Home » 7 Signs of A Happy Tortoise [Physical + Behavioral]
how to tell if a tortoise is happy

7 Signs of A Happy Tortoise [Physical + Behavioral]

While it’s easy to tell when most pets are happy, the same can’t be said of tortoises.

Torts can be mysterious, even for seasoned owners with years of experience. However, there are ways to tell if a tortoise is happy and contented.

Tortoises are happiest when they’re healthy. The signs of a happy tortoise include a strong shell, clear and shiny eyes, dry and wrinkly skin, responsiveness to petting, and a good appetite. They should be active, walking around their enclosure, moving objects about, digging burrows, and climbing.

Deciphering a tortoise’s subtle body language can be challenging if you don’t know what to look for. Consequently, it’s just as easy for signs of unhappiness to fly under the radar.

How to Tell if a Tortoise is Happy

It’s not easy to determine the mood and behavior of a pet tortoise as they’re solitary by nature and aren’t emotionally expressive. So, it can be difficult to tell when they’re feeling good.

Fortunately, physical and behavioral traits can help you determine if your tortoise is doing well. Here are the signs that your tortoise is in a good mood:

1/ Healthy Shell

Tortoises that are healthy and well taken care of can be safely assumed to be happy.

In most cases, you can tell by observing its shell. A healthy tortoise shell is smooth and firm to touch. Also, it should have evenly arranged scutes without any gaps in between them.

If your tortoise’s shell appears to be cracked or soft to the touch, this might be a sign of metabolic bone disorder (MBD).

2/ Bright and Shiny Eyes

A tortoise that’s happy and properly cared for will have clear, bright eyes. If your tortoise’s eyes appear runny or weepy, this may be an indication of an injury or infection.

According to The Veterinary Journal, mycoplasmosis is one of the common respiratory illnesses affecting most tortoise species. This infection is typically marked by symptoms such as:

  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Breathing difficulties

So, if you notice your tortoise’s eyes suddenly appear watery, you need to get it examined by a vet to rule out respiratory illness.

According to another study from The Veterinary Journal, young tortoises and ones with weakened immune systems are especially prone to respiratory infections. Fortunately, most respiratory infections can be treated with antibiotics.

Note that runny eyes aren’t always a sign of infection. In fact, tortoises will experience watery eyes if their retina is injured or irritated.

3/ Wrinkly and Dry Skin

Tortoises naturally have tough, rugged skin suited for surviving in rough terrains.

The tough and scaly texture of their skin allows tortoises to navigate harsh environments, such as rocky outcrops and prickly bushes, without being easily injured.

Healthy and happy tortoises have dry and wrinkly skin with a tough texture. So, if your tortoise’s skin seems wet and soft, this could be a sign of an infection. Even so, your tortoise’s skin shouldn’t be too dry since this can cause soreness and cracks.

4/ Clear, Pink Mouth And Tongue

While it’s inadvisable to poke and prod a tortoise around its mouth area, examining its mouth can provide you with invaluable information about its health and wellbeing.

A healthy tortoise’s mouth should be clear and pink in color (on the inside). That is unless it has just had a meal, in which case, some stains will be present.

Moreover, its beak shouldn’t be crooked or angled in any way, nor should it be open for too long.

5/ Activity

When a tortoise is feeling exuberant, it exhibits more activity. For instance, it’ll move around its enclosure more often and express curiosity about objects in its environment.

However, if the tortoise is uncomfortable or lethargic, it may retreat inside its shell more. Its movement will seem dragged and slow.

6/ Good Appetite

A happy tortoise has a good appetite and will tend to eat and poop regularly. In contrast, when a tortoise is stressed out or uncomfortable, it will likely lose its appetite.

A loss of appetite can also be a symptom of illness. So, if you notice that your pet tortoise is eating less frequently, it’s advisable to have it examined by a herp vet.

7/ Responsiveness to Petting

While tortoises dislike social closeness, they can be receptive to affectionate touch from their owners once they become comfortable.

Healthy tortoises can imprint on their owners after prolonged contact and interaction. When this happens, your tortoise will appreciate gentle touches and rubs on its face and shell.

However, when tortoises are fearful or stressed out, they tend to be averse to touch and other acts of petting. For instance, you’ll notice your tortoise retreating into its shell when you attempt to rub its neck or back. Even worse, it can snap at you with its beak.

how to make a tortoise happy

How to Tell If Your Tortoise is Unhappy

Tortoises experience stress occasionally, particularly if their needs aren’t sufficiently met.

Unfortunately, tortoises don’t exhibit obvious signs of unhappiness like cats and dogs. For this reason, it’s easy to miss the key signs and symptoms of dissatisfaction and discomfort.

If you’re wondering whether your tortoise is unhappy, here are some of the things to look out for:

  • Lethargy
  • Inexplicable appetite changes
  • Self-isolation and withdrawal
  • Hiding a lot
  • Snappiness

If your tortoise is exhibiting any of the above behaviors, try to determine the underlying causes. In most cases, unhappiness in tortoises results from:

  • Illnesses
  • Unsuitable habitats
  • Lack of attention

How to Make a Tortoise Happy

Tortoises are often assumed to be passive and uninteresting pets due to their introverted nature and slow mannerisms. However, tortoises make friendly pets when properly cared for.

Tortoises are simple creatures with few physical and emotional needs. Keeping your tort healthy and happy should be simple as long as you have the right habitat with proper enrichment.

Here are ways to ensure your tortoise stays happy and comfortable:

Quality Diet

Most tortoises are herbivores, which means they feed on plants.

So, you should ensure your tortoise receives a plant-based diet rich in fiber and low in fats and proteins. This should be accompanied by clean drinking water to keep your tortoise hydrated and healthy.

Large Enclosure

Keeping your tortoises in a tiny cramped space can discourage them from indulging their instincts for roaming and grazing. Consequently, they may end up feeling stressed.

To avoid this, ensure their enclosure is spacious enough to allow them to move around and remain active.

Basking Area

Tortoises need to bask regularly to regulate their internal body temperature and maintain strong immune systems. Otherwise, they may fall sick.

Ensure your pet’s enclosure has a basking area where it can receive its daily dose of sunshine.

Toys And Enrichment

Tortoises are curious animals that love to explore and interact with their environment.

Incorporating toys such as woodblocks, pebbles, and small rocks into your tortoise’s habitat helps stimulate the tortoise’s instinct for exploration, which will keep it active and entertained.

Tortoises are capable of feeling happiness. You’ll be able to tell when your tortoise feels content based on its physical health and its willingness to interact with its environment.

As long as it’s not showing signs of illness or lethargy, your tortoise is happy.