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Why Is My Tortoise Pacing Back And Forth?

(Last Updated On: January 17, 2023)

You may find your tortoise moving back and forth in its tank.

It may be obsessed with pacing in a straight line from one end of the enclosure to the next if it’s outside. If it lives in an indoor tank, it may wander along the glass incessantly with almost no breaks.

Most tortoises pace back and forth when bored, confused by the glass walls of their tank, or lack sufficient room to explore.

If a tortoise appears restless, it may be stressed by outside noises or a diet change. Tortoises may pace to burn off sexual frustration or impress their mates during the mating season.

Consider getting your tortoise a bigger enclosure, and regulate its temperature to avoid getting stuck between half-brumating and half-awake.

You can set up visual barriers with cardboard so your tortoise isn’t confused by the glass.

Why Does My Tortoise Pace?

You may find your tortoise constantly pacing back and forth along the wall of its tank. It might also wander to and fro if it lives outside, going from one end of its enclosure to the other.

It’s natural for tortoises to move around and explore their environments. However, if this behavior seems repetitive or obsessive, it’s usually a bad sign, meaning that your tortoise is:


Tortoises are slow-moving creatures, but they still require enrichment to stay happy.

If your tortoise doesn’t have toys, hides, or climbing spots, it’ll get bored and try to create fun by wandering back and forth to stay busy.

Unfortunately, this isn’t healthy and won’t keep your tortoise entertained for long. It’s a warning sign that it’s bored and may become lethargic, refuse to eat, or start displaying aggression.

Bored tortoises will brood in the corner of their tank or attempt to climb out of their enclosure frequently.

Confused By Glass

Tortoises can see through glass, but they don’t understand the material.

They believe an invisible barrier keeps them from exploring the outside world. So, a tortoise may wander back and forth along the tank wall, looking for an opening or hoping the barrier will disappear.

This isn’t harmful to the tortoise; some will stop after a few days. However, others will become obsessed with getting out through the glass and become stressed when they cannot do so.

Consider getting a different tank if your tortoise constantly starts headbutting the glass or paces. A wooden enclosure that allows you to look at it from above will be a safer, less confusing option.

Lacks Room To Explore

Certain tortoise species are known to be energetic, to the point of walking several miles each day. This includes the African, Greek, Mediterranean, and desert tortoises.

This is an evolutionary instinct used to locate food, expand their territory, and stay away from predators. However, this instinct can stay with your pet tortoise, making it eager to explore and expand its habitat.

If your tortoise is kept in a small tank and can’t move around freely, it may start pacing to burn off energy. It could also grow frustrated when it reaches one end of its enclosure and needs to turn around to go the other way.

Provide a larger tank with more toys and climbable objects to burn off surplus energy.  

Mating Frustration

Tortoises are more likely to pace around their enclosure just before or during the mating season. According to Behavioral Ecology, tortoises pace to impress and attract mates in the wild.

For pet tortoises, pacing is used for expending pent-up energy and frustration that would otherwise be used for mating. If your tortoise doesn’t stop walking back and forth, it may be sexually frustrated.

Why Is My Tortoise Restless?

If you find your tortoise pacing around aimlessly, this can be a symptom of illness or discomfort. Known as perennial restlessness, this indicates that your tortoise cannot hold still.

Perennial restlessness usually involves:

Here are some of the causes of restlessness in tortoises:

tortoise constantly pacing

Outside Disturbances

Tortoises can’t hear certain frequencies, but they’re adept at picking up heavy vibrations.

If you stomp around near your tortoise’s enclosure, play bass-heavy music, or construction is going on nearby, this can distress your tortoise. The same applies to cars driving by, deep-sounding barks from dogs, and thunder.

The tortoise will move around, climb, and attempt to escape from the incoming danger as it sees it. If it can’t hide, or the scary sound doesn’t go away, the tortoise might go from burrow to burrow, one corner of the tank to the other, or pace around restlessly.

Sudden Change of Diet

Tortoises have an efficient digestive system but can still become sick due to abrupt dietary changes. For example, changing from high-fiber to high-water-content food may cause diarrhea, leading to distress and restlessness.

Unlike turtles, which require high protein diets, tortoises are mostly herbivorous. According to PLOS One, picky tortoises carefully track the phenology of their preferred food plants.

Therefore, tortoises should be fed a low-protein diet and more leafy greens. Since they take so long to digest food, an upset stomach can make a tortoise restless.

Tortoise Pacing And Not Eating

If your tortoise keeps pacing around even after you give it its favorite food, it’s either sick or unhappy.

Tortoises don’t need to eat every day and can survive for many weeks without consistent meals. However, that doesn’t mean you should allow your tortoise to stop eating.

Pacing tortoises with inappetence could have the following problems:


Many illnesses can affect a tortoise’s appetite or interest in food, especially respiratory infections. Intestinal worms can severely irritate a tortoise’s stomach and depress its appetite.

Your tortoise may have stomatitis, which is most common after the tortoise comes out of brumation. This mouth infection makes it painful for the tortoise to chew and swallow certain foods.

The tortoise will feel distressed, pacing in frustration.


A tortoise may be dehydrated due to excessive heat, an inability to soak, or in the 1-2 weeks after brumation.

When the tortoise is thirsty, it’ll seek water. The tortoise may search for fresh, clean water if hydration is unavailable, difficult to access, or dirty. This may cause it to pace relentlessly, even ignoring food to prioritize this need.

Tortoises cannot survive for longer than a week (at most) without hydration.

Low Temperatures

If the temperatures in the enclosure fall out of a comfortable range, the tortoise may lose its appetite as it prepares to brumate. It may pace back and forth as it searches for a burrow to hide in.


If your tortoise dislikes its food, feels scared, or is bored, it may become stressed.

A stressed tortoise may pace back and forth to cope with its frustration.

Why Is My Baby Tortoise Pacing? 

Baby tortoises are more sensitive to external influences than adult tortoises.

If kept in a glass enclosure, baby tortoises may confuse their reflections with other tortoises. They may continually try to reach the others to play together. Given that glass is in the way, the baby tortoise will pace back and forth.

Depending on the age and species, a baby tortoise may start pacing around when it sees you. This could be to get your attention, food, or want you to let it out of the enclosure.

Why is My Female Tortoise Pacing?

Pacing in female tortoises usually happens for two reasons:

  • During the mating season, when they want to attract a mate.
  • Just before they start laying eggs, to find an appropriate nesting spot.

In both cases, the pacing will be accompanied by uncharacteristically aggressive behavior, including:

  • Head banging
  • Biting
  • Ramming surrounding objects

How To Stop Tortoise Pacing

Tortoises live simple lives, and it doesn’t take too much to get them out of a pacing frenzy.

Here are some ways to stop a tortoise from pacing:

Bigger Enclosure

If your tortoise has sufficient room to play and explore, it won’t pace back and forth restlessly. Get a larger tank or create an outdoor enclosure that allows them to wander freely and create burrows.

Temperature Regulation

Stress and the lead-up to brumation can cause your tortoise to pace around. These factors can be caused by accidentally setting the temperatures too low.

Check the requirements for your tortoise species, and ensure that it’s getting enough UV light. Most tortoises thrive at 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit, so adjust the heat lamp or ceramic heater accordingly.

Visual Barriers

If your tortoise can see beyond its enclosure but can’t reach this new space, it may pace to find a means of escape.

Use a material other than glass or set up barriers that limit a tortoise’s line of sight to keep it focused on its tank, not the outside world. Wood, plants, cardboard boxes, and drawings are good options.


You can avoid boredom by offering your tortoise more hides, toys, climbing areas, and a wider range of food. This will keep your tortoise active and entertained, so it doesn’t have to pace constantly.

Tortoises usually pace back and forth because they’re unwell or unhappy. You can make adjustments by checking on their environment, health, and external factors, returning the tortoise to its normal routine.