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How To Feed A Tortoise While On Vacation

Last Updated on October 9, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Although vacations are relaxing, we often worry about the welfare of our pets while away.

Tortoises require less upkeep than other animal companions. In theory, you won’t have as much to fret about when leaving a tortoise behind for 1 to 2 weeks.

However, tortoises still need to be watched over. Accidents can happen in your absence, such as a tortoise getting flipped over and unable to right itself or a malfunctioning heat lamp.

A tortoise may also get sick or be vulnerable due to running out of food and water.

Can a Tortoise Be Left Alone for A Week?

A tortoise can be left alone for a week, but it’s not recommended. Here’s why:

Runs Out of Food

Tortoises can survive for months without food because they have a slow metabolism and can derive energy from their existing food source for months.

That’s why tortoises have 2 starve days a week, as it gives them time to digest what they’ve eaten.

Even still, if it runs out of food for days, this can leave it in a weakened state. The tortoise will reduce its activity to conserve energy. This will be uncomfortable, even if it isn’t life-threatening.

If you leave behind extra food, these meals could spoil or begin to rot, deterring the tortoise from eating.

Flipped Over

If a tortoise flips itself onto its back, you won’t be there to assist in an emergency. Most tortoises can flip themselves over when needed, but this isn’t guaranteed.

Depending on the terrain, a flipped tortoise may not rock itself side to side or push off an object to return to its feet again. If a tortoise is young, old, or sick, it’ll struggle to right itself.

The tortoise won’t be able to drink or eat. The weaker it gets, the less energy it’ll have to flip itself over. According to Scientific Reports, flipping itself upright takes a metabolic toll on tortoises.

Even if a tortoise doesn’t die, it’ll have been under extreme stress for days.

Tortoises find being on their backs dangerous because it exposes their soft underbellies. They also find it hard to breathe because the weight of their organs being inverted can weigh down on their lungs.

No Drinking Water

Perhaps you’ve determined how much the tortoise drinks in a week and have calculated how much water it needs to last during your vacation. Maybe you provided an extra measure to be safe.

Water can accumulate germs and bacteria if a tortoise knocks bedding, food, or waste into the dish. Depending on the size of the container, a tortoise may bathe (and poop) in it, contaminating the water.

Enlist someone to check on the tortoise’s water to refresh the supply. Although tortoises can survive for months without food, some species only last 1-2 days without water.

what to do with tortoise while on vacation

Sickness

A tortoise could get sick from consuming contaminated substances. Many illnesses stem from moldy, rotten food and dirty water.

While you don’t need to deep-clean the tortoise’s enclosure weekly, it should be spot-cleaned often.

Emergencies

If a tortoise escapes its enclosure, gets injured, or faces off against another pet, you can’t assist.

You need a backup plan for helping a tortoise in an emergency, which may include setting up an arrangement with a neighbor to check it’s doing okay.

How To Feed A Tortoise When Away

Owning a tortoise doesn’t mean you can never go on vacation. You can prepare to ensure the tortoise is healthy, happy, and safe in your absence. Much depends on how long you’ll be gone.

Short Vacation: 2-4 days

Leaving a tortoise alone for 2-4 days is seldom a problem. If your vacation lands on the tortoise’s normal ‘starve days,’ you don’t have to leave food out.

You can use an automatic feeder if the tortoise is still young and needs to eat daily. You can schedule it to drop food into a bowl every few hours so it receives fresh meals.

Many models hold trays and open at different times, so you can still give the tortoise a balanced diet.

Get a water fountain instead of filling a water bowl and leaving it in the cage. The stagnant water in a bowl accumulates germs and bacteria. A water fountain produces a stream of flowing water.

Medium Vacation: 5-7 days

If you go away for 5 or more days, you should enlist someone to monitor the tortoise. You can still use an automatic feeder and water fountain, but someone must check in periodically.

The automatic feeder and fountain can run out of power, or a blackout could damage the devices.

If paying someone to care for your tortoise is too costly, get a camera to watch it while it’s in its cage. Then, you can contact a trusted person to resolve a problem that can’t be addressed from afar.

This person can be a professional pet sitter, a neighbor, or a family member.

Long Vacation: 8+ days

If you’re on vacation for longer than 1 week, you should consider tortoise boarding. With a tortoise in professional care, you needn’t worry about whether it’s eating or drinking sufficiently.

If there are no official exotic animal boarding companies near you, ask local vet centers and pet stores.

If you can’t board a tortoise, get a professional pet sitter to visit your home. You don’t need to pay them daily visits, as the tortoise should be okay if it’s visited every 2-4 days.

What To Do With A Tortoise While on Vacation

Before you go on vacation, prepare the tortoise for your extended absence. This isn’t limited to checking on its food and water but also the animal itself. You should:

  • Take the tortoise to the vet for a check-up.
  • Clean the enclosure, removing any excrement and food waste.
  • Let it bathe in shallow water (less than neck height).
  • Wash the tortoise’s shell to remove dirt and debris.
  • Make as many things automatic as possible.
  • Replace batteries and bulbs to avoid equipment failure.

Leave specific information about the tortoise, such as the medication it needs or its temperament. Leave a list of common signs of illness or injury a tortoise could display and what to do.

Make everything in the enclosure’s environment automatic. Besides food and water replenishment, this should include the temperature settings and humidity.

If the temperature outside is sufficiently hot or cold to affect the temperature inside, the tortoise’s health will suffer. Automatic thermostats and humidifiers will keep the enclosure well-optimized.

Replace the batteries and bulbs around the tortoise’s enclosure. This can be for the thermostat, basking area, humidifier, and automatic feeder.

Always keep extra batteries and light bulbs just in case something happens. Tell the sitter where they are and how to replace components around the tortoise’s enclosure.