Owning a pet tortoise can be worrying at times, especially when your pet refuses to eat. If your pet stops eating suddenly, it can be very confusing as you try and figure out what is wrong. Knowing signs to look for and getting to know your tortoise and its eating habits, can make it easier to quickly identify if there is a problem and how to proceed.
How Long Can Tortoises Go Without Eating?
Your tortoise may not have eaten for a few days and the question you want to answer is how long can your pet survive without eating. Some tortoises go into brumation, reducing their food intake considerably. An adult tortoise that is healthy can go for six months to three years without food, as long as they can rehydrate themselves with plenty of water and their temperature and humidity needs are met.
How Often Should I Be Feeding My Tortoise?
In the wild, your tortoise may not eat every day, therefore you don't have to feed them daily. Feeding daily can reduce eating as their bodies are not used to eating on such a regular basis, therefore it is recommended you feed them up to five times a week. This enables their systems to catch up over two days, where food is withheld. Withholding food for two days is minimal compared to how long your tortoise may not eat if it chooses to self starve, which can lead to other medical problems such as mouth sores and more.
Common Reasons Why Your Tortoise Is Not Eating
Tortoises are known to be fussy eaters when they want to be and maybe your tortoise simply is not enjoying the food you have presented them with. It's not uncommon for a tortoise to not eat if you have suddenly changed their diet or you are trying to give them stale food. What you can do if this happens is give your tortoise its favorite treat to see if it is not eating due to diet or if there is another problem you need to identify.
Some tortoises go into a relaxed state during winter, called brumation, which is similar to hibernation. They will not eat during this time and they may not be hungry when they first come out of their hibernation period. They will automatically prioritize getting water to hydrate themselves before they look for food. It's not uncommon for tortoises to not show any interest in food for a few days after they come out of hibernation. Provide access to plenty of fresh clean water and give them a couple of days before you start introducing food to the habitat. It's recommended for the first few feeds after they wake up, you should feed fruits and vegetables that are high in water content.
We mentioned self-starvation briefly above. The digestive system of a tortoise is not the same as ours and they take considerably longer to digest their food. When they eat enough or too much, they become backed up, which results in them starving themselves to make room for more food. You can withhold food for two days a week, feeding five days. This can be done back to back, ideal if you are going away for a weekend, or you can spread the two days out over the week. Following this feeding schedule will reduce the risk of self-starvation, which can go on longer than two days.
Bear in mind that if the temperatures drop in the habitat, your tortoise may want to go into brumation, which will result in your pet not eating. Tortoises are very sensitive to temperatures, being cold-blooded they need to be kept warm. You should have a warm and cool side to the enclosure. Using a digital thermometer can help you monitor the habitat temperature regularly to ensure temperatures remain at optimum.
As with all living things, health problems arise from time to time. There are three main health problems that can result in your tortoise not wanting to eat.
Mouth Rot (Stomatitis) is a mouth infection that spreads down the throat if it is not treated quickly and effectively. Being located in the mouth, the infection makes it difficult for your pet to eat and it's not uncommon for tortoises with mouth rot to refuse food.
Internal parasites (worms) can make your pet uncomfortable and refuse to eat. You should check your tortoise twice a year to identify if it has any internal parasites. This should be done in summer and just before brumation. Keep a close eye on droppings for signs of worms. If you notice worms, your tortoises should be treated by the vet soonest. You will also need to do a thorough clean of the habitat to reduce the risk of reinfection.
How to Encourage Eating
There are some ways you can encourage your tortoise to start eating, these include:
A tortoise that is not eating and isn't just coming out of brumation can be offered their favorite treat, which usually does the trick. If they take the treat, this means the problem could be diet-related.
Fresh and Varied Diet
Ensure you keep to the feeding schedule, offering fresh food and a variety of foods. Take note of what is eaten and what is left behind, along with how much your tortoise eats of each green, vegetable, and fruit you offered. Maybe you notice that some greens are eaten and some are left behind, or if the food was offered in layers, the first top layers are eaten, and then the tortoise stops. This shows you that there are foods that your pet is not showing interest in and you can eliminate them from the diet.
Ensure your tortoise is warm enough. If he is spending most of the time under the heating lamp and not moving around, then your temperatures could be too low. Low temperatures slow the tortoise’s system down, resulting in them going into brumation. Increase temperatures to optimum and monitor for eating.
Visit the Vet
If your tortoise hasn't shown any interest in food for a few days, then it may be time to visit the vet. By now you have a good idea it is not temperature, diet, or self-starvation, so you need to have all other possibilities ruled out.
Take note of if your tortoise is pooping and whether the poop is normal. Take a sample, if it is abnormal, so the vet can carry out an analysis to achieve a fast and accurate diagnosis.
While there are numerous reasons your tortoise may not be eating, it is very concerning for the owner. The good news is that not all the reasons mean complications, some problems are simple and very easy to fix.
Sometimes changing the diet or adding a food they enjoy more is all it takes to get your pet eating again. Sometimes you have to wait a few days and see, allowing their digestive system to catch up and make space for more food.
If the temperatures are dropping and you're heading into winter and your tortoise hibernates, then he isn't going to eat for up to three days before. Remember to provide ample fresh water so he can hydrate himself when he wakes up.
In addition to this, remember tortoises don't like the cold, so careful monitoring of the habitat enclosure may be all it takes to get your pet eating again. Warm them up and they will have their appetite back.Finally, there are many cases where not eating is a sign of something more serious, which can result in your tortoise losing too much weight. Ensure you have your pet checked by the vet if you suspect illness.