Every tortoise carries 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, as 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.
Why Do Tortoises Get Worms?
The most common reasons for worms in tortoises are as follows:
- Catching worm eggs from other infested tortoises.
- Living in contaminated areas.
Infested tortoises pass worm eggs from their body via fecal matter. These eggs accumulate in the tortoise’s environment, especially if it’s a confined space.
They can contaminate food, water, and substrate. Then, they make their way back inside the tortoise’s body or into worm-free tortoises.
Exposure To Other Tortoises
If you have several tortoises in one enclosure and one gets worms, all tortoises sharing that 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.
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.
This is because worm eggs can live and 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 tortoise’s body.
When the tortoise poops them out, it may contaminate its enclosure again.
Wild tortoises may be able to live healthier lives with worms without any undue harm. This is because pet tortoises get stressed by the following factors:
- Poor diet.
- Inappropriate temperatures.
- Lack of hideaways.
- Aggression from tank mates.
Stress can affect their immune system and increase their susceptibility to infestation.
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?
According to BMC Veterinary Research, oxyurids are tortoises’ most common parasitic worms. 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 7 mm (0.06 to 0.28 inches).
To spot pinworms in tortoises’ poop, look for tiny, white, or cream-colored pieces that look like cotton threads. These can be difficult to see with the naked eye due to their size and color.
Sometimes, the presence of pinworms in tortoise poop isn’t a bad thing. Their movements inside the tortoise’s gut can break up the food as it’s digested, making it easier to absorb nutrients.
However, if the tortoise shows signs of illness, the number of worms is too great, or the tortoise has the wrong kind of worms.
Ascarids are also parasitic worms belonging to the nematode group, but they’re more common in Mediterranean tortoises than other species.
They’re significantly larger than oxyurid worms and measure up to 10cm (4 inches) in length.
They look like spaghetti and have a white or light-brown color. According to Veterinary Parasitology, they occur mostly in pet animals.
Roundworms are much easier to spot since they are larger than pinworms. To spot them in a tortoise’s poop, look for small, white, or light brown strands that look like spaghetti.
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, contact your vet about deworming medicine:
White in Fecal Matter
Check the tortoise’s fecal matter for signs of worm infestation. A tortoise’s excrement has 2 components:
- Dark fecal matter (poop).
- The whitish component is called urate (salt derived from uric acid).
Alongside these components, a tortoise’s excrement might also have whitish and semi-transparent worms that can be difficult to spot.
You may need a fecal matter test where 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’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.
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 a tortoise.
This is more likely in roundworms because they are significantly larger than pinworms.
Changes in Body Parts
Changes in other body parts can indicate a worm infestation. A crucial distinction between pinworms and roundworms is that roundworms exit the gut and travel more widely to other body parts.
When this happens, the tortoise can experience 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
Identifying worms early can prevent a tortoise from getting seriously ill. The best approach is to get the tortoise’s fecal matter checked by a vet twice a year.
This is known as a fecal test. Any veterinarian can perform this test using 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 your vet. Avoid exposing the sample to high temperatures, which may cause the worm larvae to die.
Just place the excrement sample into an airtight and waterproof container and get it to a vet.
Eliminating Worms in Tortoises
After a herp vet has tested the tortoise’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 the tortoise’s health.
Tortoise Worming Treatments
A vet might suggest pre-mixed medical products intended for tortoises. These are known as dewormers and are based on the medicine flubendazole.
Weigh The Tortoise
Weigh the tortoise in grams before the dewormer enters its body. Then, record its weight.
The best method is to go directly into 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 stick to it.
Offer food that the tortoise likes to eat. This will increase the likelihood of the tortoise consuming all the dewormer, not just a small 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 significantly. By deworming the tortoise in Spring, you can reduce the likelihood of it getting reinfected over the summer.
Can Humans Get Worms from Tortoises?
It’s rare for a tortoise to infect a human with worms.
However, wash your hands after cleaning, feeding, and handling a worm-infested tortoise. Using disposable gloves is also recommended when cleaning the enclosure.