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why do tortoises get worms?

How To Tell If A Tortoise Has Worms

Every tortoise carries worms. However, if a tortoise’s natural immunity is compromised, perhaps by stress, hibernation, or sickness, these parasites could adversely affect its health.

You can tell your tortoise has worms by checking its feces, as small spaghetti-like creatures in a tortoise’s feces are worms.

Other signs of parasites include loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, and fatigue. If you notice these symptoms, take your tortoise to a herp vet for fecal matter testing.

Most tortoises are treated with deworming medication. You should also clean your tortoise’s enclosure, separate it from other pets, and wear gloves during handling.

Why Do Tortoises Get Worms?

The most common reasons for worms are:

  • Catching worm eggs from other infested tortoises
  • Living in contaminated areas

Infested tortoises pass worm eggs from their body via fecal matter. These eggs can accumulate rapidly in the environment that your tortoise is living in, especially if it is a confined space.

They can contaminate food, water, and substrate. From here, they make their way back inside your tortoise’s body or into new, non-infected tortoises.

Exposure To Other Tortoises

If you have several tortoises in one enclosure and a member gets worms, all tortoises sharing that enclosure are vulnerable. They may acquire worms via contaminated food, water, or substrate.

You can’t assume that buying a new tortoise means buying a worm-free tortoise. That’s especially true if it has lived with other tortoises before.

Limited Space

Whether you place your tortoise indoors or outdoors, it still has a limited area to live in. Unlike in the wild, it cannot roam over bigger distances. Hence, it’s more likely to encounter a significant parasitic egg buildup.

This is because worm eggs can live and survive in the environment for quite some time. If you don’t clean your tortoise’s enclosure often, the risk for worm infestation will increase.

Re-infested By Previous Worms

It’s easy for a tortoise to re-infest itself with worms. Oxyurid worms, also known as pinworms, lay infectious eggs that hatch in the tortoise’s intestinal tract once the tortoise swallows them.

Ascarid worms, also known as intestinal roundworms, lay eggs that hatch into tiny larvae that the tortoise then ingests. They continue to develop inside the tortoise’s body. When your tortoise poops them out, it may then get contaminated in its enclosure all over again.

Poor Health

Wild tortoises may be able to live healthier lives with worms without any undue harm. This is because pet tortoises get stressed due to:

  • Overcrowding
  • Poor diet
  • Inappropriate temperatures
  • Lack of hideaways
  • Aggression from mates

A lot of stress can affect their immune system and increase their susceptibility to infestation.

does my tortoise have worms?

What Do Tortoise Worms Look Like?

If you notice white worms in tortoise poop, take note. The most common types of worms found in tortoises are members of the nematode group. What do worms look like in tortoise poo, and how can you tell them apart?

Oxyurids (Pinworms)

According to BMC Veterinary Research, oxyurids are the most common parasitic worms found in tortoises. They’re known as pinworms due to their appearance as small, white, or cream-colored pieces of thread.

Pinworms are mainly discovered in European pet tortoises, particularly in Hermann’s and horsefield species. They’re notably small parasites, measuring only 1.5 to 7mm (0.06 to 0.28 inches) in length.

To spot in tortoise poop, look for tiny, white, or cream-colored pieces that look like cotton threads. These are pinworms and can be difficult to see with the naked eye because of their size and color.

Sometimes, the presence of pinworms in tortoise poop is not necessarily a bad thing. Their movements inside your tortoise’s gut may help break up the food as it gets digested. This can make it easier for your tortoise to absorb nutrients in its body.

However, if your tortoise displays signs of illness, then the amount is too great, or your tortoise is contending with the wrong kind of worm. This will need intervention from your vet.  

Ascarids (Roundworms)

Ascarids are also parasitic worms belonging to the nematode group. They occur more often in Mediterranean tortoises than in other species. They’re significantly larger than oxyurid worms and measure up to 10cm (4 inches) in length.

They’re more commonly known as intestinal roundworms. They look like spaghetti and have a white or light-brown color. According to Veterinary Parasitology, they occur mostly in pet animals.

Roundworms in tortoises are much easier to spot since they are larger than pinworms. To spot them in your tortoise’s poo, look for small, white, or light brown strands that look like spaghetti.

The presence of roundworms is dangerous, as they feed on digested food and cause malnourishment. They can also travel from the intestines to other body parts, affecting their functionality and putting your pet’s health in danger.

Signs of Worms in Tortoises

If you’re wondering, “Does my tortoise have worms?” there are signs you can watch for. If these symptoms appear, contact your vet about deworming medicine:

White Excrements in Fecal Matter

Check your tortoise’s fecal matter for signs of worm infestation. A tortoise’s excrement has two components:

  • Dark fecal matter (poop)
  • Whitish component, which is called urate (salt derived from the uric acid).

Alongside these components, your tortoise’s excrement might also have worms that appear whitish and semi-transparent. They can be difficult to spot. To narrow it down for an answer, you may need to organize a fecal matter test wherein a vet can detect worm eggs using a microscope.

Fatigue and Loss of Appetite

An infested tortoise is more likely to act sleepy and tired. It will also show less interest in food and experience a loss of appetite. This could lead to apparent weight loss.

Diarrhea and Nausea

If the number of worms involved in the infestation rises or the worm load gets heavier, your tortoise may experience gastrointestinal issues. This will include diarrhea and nausea.

A significant buildup of intestinal parasites can cause serious damage to the intestinal tract. It might even block it completely, which can lead to the sudden death of your tortoise.

This is more likely in roundworms because they are significantly larger than pinworms. If you notice diarrhea or nausea, take your tortoise to the vet right away.

Changes in Body Parts

Changes in other body parts can indicate a worm infestation. A crucial distinction between pinworms and roundworms is that roundworms tend to exit the gut and travel more widely to other parts of the body.

When this happens, your tortoise can begin to experience various other symptoms, such as swelling, depending on which body part gets affected. In one case, a roundworm was responsible for swelling around a tortoise’s ear.

Diagnosing Worms in Tortoises

By identifying worms early, you can prevent your tortoise from getting seriously ill. The best approach is to get your tortoise’s fecal matter checked by a specialist reptile vet twice a year.

This is known as a fecal test and is quite simple. Any veterinarian can perform this test using a microscope. Before you bring a tortoise home or add a new one to your family of tortoises, you should test it for parasites repeatedly.

For a fecal test, supply a fresh sample of your tortoise’s excrement to your vet. Avoid exposing the sample to high temperatures, as this may cause the worm larvae to die. Just place the excrement sample into an airtight and waterproof container, and get it to a vet.

If you’re willing to purchase a microscope and the few chemicals required for fecal testing, you can also do it easily at home. Visit your vet and ask for suggestions on how to identify parasites yourself.

Eliminating Worms in Tortoises

After your reptile vet has tested your pet’s fecal matter and diagnosed a worm infestation, your next step is choosing a treatment plan. Your vet can assess the fecal test results and your tortoise’s overall condition in terms of:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Type of worms
  • Time of year

From there, the expert will then suggest a suitable treatment option accordingly.

Tortoise Worming Treatments

Your vet might suggest pre-mixed medical products that are specially intended for tortoises. These are known as dewormers and are based on the medicine flubendazole.

They are easily available at any pharmacy and safe to use. Ensure you follow the dosage instructions and your vet’s recommendations. You can either administer the dewormers at home by yourself or visit your vet’s practice.

Weight The Tortoise

You’ll need to weigh your tortoise. This will provide an accurate weight in grams before the dewormer enters its body. Keep a record of this weight.

tortoise has worms in poop

Administer Dewormer

The best method is directly into the mouth, using a needleless syringe of a large or small size (depending on your tortoise). An advantage of going to the vets is that you won’t have to worry about making any mistakes.

Some owners prefer adding the dewormer into their tortoise’s food. However, make sure the food is damp, as this will allow the medication to stick to it. Likewise, offer food that your tortoise likes to eat. This will maximize the likelihood of your tortoise consuming all the dewormer, not just a small portion.   

Alternatively, you can also dose your tortoise with the dewormer while it takes a bath. This depends on the product you are using. If your pet doesn’t drink enough medication while in the bath, this method won’t work.

Offer Water And Food

After you provide the deworming treatment, you should make sure that your tortoise stays well hydrated. Offer fresh water, frequent baths, and food with high water content (such as lettuce) to your tortoise at this stage.

These foods will help flush away the dead worms from the gut and out of the body. Please do not attempt to treat tortoise infestation using worm medication that is meant for dogs or cats. Unlike dogs and cats, tortoises are reptiles, and giving them the wrong medication can kill them.

Do I Need to Deworm My Tortoise Regularly?

This depends on your tortoise’s fecal worm count and the advice of your specialist reptile vet. Most tortoise owners focus on deworming their pets at certain times of the year, such as:

  • During the fall: This is because a worm buildup can be fatal over the brumation period.
  • During the spring: The post-winter worm egg output can increase significantly. By deworming your tortoise in spring, you can reduce the likelihood of your pet getting re-infected over the summer.

Preventing Environmental Transmission of Worms

Here are steps you can take:

  • Good hygiene: Conduct a fecal test right away before the problem gets worse.
  • Check your tortoise when you bring it home: If it has worms, monitor or treat it if needed. This will ensure that parasites do not build up in its surroundings.
  • Change grazing areas: If your tortoise likes to graze outdoors regularly, change up the grazing area, so it’s less likely to come into contact with worm eggs.
  • Clean up: It’s important to clean up thoroughly after your pet is done eating or pooping.

Can Humans Get Worms from Tortoises?

It’s rare for a tortoise to infect a human with worms. However, you should wash your hands after cleaning, feeding, and handling your worm-infested tortoises. Using disposable gloves is also a good idea when cleaning the enclosure.

Otherwise, there is a small chance of tortoises transferring their roundworms or pinworms onto you. They will not pose a serious health risk to you, but they can still be unpleasant.