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How To Tell If A Tortoise Has Worms

Last Updated on October 5, 2023 by Samantha Harris

All tortoises carry worms. Unfortunately, if a tortoise’s natural immunity is compromised by stress, hibernation, or sickness, internal parasites like worms could adversely affect its health.

You can tell if a tortoise has worms by checking its feces because the small spaghetti-like creatures in a tortoise’s feces are worms.

Other signs of worms include inappetence, diarrhea, nausea, and fatigue. If you observe these signs and symptoms, take the tortoise to a herp veterinarian for fecal matter testing.

Most tortoises are treated with deworming medication. You should also clean the tortoise’s enclosure and separate it from other pets to prevent them from being adversely affected.

Why Do Tortoises Get Worms?

The most common reasons for worms in tortoises include:

  • Getting worm eggs from other infested tortoises.
  • Living in contaminated areas.

Infested tortoises pass worm eggs from their body via fecal matter. The eggs accumulate in the tortoise’s environment, especially in a confined space.

They can contaminate food, water, and substrate. Then, they return to the tortoise’s body.

Exposure To Other Tortoises

If you have several tortoises in one enclosure and one gets worms, all tortoises in the enclosure are vulnerable. They may get worms due to contaminated food, water, or substrate.

You can’t assume that buying a new tortoise means it’ll be worm-free.

Limited Space

Whether you put the tortoise indoors or outdoors, it still has a limited area to live. Unlike in the wild, it can’t roam over greater distances. Hence, it’s more likely to encounter a parasitic egg buildup.

Worm eggs can survive in the environment for quite some time. If you don’t clean the tortoise’s enclosure often, the risk of a worm infestation increases.

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 it consumes 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 body.

When the tortoise poops, it may contaminate its enclosure again.

Poor Health

Wild tortoises may be able to live healthier lives with worms without undue harm. This is because pet tortoises get stressed by the following factors:

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

Stress can affect their immune system and increase their susceptibility to infestation.

does my tortoise have worms?

What Do Tortoise Worms Look Like?

You’ve found white worms in tortoises’ poop. The most common types of worms 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 that affect tortoises. They resemble small, white, or cream-colored pieces of thread.

These can be difficult to see with the naked eye due to their size and color.

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

Sometimes, the presence of pinworms in tortoise poop isn’t a bad thing. Their movements in the gut can break up the food as it’s digested, making it easier to absorb nutrients.

Ascarids (Roundworms)

Ascarids are parasitic worms from the nematode group, but they’re more common in Mediterranean tortoises than other species.

They’re larger than oxyurid worms and measure up to 10cm (4 inches) long.

They look like spaghetti and have a white or light-brown color. Roundworms are easier to see since they’re larger than pinworms.

According to Veterinary Parasitology, oxyurid worms occur primarily in pet animals.

Roundworms are dangerous, as they feed on digested food and cause malnourishment. They can also travel from the intestines to other body parts, affecting their functionality.

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, the tortoise needs deworming medicine:

White in Fecal Matter

Check the tortoise’s fecal matter for signs of worms. A tortoise’s excrement has two components:

  • Dark fecal matter (poop).
  • The whitish component is called urate (salt derived from uric acid).

Alongside these components, a tortoise’s excrement might have whitish and semi-transparent worms that can be difficult to spot. A fecal matter test from a vet can detect worm eggs.

Fatigue And Loss of Appetite

An infested tortoise is more likely to act sleepy and tired. It’ll also show less interest in food and experience a loss of appetite, which could lead to weight loss.

Diarrhea and Nausea

If the number of worms rises, a tortoise may get digestive issues, including diarrhea and nausea.

Significant intestinal parasites can cause severe damage to the intestinal tract. It may even block the intestinal tract entirely, which can lead to the sudden death of a tortoise.

This is more likely with roundworms because they’re much larger than pinworms.

Changes in Body Parts

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

When this happens, a tortoise can experience other symptoms, like swelling, depending on which body part is affected. In one case, a roundworm caused swelling around a tortoise’s ear.

Diagnosing Worms in Tortoises

Identifying worms early can prevent a tortoise from becoming seriously ill. The best approach is to get the tortoise’s fecal matter checked by a vet twice yearly.

This is known as a fecal test. All veterinarians can perform this test with a microscope. Before you bring a tortoise home or add a new one, test it for parasites.

For a fecal test, supply a fresh sample of the tortoise’s excrement to the vet. Avoid exposing the sample to high temperatures, which may cause the worm larvae to die.

Place the excrement sample into an airtight, waterproof container.

Eliminating Worms in Tortoises

After a herp vet has tested the tortoise’s fecal matter and diagnosed a worm infestation, the next step is choosing a treatment plan. A vet can assess the tortoise’s health and fecal test results.

Tortoise Worming Treatments

A vet may suggest pre-mixed medical products intended for tortoises. These are known as dewormers, utilizing the medicine flubendazole.

Weigh The Tortoise

Weigh the tortoise in grams before the dewormer enters its body. Then, record its weight.

tortoise has worms in poop

Administer Dewormer

The best approach is to enter the mouth with a needleless syringe.

Some owners prefer adding dewormer to the tortoise’s food. If so, ensure the food is damp, allowing the medication to adhere to it.

Offer foods that the tortoise likes to eat. This will increase the likelihood of the tortoise consuming all the dewormer, not just a tiny portion.

Offer Water And Food

After providing the deworming treatment, ensure the tortoise stays well-hydrated. At this stage, offer fresh water, frequent baths, and food with high water content (like lettuce).

These foods will help flush away the dead worms from the gut and out of the body.

Don’t attempt to treat a tortoise infestation using worm medication for dogs or cats. Tortoises are reptiles, so giving them the wrong medication can kill them.

Do I Need to Deworm My Tortoise Regularly?

This depends on the tortoise’s fecal worm count and the vet’s advice. Most owners focus on deworming their pet tortoises 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. By deworming the tortoise in Spring, you can reduce the likelihood of it getting reinfected over the summer.

Can Humans Get Worms from Tortoises?

No, humans can’t get worms from tortoises because they’re a different type.

Wash your hands after cleaning, feeding, and handling a worm-infested tortoise. Using disposable gloves is also recommended when cleaning an enclosure.