Last Updated on: 6th October 2023, 11:19 am
Tortoises stay hydrated by eating water-dense foods and absorbing water through the skin surrounding the cloaca (an opening near the tail). Despite this, tortoises must still drink water.
Tortoises should always have access to water free from contaminants, chlorine, and additives (like flavorings and sweeteners). They can drink tap or bottled water, whether hard or soft.
Avoid tap water if it’s heavily chlorinated or distilled because it can leach minerals from the body.
Wild tortoises drink water from lakes, streams, and rain puddles, which may contain bacteria, pollutants, and other contaminants. That’s partially why they have a higher mortality rate than pet tortoises.
Tortoises without access to water are vulnerable to a build-up of solidified uric acid in the bladder and urinary (renal) system, gout, and kidney failure.
Tortoises always need constant access to fresh water, which should be changed daily.
Some owners assume otherwise since tortoises can go for extended periods without water since most of their hydration needs are satisfied through food consumption.
Leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and flowers contain lots of water. The tortoise’s digestive system extracts more water from its meals than other animals.
Tortoises need hydration, so always provide access to clean drinking water. This enables the tortoise to drink when it’s ready because they can’t survive without water for more than 7 days.
Tortoises should only be provided with clean, filtered water free from chlorine and chemicals.
Do Tortoises Drink Tap Water?
If the tap water in your area is poor or treated with high chlorine levels, it shouldn’t be offered to tortoises. Water can contain contaminants like the following:
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
Tortoises can drink tap water if it’s filtered to remove the chlorine.
Can Tortoises Have Hard Water?
A tortoise from a region with hard water can process the high mineral content (like calcium and magnesium). If a tortoise is used to drinking soft water, it’ll have a metallic taste.
Given a choice between hard and soft water, slightly hard water is preferred. The mineral content will benefit the tortoise’s immune system, bone health, and blood cell development.
Bathing or soaking a tortoise in hard water may lead to a gradual calcium build-up on the shell.
Can Tortoises Have Soft Water?
Soft water isn’t harmful to tortoises because they don’t need hard water to thrive if they have a balanced diet with sufficient minerals.
Alkaline water can be hard or soft but has a pH of 8 or 9, while the pH of regular water is 7.
Water with a high alkaline content is believed to be beneficial because it can neutralize acidity in the digestive tract, improve stool quality, and boost the immune system.
Can Tortoises Have Bottled Water?
Bottled water is safest for tortoises because it’s filtered and bottled to FDA standards.
It doesn’t contain chlorine and can’t pick up bacteria and other contaminants when traveling through pipes. If local water is unsafe, bottled water is recommended.
Don’t buy flavored or vitamin water because they often contain added sugars, sweeteners, and flavorings. Also, flavored water contains synthetic chemicals to enhance the taste.
Can Tortoises Drink Distilled Water?
Some people believe that distilled water is better for sensitive digestion or skin. Unfortunately, there’s reason to think that distilled water can lead to mineral deficiencies if it’s all tortoises drink.
Distilled water lacks mineral content and can cause minerals to be leached from the body. Studies have only been performed on humans, so how it affects tortoises remains unknown.
Tortoises usually drink water through their mouths. A drinking tortoise will stretch its neck and dip its head into the water bowl. Its nose and mouth will both be submerged.
Tortoises often sink their entire heads past the water line to drink. They won’t gulp or produce bubbles, so you can only tell it’s drinking by its neck movements.
Some tortoises don’t open their mouths while drinking. Instead, they take in water through their nose, which is connected to the roof of the mouth.
A tortoise can drink through its nose as effectively as its mouth.
Do Tortoises Get Water from Food?
Tortoises are herbivorous animals, so their diet primarily consists of plant matter. Some of the foods that are high in water content that tortoises eat include:
- Leafy greens: Mustard, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, endives, and romaine lettuce.
- Vegetables: Carrots, celery, watercress, and cucumber.
- Fruits: Watermelon, raspberries, strawberries, bananas, and blueberries.
Fruits can only be given to fruit-eating tortoises because the high sugar content causes digestive discomfort, like diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
Do Tortoises Absorb Water Through Their Cloaca?
The belief that tortoises can absorb water through the cloaca is because freshwater turtles can.
When turtles brumate, they spend time underwater. Despite being aquatic animals, they still need to breathe to take in oxygen from areas besides their nostrils.
According to the Australian Zoologist, turtles can breathe through their skin and cloaca. When an animal breathes through its cloaca, it’s called cloacal respiration.
The discovery of cloacal respiration in reptiles led to more investigation into cloacal bladders.
According to Biological Reviews, it was believed freshwater turtles took in water through anal drinking from 1799. Recent studies, such as from the Journal of Experimental Zoology, posit that the cloaca is mainly used for respiration and that hydrostatic function is minimal.
Researchers have uncovered that tortoise anatomy is different from turtle anatomy. This means tortoises don’t have the same cloacal bursae function and can’t absorb water through their cloaca.
Can Tortoises Drink Through The Skin?
The idea that tortoises can take in water through their skin is from research on turtles.
Tortoises have different needs than turtles, as they’re land animals, while turtles are aquatic or semi-aquatic. Turtles need more water, so they naturally have more ways of hydrating than tortoises.
Although tortoises’ hydration needs are primarily satisfied by eating water-dense foods and drinking from their water bowls, they can absorb water through the skin around the cloaca when soaking.
Tortoises enjoy soaking in tepid water but ensure the water level is where the carapace meets the plastron to avoid drowning. Unlike turtles, tortoises aren’t aquatic animals and can’t swim.
Water soaks should usually last 15-20 minutes and be offered under human supervision.
Tortoises often drink from and go to the toilet when bathing. If this happens, which is likely, the water should be changed because you don’t want the tortoise to drink dirty and contaminated water.
Giving them a warm soak is recommended if a tortoise is constipated.
To keep a tortoise hydrated and healthy, you must do the following:
- Place a shallow dish of water in a cool, easy-to-access location.
- The bowl should be deep enough for the tortoise to submerge its head.
- Check the water several times a day, topping it up when necessary.
- Once a day, sanitize the bowl and completely change the water.
Tortoises aren’t frequent water drinkers because they derive most of their hydration from food and soaking. If you feed a tortoise the right foods and bathe it regularly, it won’t drink as much water.
However, water should always be available in case the tortoise gets thirsty.
A tortoise’s body is ideally equipped to stay hydrated but can run low on water. According to The Journal of Wildlife Management, drought can reduce the population of desert tortoises.
Tortoises do get dehydrated without fresh water. The signs of dehydration arise gradually, so you may not realize it initially. If the tortoise doesn’t rehydrate, it can have life-threatening implications.
The common symptoms of dehydration in tortoises include:
- Dry and flaky skin.
- Reduced urination.
- Sunken eyes and wrinkled surrounding skin.
- Lethargy or inactivity.
- Loss of appetite.
- Sudden weight loss.
How Long Can Tortoises Survive Without Water?
Although tortoises can survive many months without drinking water, water deprivation has severe health implications. This includes the following:
- A build-up of hardened uric acid in the urinary tract and bladder.
- Gout is caused by excessive uric acid in the system.
- Chronic renal failure (kidney failure).
- Dehydration and organ failure.
- Constipation or impaction.
- Shell and skeletal (bone) problems.
- Digestive complaints.
- Chemical imbalances.
A tortoise can’t live without water for more than 7 days, especially in a very hot and humid environment.
Can A Tortoise Drink Too Much Water?
A tortoise is far more likely to drink too little water than too much water.
Their low thirst drive is partly because they have an efficient hydration system. At times, desert tortoises even process the liquid from their bladder twice. As a result, it doesn’t pass as urine but as urates.
Tortoises should drink clean, fresh water (hard or soft) free from contaminants and chemicals.
Tap water treated with chlorine or other water purification chemicals may be unsuitable for tortoises, so offering bottled or filtered water may be better.
Tortoises should have access to water at all times, and their water dish should be cleaned and refilled regularly to ensure that they stay hydrated.