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Why Doesn’t My Tortoise Move?

Last Updated on September 19, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Tortoises are slow and sluggish, but that doesn’t mean they should rarely move.

Tortoises enjoy climbing objects, exploring their tanks, and wandering from place to place. They’ll dig burrows to hide and sleep and forage throughout their enclosure for snacks.

That makes it concerning when your tortoise suddenly refuses to move. You might be concerned that it’s injured, sleeping too long, or even dead.

Sometimes, tortoises hunker down for a long rest that isn’t harmful. For example, your tortoise may be brumating or taking it slow because the temperature drops.

A new tortoise may also fear its surroundings and be unsure how to proceed, so it’ll hide in its shell until it feels comfortable.

However, there are concerning reasons for a tortoise to stop moving, including illness, dehydration, constipation, or extreme stress. These situations must be resolved.

Why Is My Tortoise Not Moving?

Perhaps your tortoise has stopped moving, or it’s only moving slowly. Here are some reasons why and what you can do:


Instead of hibernating, tortoises engage in a similar behavior called brumation.

In this state, tortoises enter a deep sleep where they don’t move, eat, or drink. Sometimes, the tortoise may wake up long enough to seek water and return to sleep.

Tortoises start to brumate when the weather turns cold. This is a way for them to conserve valuable energy to survive until temperatures become optimal again.

Tortoises kept outdoors are more likely to brumate than those kept indoors. Indoor tortoises will sometimes choose to brumate in the colder months, regardless of indoor temperature, but this is rare.

Not all species of tortoises brumate, including:

  • Desert tortoises.
  • Marginated tortoises.
  • Hermann’s tortoises.
  • Russian tortoises.

Tropical tortoise species won’t brumate. Consult your vet if your tortoise isn’t naturally predisposed to this long sleep yet begins to display signs of brumation.

Common pet species that don’t brumate include:

  • Red-footed tortoise.
  • Yellow-footed tortoise.
  • Leopard tortoise.

Even if your tortoise is a brumating species, this deep sleep may not be a healthy choice. According to the Veterinary Nursing Journal, some tortoises are too sick or unhealthy to brumate.

Cold Temperatures

When your tortoise feels cold, it may start acting like it’s about to brumate. The temperatures may not be low enough to properly sleep, so it’ll act lethargic, weak, and tired.

If your tortoise begins to slow down, warm it up. You can do this by placing your tortoise under a heat lamp, followed by a warm water bath. Within a day or so, your tortoise should revert to normal behavior.

Of course, you’ll need to adjust the temperature in your tortoise’s enclosure by:

  • Creating a large sunning area with a basking lamp.
  • Using flood bulbs instead of spot bulbs to better distribute light and heat.
  • Changing to more powerful bulbs.
  • Adding a heating mat.
  • Installing thermostats to keep temperatures consistent and safe.

Different tortoise species need different temperatures. You should determine your tortoise’s species and check its preferred day and night/basking temperatures.


If the weather isn’t cold, but your tortoise seems to be brumating, consider if it’s ill. Sick tortoises will want to stay inside their shells to conserve energy and protect themselves in this vulnerable state.

Common illnesses among tortoises include:


Dehydration is the most common illness that can stop a tortoise from moving. Although tortoises can survive multiple days without water, they must remain hydrated.

Tortoises should get water from multiple sources. Also, they must be soaked at least once a week in clean, lukewarm water, as this prevents dehydration and helps a tortoise’s digestion.

Tortoises should have access to clean drinking water and become hydrated from fruits and veggies that are rich in water. Other than a lack of mobility, symptoms of dehydration in tortoises include:

  • Lack of appetite.
  • Sunken eyes.
  • Swollen limbs.
  • Dry poop.
  • Dry and flaky skin.
  • Less urine.
  • Thick or white urine.
  • Thick mucus from the mouth.


Constipation refers to your tortoise’s inability to pass droppings.

If constipation is long-term, it’ll cause poop to build up within the tortoise. This build-up causes pressure on the internal organs, which stops the back legs from moving.

Constipation is fairly common in tortoises. When left untreated, it can lead to severe fecal impaction, which can be life-ending.

A common home remedy is soaking your tortoise in warm, lukewarm water. Bring your tortoise to the vet if it doesn’t improve within a day or two. In the meantime, to prevent constipation, you should:

  • Regularly soak your tortoise at least once weekly to aid digestion and prevent dehydration.
  • Provide your tortoise with food rich in moisture.
  • Give your tortoise access to clean drinking water.

A nutritionally balanced diet will prevent your tortoise from developing constipation and fecal impaction because animals who aren’t fed well may try to gain nutrients from other sources.

This often results in pica, where animals eat non-food items, like small stones or rocks.

For example, the Journal of Small Animal Practice discusses a case of impaction in a marginated tortoise that ate pebbles. Scientists believe that this case of pica was because the tortoise wanted calcium.

Tortoise Won’t Come Out of Shell

Your tortoise may sit in the middle of its tank and refuse to move or tuck into its shell. While it’s normal for a tortoise to hide in its shell at certain points, it should not be a constant behavior.

If your tortoise refuses to poke out of its shell, here are four possible reasons:


If your tortoise doesn’t come out of its shell, it might be resting. Tortoises can rest with all of their limbs inside the shell.

Sleeping inside the shell has many benefits. Your tortoise can better conserve heat, so it’ll use less energy. Likewise, a shell can protect tortoises, making them feel more secure when sleeping.

Depending on the age of your tortoise, it may sleep up to 18 hours at a time. Older tortoises sleep for between 8-12 hours. So, don’t worry if your tortoise is napping in its shell, as long as it’s not manifesting any symptoms of illness.

New Tortoise

If your tortoise is new, it’ll require time before it adjusts to your home. Your new tortoise will be scared and need an adjustment period to feel safe before leaving its shell.

Give new tortoises time, as it can take days or weeks before they’ll regularly come out of their shells, especially with you present. Never force a new tortoise to come out because this will only scare your pet and make it take longer to adjust.

Instead, you can use other ways to check up on its health. Check the following:

  • Poop and how often it poops.
  • Urine and the amount of urine.
  • Eating habits and how often it eats.
what to do if tortoise is not moving

Feeling Scared

Tortoises hide in their shells to protect against objects, animals, or people they are scared of. Many things can frighten a tortoise, including:

  • Loud noises.
  • Unfamiliar people.
  • Other pets, especially predator species, like cats.

Most tortoises recover from being startled in a few minutes as long as the main issue has been removed. Others may stay in their shells for several days, especially if they were bumped or struck.

For example, if you accidentally kicked or stepped on your tortoise, it may have immediately retreated into its shell. Your tortoise will continue to be wary for about a week and then come out again.

Keep an eye out for signs of illness and injury. These include a lack of appetite, lethargy, and abnormal droppings. Barring that, your tortoise should go back to its usual behavior on its own.


Your tortoise may be hiding in its shell as a stress response to:

  • Malnutrition.
  • Illness and disease.
  • Wrong enclosure conditions.
  • Loud noises.

That said, even tortoises that have everything can still get stressed. Tortoises are creatures of habit, and they dislike changes to their surroundings. These changes can include:

  • A new member of the family.
  • The enclosure has been moved.
  • Moving house.

If your tortoise is stressed, ensure it’s safe, well-fed, and given constant access to water and hiding spots. With time, your tortoise should adjust to the changes on its own.

What To Do If Tortoise Is Not Moving

It’s easy to make hasty decisions if you think that your tortoise is injured or even dead. If your tortoise isn’t moving, don’t panic. Instead, follow these steps:

Symptoms of Disease

Common symptoms of illnesses in tortoises include:

  • Lack of appetite.
  • Lethargy and weakness.
  • Vomiting.
  • Gaping mouth.
  • Lumps or swelling.
  • Discharge from the eyes and nose.

Physical Reactions

You can gently prod, poke, or pinch if your tortoise is motionless. If your tortoise is alive, it’ll move away from you.

You can also pick up your tortoise. Tortoises that are dead will have limbs that are splayed out. Otherwise, the limbs will remain tucked inside the shell.


Tortoises that are brumating can be mistaken for dead. You will know that your tortoise is sleeping by:

  • Check if the tortoise is partially or completely buried under the substrate.
  • Picking up your tortoise. If it’s still alive, it will stay tucked inside the shell. The limbs of dead tortoises will be limp and fall out.
  • Tracking its food intake. If it ate less before it stopped moving, it’s probably brumating.

Also, check the outdoor and indoor temperatures. Once the weather gets colder, your tortoise will be inclined to brumate.

Warm Up The Enclosure

For any unmoving tortoise, warming it up is a good idea, as this will help injured tortoises heal faster, and stressed tortoises will become calmer. Of course, ensure the temperature isn’t too hot for your tortoise’s species.

If you didn’t prepare for it to brumate, it’s a good idea to wake it up before it sleeps any further.

Without the correct preparation, tortoises may come out of brumation worse than when they entered. To warm up a brumating tortoise, you’ll need to slowly bring up the temperature over 24 hours.

Soak Your Tortoise

Soaking your tortoise in lukewarm water can make it feel better. Do this by placing clean, lukewarm water in a dish. Make sure that the water does not go above the tortoise’s nostrils.

Tortoises that have finished their brumation must be soaked for 10 minutes, twice a day, for 7 days.