Vomiting is the body’s way of forcibly ejecting harmful foods and substances from the stomach.
Unfortunately, this process can be dangerous for tortoises, leading to dehydration. Also, if the tortoise vomits regularly, it can lead to malnutrition and vitamin/mineral deficiencies.
What Does Tortoise Vomit Look Like?
The look of a tortoise’s vomit depends on the:
- Cause of vomiting
- Food the tortoise ate
- When the tortoise last ate
Tortoise vomit may contain digested food or be entirely liquid. If the vomit contains the tortoise’s most recent meal, the food may be partially digested or not digested at all.
Tortoise Throwing Up White Stuff
If you find white stuff in a tortoise’s enclosure, you may assume it has vomited. However, the chances are that it’s urates, not vomit.
Urates are found in a tortoise’s urine, combining uric acid, minerals, and other metabolic waste filtered through the kidneys. Urates vary in consistency, from watery to thick/solid.
Why Is My Tortoise Throwing Up?
Here are the most common reasons that tortoises vomit:
Constipation means that your tortoise is experiencing difficulty passing waste. Tortoises can become constipated due to ingesting low-fiber foods, foreign objects, and not drinking enough water.
Vomiting can ease the feelings of constipation. However, it’ll continue if you don’t remove the cause.
You can check if your tortoise is constipated by monitoring how often it poops, as your tortoise should poop once every 3 days.
Constipation is common among tortoises, but it can often be resolved with a 15-20 minute soak in a bowl of lukewarm water less than neck height.
Also, ensure your tortoise has clean drinking water, as dehydration can lead to constipation.
2/ Gastrointestinal Obstruction
When a tortoise can’t pass its waste, it develops a gastrointestinal obstruction. This often happens when a tortoise accidentally eats non-food items like substrate and small stones.
An obstruction is a medical emergency because the digestive system is blocked, so it can’t glean nutrients from the food it ingests.
It can lead to impaction, where food and waste build up in the digestive tract with nowhere to go. In the worst cases, this can lead to prolapse.
Obstructions rarely clear up on their own, so the blockage must be surgically removed.
3/ Bad Diet
If your tortoise isn’t fed an inappropriate diet, this can lead to vomiting.
Owners don’t always feed their tortoises enough of one food group. Regardless of the species, tortoises thrive on variety and need different foods to get nutrients.
You may be feeding your tortoise too much of one nutrient, such as protein. Boiled eggs are a common culprit, as they’re often given whole and contain a lot of protein.
You need to determine dietary requirements by species, as different tortoises require a diet that mimics the food they eat in the wild. For example, Mediterranean species need more fiber and less protein.
4/ Food Preparation
How you feed your tortoise is as important as the contents of the food.
Most tortoise food is best served raw and fresh. However, some protein sources must be cooked before offering them to a tortoise. For example, poultry and fish should never be offered raw.
Boiling eggs the traditional way creates too many sulfur compounds that will unsettle a tortoise’s stomach. The best way to boil an egg is to drop it in boiling water for 2 minutes, turn off the flame and allow it to sit in hot water for 15 minutes.
5/ Food Pieces Too Big
When they have food in their mouth, they’ll mash it inside their mouth using the hard plates of their beak.
Big chunks can make this difficult, resulting in large pieces of food in the stomach. This makes the food harder to digest or gets stuck in the esophagus, causing vomiting.
To ensure that food pieces are small enough, prepare food as a chop by cutting up the different ingredients so you can easily mix them.
6/ Unsuitable Habitat
The wrong substrate can be swallowed, causing digestive problems. Also, an unclean enclosure can cause illness, as it becomes a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, fungus, and viruses.
However, the most common problem is the wrong temperature and humidity. If your tortoise vomits, check the settings, including the temperature of the basking area.
7/ Handling Too Soon After Eating
Sometimes, a tortoise will vomit due to improper handling. After all, a tortoise full from a meal won’t like being picked up and jostled around. Doing so may upset the stomach, causing vomiting.
Let your tortoise rest for a few hours after eating to avoid this problem. Only then should you handle your pet tortoise. If you need to move your tortoise after it eats, do so infrequently.
Stress and anxiety can reduce the efficacy of a tortoise’s immune and digestive systems. Your tortoise will be more on edge and unable to settle as it doesn’t feel comfortable, which can lead to vomiting.
The causes of stress in tortoises are as follows:
- Aggressive tank mates
- Wild animals
- Other pets in the home
- Not enough nutrients
- Not enough sunlight
- Too small of an enclosure
- Frequent loud noises
Tortoises need water to remain hydrated, which prevents constipation, illness, and skin or shell problems. So, ensure there’s always clean drinking water available for your tortoise.
Also, tortoises glean water from their food, such as leafy green vegetables and fruits.
Ensure that your tortoise has a place to soak because it allows tortoises to absorb moisture. Also, soaking relaxes a tortoise’s bowels, which can prevent and clear up constipation.
10/ Gastrointestinal Parasites
Parasites, especially worms, can infest your tortoise’s digestive system, which leads to vomiting, weakness, weight loss, diarrhea, and gurgling sounds in the mouth.
Most parasites live in the intestine and stomach, hence why tortoises vomit to remove them. Parasites are a common cause of death among captive tortoises, so they must be removed.
11/ Bacterial or Viral Infection
While less common, a bacterial or viral infection may cause a tortoise to vomit.
This can be the body’s natural way of removing any harmful pathogens. Also, it can be a symptom of an upset stomach, where the infection is causing the most discomfort.
12/ Toxins or Poisons
Sometimes, tortoises consume something toxic or poisonous. This can be due to your tortoise getting hold of unsafe substances by accident or its owner feeding it something unsafe.
Common toxins that tortoises encounter include:
- Household cleaners
- Weed killers
Also, plants are a common cause of poisoning in tortoises. If your tortoise is allowed to free-roam, it may encounter the following toxic plants in your backyard:
A tortoise with blood in its vomit usually means that your tortoise has mild to severe internal bleeding.