Home » How Do I Know If My Tortoise Is Egg Bound? [5 Signs of Egg-Binding]
signs of egg binding in tortoises

How Do I Know If My Tortoise Is Egg Bound? [5 Signs of Egg-Binding]

(Last Updated On: January 27, 2023)

Gravid (pregnant) tortoises need extra care and attention because they’re often at risk of becoming egg-bound. Egg binding is a serious condition that requires immediate assistance.

The symptoms of egg binding in tortoises include feelings of restlessness and repeated attempts to dig.

However, this might be a tortoise being overly careful about its nesting place. So, check for other common symptoms such as an infected cloaca, straining, and lethargy.

An egg-bound tortoise will need an x-ray to rule out other medical causes. Also, they may inject oxytocin or perform surgery to induce egg-laying.

Can Tortoises Get Egg Bound?

Egg binding refers to any egg-laying animal unable to lay its eggs. Because tortoises lay eggs, there’s always a chance that complications could arise.

What Is Egg Binding?

Egg binding occurs when an animal is trying to lay its eggs and can’t do so.

In this case, the eggs stay inside the body, leading to complications. Egg binding is a serious condition that needs immediate attention.

It can cause irreparable damage, especially when it comes to reproduction. If a female becomes egg-bound and no immediate treatment is provided, it may not be able to lay eggs.

If egg binding is left untreated, it can be a fatal condition. Tortoises can die from:

  • Malnutrition
  • Stress
  • Infection

Retained eggs can pressure the internal organs, especially the digestive system, making it hard for an egg-bound tortoise to eat. For this reason, one of the complications of egg binding is malnutrition.

Retained eggs can break within the body, causing medical complications. Eggs can lacerate or cut internal organs, causing internal bleeding. Egg matter within the body can cause inflammation of the internal organs, eventually leading to internal infections.

Thankfully, some obvious symptoms can help you determine whether your tortoise is egg-bound or not, including:


Egg-binding and dystocia are interchangeable terms when referring to egg-laying animals. Dystocia refers to abnormal labor or difficult birth.

Egg binding is a more specific term for dystocia. Another term you can use is ovostasis, which is the scientific term for egg binding.

Post Ovulatory Follicular Stasis

Post-ovulatory follicular stasis is another term that can be used interchangeably with egg binding. However, post-ovulatory follicular stasis refers to a certain type of egg binding.

There are two types of this condition: pre-ovulatory and post-ovulatory.

Pre-ovulatory egg binding is when the follicles haven’t reached ovulation. This means that the follicles can still be reabsorbed back into the body without making the tortoise ill. However, if the follicles aren’t reabsorbed, they can still cause inflammation and infection.

Post-ovulatory egg binding is when tortoises cannot lay their fully formed eggs.

How To Know If A Tortoise Is Egg Bound

Egg binding is a serious condition that requires immediate intervention. Thankfully, it’s easy to know if a tortoise is egg-bound based on its behavior.

Signs Of Egg Binding In Tortoises

Most of the symptoms that egg-bound tortoises have, at least during the early stages of the condition, are shared by many pregnant tortoises. Being restless and repeatedly digging can merely signify anxiety in tortoises, not necessarily being egg-bound.

However, egg binding is a condition that can quickly escalate, causing malnutrition, infection, and illness. If your tortoise is exhibiting any of these symptoms, contact your vet.

how to know if a tortoise is egg bound

Egg Bound Tortoise Symptoms

Here are the symptoms that egg-bound tortoises may exhibit:


A tortoise may be egg-bound because it cannot find a place to lay its eggs. A gravid tortoise that moves more than usual may suffer from this condition.

Restlessness is among the first symptoms an egg-bound tortoise may experience. Compared to other symptoms, it’s not as concerning. The tortoise may find a suitable nest and lay its eggs.

However, once the condition worsens, restlessness may be replaced by lethargy. You’ll need to bring your tortoise to the vet if this happens.

Repeated Attempts To Dig

This symptom can be a false flag, as many gravid tortoises are selective with their nests. Some tortoises will have difficulty finding the perfect area for their babies and may attempt to dig up a nest.

Note that the lack of good nesting grounds can cause egg binding. However, not all tortoises that dig excessively are egg-bound.

If you notice your tortoise digging a lot, there might be something you can do to help. You can provide the correct substrate, check if the habitat is warm enough, and ensure it receives enough light.

However, if your tortoise continues to dig and doesn’t produce eggs, keep a close eye on other symptoms of egg-binding.

Once your tortoise’s health deteriorates, or if it shows other symptoms on this list, contact your vet.

Straining And Swollen Cloaca

Tortoises lay eggs through their cloaca. If the eggs are bound, you may notice the cloaca straining. Eventually, the cloaca will become swollen due to the pressure the eggs place on it.

Swelling may also be due to infection, and you may notice tissue coming out of the cloaca.

Infection of The Cloaca

Egg binding is dangerous because it presents a risk for infection. Infections can come from bacteria, fungi, and parasites. If your tortoise shows signs of infection, bring it to the vet immediately.

Signs to watch out for include:

  • Redness from the cloaca
  • Smelly discharge from the cloaca

Depression And Weakness

During the later stages of egg binding, your tortoise may become depressed and weak.

Attempts to lay the eggs can strain your tortoise, and complications like illness, malnutrition, and infection may cause weakness.

If your tortoise doesn’t lay its eggs and becomes weak and lethargic, take it to a vet.

Egg Binding Causes

There are many reasons why an animal can become egg-bound. Some of them include the following:

Physical Complications

Sometimes, a tortoise becomes egg-bound because it can’t lay the egg. This can be because the egg can be abnormally large, so it’s unable to go through the pelvic canal.

A more common reason is an injury to the pelvis. An injured pelvis may not be able to pass an egg. Alternatively, a tortoise may be born with a pelvis that’s unable to pass eggs due to its anatomy.

Behavioral Stress

Stress is another reason females may not lay their eggs, causing egg binding.

Some tortoises will not lay their eggs if they don’t think there is a good place for them to do so. This may be caused by the type of substrate or even the temperature.

Sometimes, an egg-bound tortoise may repeatedly build and destroy nests because it cannot find a suitable spot to lay its egg.

However, this behavior is fairly common in tortoises. Some owners may become worried that their tortoises are egg-bound just because it repeatedly builds nests.

While repeated nest building is a symptom of egg binding, other, more reliable symptoms exist.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Good owners keep a close eye on their tortoise’s diet. However, a balanced diet is even more important if your tortoise is gravid.

Due to the eggs that they’re carrying, they have less space for food, making them more susceptible to nutritional deficiencies.

A lack of nutrients can prevent a tortoise from laying its eggs. For example, The Canadian Veterinary Journal details the treatment of an egg-bound tortoise.

Treatment only consisted of changing the tortoise’s diet and giving it supplements. With the right diet, the tortoise could lay its eggs safely.


Some diseases, especially ones that affect the reproductive tract can also cause egg retention.

Sometimes, poor health can lead to an egg becoming blocked. Diseases can make organs unable to function properly, or a sick animal may be too weak to lay an egg.

How To Treat An Egg-Bound Tortoise

If you believe a tortoise is egg-bound, take it to a vet. A vet may attempt to induce labor by injecting oxytocin if the tortoise hasn’t been egg-bound for too long.

A vet may prioritize the tortoise’s health regarding egg binding in later stages. IV fluids can stave off malnutrition and dehydration. For serious cases, a vet will remove the eggs to prevent complications.