’s internal organs are exposed, the more likely infection and tissue death (necrosis) become. So, a prolapsed tortoise should be seen by a vet without delay.

What To Do If Your Tortoise Has a Prolapse

If prolapse doesn’t resolve itself, you should book a vet appointment.

Most prolapse cases require reducing swelling, removing the damaged tissue, and repositioning the internal organs.

The vent opening may need to be sutured to reduce the chances of recurrent prolapse.


If your tortoise has a prolapse, separate it from other tortoises (if applicable). Never keep a prolapsed tortoise with other animals. Instead, place it in an isolated area.

This will prevent further damage to the organs and tissues. Other tortoises might bite the prolapse if they see the swelling and coloration, so quarantining it will prevent injuries. This will also make it much easier for you to clean the prolapse site.

Ensure the isolated area contains nothing that could scratch or puncture the prolapse. Line the tortoise’s temporary home with a soft blanket to prevent irritation and further damage.

Clean The Prolapsed Area

Flush the prolapse with clean, cool water to remove bacteria and reduce swelling. Once the prolapse is clean, allow it to air dry, as manipulation of the area could cause further swelling and edema.

Reduce Swelling And Edema

Minimize any swelling using concentrated sugar, like honey or granulated sugar. Leave it on the prolapse for 30 minutes before rinsing it with cool water.

You can lubricate the prolapsed area to make it feel more comfortable. Eventually, a vet will cover the affected area with gauze to keep it clean and sanitary.

Your vet may recommend topical medication to help the prolapse retract.

How To Treat A Tortoise Prolapse

Cover the area with a sugary substance such as honey to reduce swelling and edema. It should be covered with a clean, damp cloth to make the tortoise feel more comfortable during transportation.

The vet will return the tortoise’s organs to the correct position. Surgical removal of damaged tissue is sometimes required, especially if the tortoise has been injured.

After diagnosis, the vet may use the following surgical procedure:

  1. Administer pain medication and sedate the tortoise.
  2. Clean and lubricate the prolapsed area to reduce any swelling.
  3. Clean and take out any necrosed (rotted) tissue.
  4. Reposition the protruding organs in the correct position.
  5. Use a transverse cloacal suture on the vent to reduce the chances of prolapse from reoccurring.
  6. Administer a course of antibiotics for accelerated healing.

If your vet suspects impaction or egg binding (dystocia), they’ll take an X-ray.

A vet may ask you to leave the tortoise at the clinic for further observation. If there are no other complications with the treatment process, your tortoise will fully recover.