Maintenance of Tortoises (MOT)

Daily things to look out for with your Tortoise




When walking, a Tortoise should walk high on it's legs with it's plastron high off the ground. Watch your tortoise so that you can see if anything changes in the way that it walks.


If you find that your tortoise is walking strangely, then you need to get it to a specialist vet, it could be a number of things and does need checking.





Listen to your tortoise so that you know what normal breathing is for your tortoise.


If you find that your tortoise's breathing is heavy or noisy, then you must get it straight to a specialist vet. This could be the start of pneumonia and you must act quickly.





The nose should be clean and dry for a normal nose. If not it may have an infection.


If you have just washed your tortoise and it blows bubbles then just dry it off and see if it continues, it may be just the soapy water used to wash the tortoise.



If your tortoise is found to be blowing bubbles (and it isn't after a bath) then it could be RNS (runny nose syndrome)



You must get your tortoise straight to a specialist tortoise vet as this is a very urgent situation.








Your tortoise's eyes should be dark in colour, shiny and look alive.


If there is any cloudiness you need to get your tortoise to a specialist tortoise vet as it may have an infection.


If your tortoises eyes are weeping then it may just have dust in them. If you go to a chemist and get some hypomelulose eye drops (sterile water) you can clean them with this. If this does not solve the problem then

take it to see a specialist tortoise vet and get it checked out.


If your tortoise eyes are swollen, sticky or has puss in them then, you must get it to a specialist tortoise vet



Blindness in tortoises is caused by either infection or from frost damage whilst hibernating. You really need to get

your tortoise to a tortoise vet immediately if you think that it may be blind. A course of eye drops may solve the

problem but there is no perfect cure.


Make sure that you hibernate your tortoise at the correct temperature of 3-5C, but also remember that tropical

tortoises must not hibernate.








The shell of your tortoise should be firm, smooth and clean with a good pattern.


If you tortoises shell is soft then this will be due to lack of calcium normally. You must take your tortoise to a

specialist tortoise vet immediately as it needs treatment.


There is no quick fix and treatment can take quite a long time to put right.


You also need to check for shell rot. This is caused when the tortoise is damaged and bacteria gets into the cracks of

the carapace or plastron and this bacteria eats away between the layers between the epidermis and the bone. If left

untreated it will continue to spread to the bone, causing considerable distress and a risk of septicaemia. This does

need seeing by a specialist tortoise vet as soon as it is spotted.







The carapace is the top of the shell.


All of the scutes should be present and they should not be damaged in any way.


If there are any white marks on this area, these are where the tortoise could have been damaged, very often by a dog.

This is where the shell has sealed itself and is repairing itself. Nothing needs to be done apart from keeping them clean and keeping an eye in case anything changes, e.g. blood, weeping from the between the scutes.


Any loose shell will usually have been caused by a knock which has resulted in shell rot. This can usually be flicked off with your finger nail and then cleaned with warm water and an antibacterial soap or hibiscrub. If it will not flick off then do not pull it off, just keep clean until it will come away. If in doubt get the tortoise to a specialist tortoise vet for a check-up.







The plastron is the bottom shell and should be checked as for the carapace.







The mouth needs checking for Mouth Rot. To do this you need to look inside the mouth, which sometimes can be a difficult task. Sometimes they will open their mouths wide when offered something that they really like and you can check this way. 


If you feel that there might be a problem and you cannot open the mouth then you do need to get your tortoise to a tortoise specialist vet and let them check for you.


Their mouth should be clean and pink with a nice pink tongue, a little like ours. If there is any mucus or yellow mucus or a bad smell then you must get your tortoise to a specialist vet as soon as possible.


They can usually go off their food as well if there is a problem with their mouth so keep an eye out for this.







After soaking and washing your tortoise you can then check your tortoise's skin for any problems. Check the areas of the face, tail and legs.


The scales should be intact and not damaged. All the toes should be present and should not be too long. If they are, then you need to get them trimmed by a specialist vet or put some slabs into their area so that this helps to keep them shorter.


The tail should be clean with no signs of diarrhoea or damage. There should be no swelling on any part of the skin, if you find any then get to a specialist tortoise vet urgently.


A swelling may possibly be an abscess so it must be checked out. The ears are particularly susceptible to abscesses so you need to check regularly. If an abscess is diagnosed minor surgery may be needed.


If you find that your tortoise has a cut then treat it the same as you would for yourself. Wash, apply germicidal cream and cover. Keep an eye on it to make sure it heals.







This should be well formed, digested and fibrous.


If it is not fibrous then you need to relook at the foods your tortoise is having as it may need more fibre adding to the diet.


If it is light or the tortoise has diarrhoea then your tortoise may have worms and this will need treatment from a specialist vet.


It could be something serious so please make sure.




Weights and Measure




Keep good records of your tortoises weight, length, distinguishing marks and any treatment carried out by a specialist vet.


These can be very useful when you visit your vet and may help them if the tortoise becomes ill.







Ensure that your tortoise gets the proper diet for the species that you have. Most diets must consist of a high % of fibre.


Read the feeding article and the individual care sheets to ensure that you can provide the proper diet.


If your tortoise does not eat correctly then it can get Anorexia. This can either be tortoises that do not eat at all, only eat a little and then walk away, or a tortoise that has to be hand fed. Hibernating at the wrong temperatures can also cause this as it can mean that the tortoise has to burn protein (muscle). Waste products in the form of urates then accumulate in their kidneys. This also raises the blood urea which causes the lack of appetite. Other problems such as mouth rot or inadequate basking facilities can make the problem worse.


A tortoise suffering from anorexia must be taken to a specialist vet immediately. They will probably keep the tortoise warm and they may need to feed liquidized food by stomach tube. They will probably also soak the tortoise regularly to prevent dehydration. This is not something that can be cured quickly but if caught in time the tortoise has a good chance to survive.