Last Updated on October 6, 2023 by Samantha Harris
Tortoises rarely go to the toilet and are largely unfussy about where they go. Their feces are left in plain sight, often in the same place the tortoise sleeps, eats, or bathes.
Training a tortoise to pee and poop in a litter box won’t be easy. Tortoises don’t respond to potty training to please an owner like other pets, so they must believe it’s in their best interests.
Start by learning the tortoise’s toilet habits. Likely, a tortoise will only poop every 2-3 days, so observe until you notice a routine. A tortoise may also display certain behaviors before releasing waste.
Assign the spot you want the tortoise to use as a toilet and place a flat, brightly-colored object in this position. Tempt it with some food, and encourage it to stay in place until it has finished pooping.
Alternatively, if a tortoise prefers to go to the toilet in water, learn when it’ll likely need to poop. Then, let it soak in warm water. Keep the tortoise in position until it has finished, and dispose of the dirty water.
A tortoise will eventually gravitate to a litter box position if you maintain consistent training. Unfortunately, it can take weeks or months to get the desired results.
How Often Do Tortoises Go to the Toilet?
Tortoises don’t do anything in a hurry, including emptying their bowels.
As tortoises have a slow digestive process, most will only poop once every 2 or 3 days. Something may be wrong if your tortoise is suddenly pooping with greater or lesser frequency.
When a tortoise releases fecal waste, it urinates at the same time.
Tortoise feces are usually dark brown or green but contain a thick, sludgy white substance with a consistency comparable to toothpaste. This is tortoise urine.
To be more specific, these are urates. As tortoises are ectotherms, they don’t consume water and expel it almost immediately. Instead, water is stored in the body, where it’s crystalized by uric acid.
When a tortoise poops, the crystals are flushed from the body by the kidneys and passed as urates.
If needed, the remaining water remains in the tortoise’s body until the tortoise finds drinking water or gains moisture from food.
Where Do Tortoises Poop and Pee?
Tortoises are creatures of habit with a preferred location for passing waste. This will come in handy when litter box training a tortoise, but they can be stubborn.
Many tortoises poop in their burrow or sleeping area.
This is partly an attempt to deter predators, as the tortoise is making itself undesirable to approach while it’s most vulnerable. Equally, feces and urine can add humidity to a burrow.
Tortoises rarely actively bury their poop in a substrate, so it’s usually easy to find. Tortoises don’t usually mind being surrounded by their waste, so they may consume their feces to gain more nutrients.
Some tortoises are an exception to this rule, preferring only to relieve themselves in water. This could be a pool of bathing water or drinking water.
Submerging the body in warm water relaxes the bowels and makes it easier to pass waste. This maintains a regular, reliable digestive routine and doesn’t become constipated.
If a tortoise prefers to poop in water, encourage the behavior rather than attempting to deter it.
This will make getting your pet into a bathroom schedule in a particular location much easier, and you can immediately change a water supply.
Does Tortoise Waste Smell Bad?
While the definition of a foul smell depends on the sensitivity of your nose, the consensus among reptile enthusiasts is that tortoise poop smells distinctive but not necessarily bad.
Like any animal, the longer the waste is allowed to linger without cleaning, the worse it will smell. Some owners use tortoise poop as fertilizer in the garden.
Be particularly vigilant if you keep a tortoise indoors or use artificial heating resources. If you fail to notice a tortoise emptied its bowels, it may produce a pungent stench after a few days.
Is Tortoise Waste Toxic?
Microorganisms warn that most reptiles carry salmonella bacteria in their intestinal tract. While this bacteria won’t harm a tortoise, it’ll be shed in feces and can cause toxicity in humans.
Always wear gloves while handling tortoise poop, and keep it far away from the face. People with respiratory issues, compromised immunity, or diabetes are most at risk.
Take the same precautions when replacing any soiled water. Don’t pour a tortoise’s soiled water down a household sink or bathtub – flush it down the toilet.
Be mindful of running a high fever, stomach cramps, or diarrhea after handling tortoise feces, as these symptoms suggest a case of salmonella poisoning.
Can You Potty Train a Tortoise?
A tortoise can be potty trained and convinced to relieve itself in a particular spot, but the process won’t be easy. Tortoises can learn new tricks, but you’ll need patience and consistency.
The key to potty training a tortoise is making it worthwhile for your pet.
A tortoise won’t seek to impress or please an owner. For this reason, it won’t change its toilet habits, but it’ll be happy to work for a snack reward.
You’ll also be unable to convince a tortoise to do anything outside its nature.
We’ve explained how a tortoise likes to feel safe when defecating and will usually only relieve itself once every few days, so don’t expect a drastic change in its toilet habits.
How Do You Potty Train a Tortoise?
Specific steps must be followed if you’re keen to litter train a tortoise. These must be regularly repeated until your pet tortoise finds potty training second nature.
Learn The Tortoise’s Routine
Before you start potty training a tortoise, spend time studying your pet and its habits.
You’ll need to determine when the tortoise likes to empty its bowels, its preferred spot, and how it behaves when this activity is impending.
Most tortoises have a routine for pooping, usually revolving around hydration or mealtimes. This will become increasingly clear if you spend a week watching your pet tortoise.
Perhaps the tortoise poops every third day before eating breakfast or dinner, maybe it only relieves itself when taking a bath, or perhaps it waits until it’s allowed to wander free in the yard.
While learning a tortoise’s habits surrounding the release of poop, you’ll also notice how the tortoise acts when it needs to use the bathroom.
Your pet will likely become more active than usual, scurrying around and seeking the ideal spot.
Designate A Toilet Spot
Once you know where and when your tortoise likes to poop, you can set a designated potty spot and start the training process. This should not be too far from where your pet likes to relieve itself – remember that tortoises don’t move at speed.
Have a spot ready for when a tortoise will relieve itself and lay something down on this location.
Use a plate or a similarly flat surface. Tortoises find it easier to see and distinguish bright colors, so look for something in red, yellow, orange, or an equally vibrant shade.
Use a plate because tortoises struggle to climb in and out of a litter box, even one with low sides.
Equally, as tortoises don’t bury their waste, there’s no need to line a toilet spot with litter. If you’re wondering, “Can I use cat litter for my tortoise?” the answer is no because it’s unnecessary.
Some tortoises find themselves drawn to a pet cat’s litter box as they are intrigued by the scent of the waste within, wondering if it will provide nourishment.
Ingesting cat litter can cause intestinal blockages, so keep this product away from tortoises.
Lure The Tortoise
Don’t expect a tortoise to gravitate to the spot you have assigned for elimination. It’ll likely ignore this location initially, and you can’t force a tortoise to change its habits by pointing or issuing commands.
Allow the tortoise to retain its habits, but encourage it to approach its makeshift potty. Don’t immediately pick up your tortoise and carry it because this will cause stress and confusion.
Place a snack or something equally tempting on this spot when the tortoise usually relieves itself. If it only poops in the water, offer the chance to take a soak when expecting an elimination.
If you are patient, you will eventually find that your tortoise gravitates to this location to poop.
Eventually, you can cease with the lure and rewards. The tortoise won’t need much encouragement to abandon training and return to its old routines.
Attempting to potty train a tortoise isn’t a task for the impatient, but your efforts will be rewarded if you’re determined enough to see things through.
It’ll be much easier to clean up after a tortoise if you know exactly where it went to the toilet.