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Home > Turtles > How Often Do Tortoises Poop? Healthy vs Unhealthy Habits

How Often Do Tortoises Poop? Healthy vs Unhealthy Habits

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Dr. Lauren Demos

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Tortoises are land-dwelling reptiles that are increasingly becoming popular exotic pets. Tortoise species can range in size from the massive giant Galapagos Giant Tortoise, which can weigh more than 220 pounds, to the diminutive Speckled Cape Tortoise, whose shell is only 2.7 inches long. One important part of pet care is nutrition and digestive health. Tortoises defecate like other reptiles; they have a vent that releases three distinct substances: urine, feces, and urate.

Tortoises sometimes vent them separately, but they often do them together. A tortoise can poop every day or once every 2 or 3 days; how often a tortoise will defecate depends on age, size, diet, and health. Other factors can affect how often a tortoise might poop, such as dehydration or poor diet, so it’s important to know what’s healthy for your tortoise and what’s unhealthy.

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What Does Healthy Tortoise Poop Look Like?

A healthy bowel movement’s exact look and composition will differ between species. Generally, a healthy tortoise poop is a firm, brown-green pellet with visible fibrous matter inside. They are smelly by design, and some can be pretty large! Sometimes, tortoises will urinate when they poop or poop in the water; it’s crucial to know how your tortoise’s normal fecal matter looks for comparison.

Loose and watery poop is a sign of diarrhea and can quickly cause dehydration, so recognizing it and taking action is vital. If your tortoise poops in the water when bathing, the poop should still come out solid and not liquid. The feces are dry but not overly so; if your tortoise is straining to poop and only produces small, dehydrated pellets (or none), it is a sign of constipation or impaction. You should always bring abnormal stools to the attention of your exotics vet.

Turtles also excrete urates occasionally, which is the normal and healthy removal of uric acid waste from the body. Urates look like a white smear or paste with a consistency ranging from watery to toothpaste-like. Urates should never be gritty; gritty urates are a sign of dehydration.

How Much Poop Is Normal?

The volume of poop your tortoise produces is dependent on their size and diet, but it’s usually a surprising amount! As long as the poop is firm, displays a healthy color and consistency, and your tortoise is eating well, big poops are usually nothing to worry about.

If your tortoise produces lots of watery feces or very little at all, it indicates a problem. Dehydration is a genuine concern if your tortoise has diarrhea, and very little or no poop production can signal constipation, which can have some dangerous consequences.

tortoise poop
Image By: Danae Abreu, Shutterstock

Constipation and Diarrhea

Diarrhea can be caused by a diet rich in fruit and vegetables; contrary to common knowledge, tortoises thrive on almost purely fibrous diets consisting of hay and choice vegetation such as flowers and weeds. Other causes of diarrhea include infections with worms or bacteria. If you suspect your tortoise has diarrhea, it’s important to get them to the vet’s office as soon as possible as it can get easily dehydrated.

Constipation is at the other end of the spectrum. A constipated tortoise will only produce dry, small, hard stools (often with difficulty) or may stop eliminating poop altogether. Knowing how often your tortoise defecates is key in identifying constipation, as it can be hard to differentiate normal movements from abnormal ones.

Dehydration is a big factor in constipation, and blockages of the gastrointestinal tract can be a potentially lethal reason for it. Blockages are often caused by the tortoise eating substrate such as bark or woodchips, which it cannot digest, causing a bowel obstruction and stopping feces.

Signs of Intestinal Blockage

It’s essential to take your tortoise to the vet as soon as possible if you think they might have a blockage in their bowel, which often causes signs of illness alongside constipation, such as:

  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia (not eating)
  • Vomiting/regurgitation

divider-turtleHow Can I Help My Tortoise Poop?

If your tortoise seems otherwise healthy, but you haven’t seen them poop for a few days, consider giving them a bath. However, it’s best to contact your veterinarian first to update them on your pet’s status.

Water Bathing

Water bathing is essential to the husbandry and care of tortoises, as it hydrates them and aids with shedding, toileting, and hygiene. A warm water bath can sometimes be all a tortoise needs to defecate, and they’ll often urinate and drink at the same time. This can help treat dehydration and can ease constipation. A soak should last at least 30 minutes and should be given once or twice a week for adult tortoises (more often for juveniles). Never leave your tortoise alone in any amount of water since they can easily drown.


Healthy Diet

Tortoises need a high-fiber diet with balanced levels of calcium and protein. Hay and grass are ideal for them, along with fibrous vegetation such as succulents, weeds, and flowers such as hibiscus. Too much fruit or vegetables can cause diarrhea, and tortoises should never be fed anything with carbohydrates or animal protein. Cat and dog food are very dangerous to them and can cause malnutrition and even death if they eat too much protein. A tortoise suffering from constipation may not be receiving enough fiber in their diet.

tortoise eating a cabbage
Image By: Rommel Canlas, Shutterstock

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When Should I Be Concerned About My Tortoise’s Poop Habits?

Tortoises usually have their own poop schedules, so you should get to know how regular your tortoise is and know where they like to go (such as in warm baths). Diarrhea usually indicates a dietary or digestive problem that should be addressed; if you notice any worms in your tortoise poop, they need to be seen by the vet urgently.

Some tortoises live with a large parasite load that can cause other issues, such as constipation and malnutrition. When your tortoise stops defecating, they should be taken to the vet due to the dangers of gastrointestinal blockage, especially if they’re exhibiting other signs of illness, such as not eating or lethargy. When you have any concerns, contacting your exotic vet for advice is always best.

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Final Thoughts

Tortoises have different defecating habits than many animals, but they still have a baseline that owners should be aware of to monitor their health. Normal stools are fibrous, fully formed, and usually pungent! Diarrhea or constipation are issues you should look out for in your tortoise as they can potentially cause more significant issues or can be caused by dangerous health problems.


Featured Image Credit: LifeisticAC, Shutterstock

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