Skip to Content

Do Tortoises Drink Water? [9 Signs of Dehydration]

Do Tortoises Drink Water? [9 Signs of Dehydration]

Most pets whose natural habitat is associated with the limited availability of water can go several days without water. Given that some species of tortoises come from the desert. I did some research to learn whether they need water and how long they can go without it. Here is what I found.

Do tortoises drink water? Tortoises do drink water and need easy access to clean, fresh water on a daily basis for optimal health they need at least 20 minutes to rehydrate. Dechlorinated tap water is also safe for tortoises to drink. A healthy tortoise can go for one week on average without water in a low humid setup. Signs of dehydration in tortoise are underweight, sunken eyes, kidney failure, slackness of muscular tissue, smelly oral discharge, thickened, whitish, or reduced urine, dry feces, loss of appetite, the surface of the skin is powdery and dry.

One of the major issues that face most pet tortoises is dehydration as reported by most reptile vets.

Most pet tortoise owners assume that given tortoises are associated with an arid environment do not need water.

Dehydration can have life-threatening consequences even in the short term, always make sure that your tort has access to clean and fresh water on a daily basis.

Consult your vet in case you suspect or observe the above-outlined symptoms of dehydration.

Do Tortoise need water

Tortoise like all other animals needs water to be able to carry out all body functions and most importantly getting rid of body waste products.

Tortoises can be ideally divided into three broad groups based on their environment: arid tortoises, grassland, and rainforest tortoises.

Each group of tortoises is adapted to their environment differently, Mediterranean tortoises are for instance adapted to the arid environment that they are naturally found in.

Mediterranean tortoise normally excretes their waste products via uric acid rather than urea. Uric acid does not need a lot of water to eliminate from the body as compared to urea.

Therefore, given the limited availability of water in their natural environment, it would only make sense as to why they eliminate their waste as uric acid rather than urea.

A lot of activity has been observed on semi-arid tortoise dwellers immediately when rains set in.

Most tortoise could be observed drinking and urinating at the same time, an act that was assumed to signify that with increased water uptake, the tortoise took the opportunity to get rid of the waste products in its system.

Reduced activities and increased aestivation were also observed during summer or dry conditions in general as reported in this post published here.

How can you tell if a tortoise is dehydrated?

Signs of a dehydrated tortoise includes

  • Loss of weight
  • sunken eyes or tearing eyes [ in serious cases the center of the cornea will appear depressed].
  • loss of appetite
  • dry feces
  • Mouth mucus appears thick and ropey
  • Dry, flaky and loose skin
  • Thickened, reduced, whitish urine
  • lack of activity, lethargy and depression

How does dehydration affect the internal organs of tortoises

Tortoise excretes nitrogenous waste through uric acid. Urates from the liver where proteins are digested are transported into the kidney for further processing.

For animals that have a limited water availability such as tortoises uric acid which has low water content is excreted via cloaca in a crystalline form.

When the tortoises suffer from dehydration excretion of nitrogenous waste is normally the first victim.

Nitrogenous waste requires water for excretion, with little to no water in the body of the tort, urea levels in the blood of the tortoise go up.

Increased uric acid in the body starts to precipitate in the kidney specifically in the renal tubule plus other body parts.

As the dehydration conditions worsen the kidneys stop working entirely which eventually leads to death.

How Do Tortoises Drink Water?

There have been a lot of misconceptions surrounding how tortoises drink water. Some people claim that tortoises can drink water via their skin while others claim that tortoises can drink water via their cloaca.

Just like most reptiles tortoise will drink water by lowering its mouth into the water and sipping it.

They will raise their heads once in a while to take a breath before continuing to drink more water.

Below is a video showing a tort of drinking water.

Due to the fact that tortoise comes from an environment where the availability of water is not guaranteed, they have adapted to storing water in their bladder during rainy seasons which is then reabsorbed in the body when there is a limited supply of water.

However, to set the records straight based on the available research here and here, tortoises and turtles do not drink water via the cloaca.

Little evidence exists to prove that tortoise drink water via their skin, however, there is evidence that tortoise does reabsorb water from the bladder as waste is being excreted and do drink from their nose.

How to encourage tortoise to drink water

Based on this report, it is reported that tortoises drank more water following a rainy season.

Similarly, during their foraging activities whenever they came across a water source they stopped to drink.

This means that to encourage your tort to drink water you should replicate the same conditions.

Therefore, to encourage your tortoise to drink water sprinkle it with a garden horse pipe or sprinkler on its shell and this will stimulate rain and encourage drinking.

Another trick to encourage your tortoise to drink water is to put a bowl of fresh water in its cage, the bowl should be shallow enough since the tortoise cannot swim to avoid drowning.

Bathing your tortoise is also another easier way to encourage your tortoise to drink water.

When bathing your tortoise do not be alarmed when it pees into the water, in the wild when it rains tortoises tend to urinate a lot.

This can be attributed to the fact that with increased water availability, the tortoise finds it’s okay to get rid of waste in their body and replenish water reserves at the same time.

If your tortoise is severely dehydrated consult your vet immediately for assistance. Some cases of dehydration may require the help of the vet.

Dehydration levels in tortoise

Dehydration in reptiles is divided into two groups, Group A is characterized by reptiles that have acute dehydration.

In this group of reptiles, uric acid and blood urea have not yet precipitated, the kidney system is still functional.

This form of dehydration is a result of an infection such as protozoan that results in diarrhea or excessive cloaca voiding.

This form of dehydration is easily taken care of via oral hydration, using a mixture of electrolytes such as sodium chloride.

Group B on the other hand is made of reptiles that are severely dehydrated. Signs of dehydration are clearly visible, blood urea is excessively high and renal failure is already imminent. Reptiles fed a lot of proteins will mostly fall under this category.

If your tortoise is in this category B seek vet assistance immediately.

Frequently Asked Question

Can tortoise drink tap water? A tortoise can drink tap water that does not have chlorine in it. Small amounts of chlorine will not harm tortoises, however, tap water with high chlorine content will harm tortoises and should not be offered. Distilled water is much better compared to tap water.

How long can a tortoise go without water? The tortoise can go for about a week without water in a low humid environment. However, make sure to provide enough fresh water daily as even two days of dehydration can weaken a tortoise and deteriorate its health.

How often should you bathe tortoises? Generally, a mature tortoise should bathe as often as two to three times a week with lukewarm water. And more often for hatchlings, for dehydrated tortoises, they should be bathed daily till they are hydrated again.

Why does my tortoise Pee white stuff? The white stuff in tortoise pee is the urates being excreted from the tortoise body. If the white stuff is thick you should offer your tortoise enough water to drink.

Can a tortoise live without water? No, a tortoise cannot live without water, it would die due to renal system failure. The longest a tortoise can survive without water is a week longer than that and the tortoise may die from dehydration.

Do tortoises drink water through their tail? No, tortoises cannot drink water through their tail or cloaca. However, prior to the excretion of waste, they can reabsorb water from the urine bladder.

Do tortoises die in water? Tortoises are not good swimmers and depending on the depth of the water tortoise can drown. If the water is too dip such as a swimming pool the tortoise will drown but in a small bowl, it will not drown.

Final word

While a tortoise can go for a few days without water, it is not advisable to deny your tortoise a fresh daily water supply. Dehydration can lead to organ failure such as the renal system which will eventually lead to death.

Do not assume that your pet tortoise will get water from the foods it eats. Bathing your tortoise at least twice a week or more is a good way of ensuring that it is well hydrated as they like drinking water when they are being bathed or when they come into contact with water. Do not be alarmed by your tortoise peeing in the water when you are bathing it, this behavior is very natural.