If you own a tortoise then you’ve almost certainly noticed, they’re not heavy water drinkers and you may be a bit worried that your tortoise is not getting enough to drink. So, we’ve put together a guide that will help you make sure your tortoise is always hydrated.
How do you get a tortoise to drink? Pet tortoises should have access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times so that they drink whenever they want. Tortoises also drink and get hydrated from their regular soaks and by absorbing water from their food. A proper diet, access to fresh water in a shallow dish, and regular soaks ensure that your tortoise gets enough to drink.
That doesn’t mean that a tortoise can never lack any water. It is very possible for a tortoise to get dehydrated, especially after hibernation, and this can be fatal. It’s important to keep an eye on your pet tortoise’s overall health, so let’s see exactly how to keep your tort nicely hydrated.
How To Keep A Tortoise Well Hydrated
Firstly, it’s important to realize that tortoises don’t need as much water as, say, a dog and that they get much of their water from their diet and much of the rest will come from taking regular soaks.
In fact, bathing your tortoise on a regular basis is an essential part of tortoise ownership as we will see in a minute.
These means that tortoises don’t need to drink very much water on top of their usual diet to stay fully hydrated. So, you shouldn’t worry too much if you are leaving out water for a tortoise and it’s not being drained in the way it might if you were leaving water for a mammal or even another lizard.
Access To Drinking Water
It is very important, however, that your tortoise has access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times. They may not need it very often but when they do need it – they need it and you should make absolutely certain that there’s water on hand.
Because a tortoise isn’t a thirsty drinker – this may be more important than with animals that drink a lot of water – tortoises are susceptible to several conditions associated with dehydration which can come on quite quickly.
You should place water, on a daily basis, in a large and shallow bowl. You ought to leave this in the coolest and most shaded part of the tortoise’s home environment. This will prevent it from evaporating over the course of the day – never leave it in the basking areas as it will certainly evaporate from there.
Can A Tortoise Drink Tap Water?
So, do you need to buy a tortoise special water, or can it drink your tap water? This, it turns out, is something of a contentious issue. We’ve found that many tortoise owners claim that tap water is perfectly safe and that “if it’s good for you then it’s good for your tortoise”.
We’ve found others that insist if there’s even a hint of chlorine in the water then your tortoise may get sick from the water that they drink.
We’d prefer to err on the safe side of the debate, while we’re not entirely convinced that trace amounts of chlorine in the water are dangerous, it’s very easy to remove the chlorine from your water – you can buy a cheap filtration system for use at home that will remove heavy metals and chlorine from the water.
If you can’t afford or get one of the filtration systems, you can also buy “de-chlorinator” from a pet store which is a chemical that’s used to remove chlorine from water that you keep fish in.
Finally, as a last resort – you can just leave tap water in an open vessel in your kitchen for about 24 hours before you offer it to your tortoise – this will allow the majority of chlorine to evaporate from the water.
One thing you should know is that distilled water won’t be good for your tortoise – tap water has more of the essential minerals that your tortoise needs. Distilled water is completely absent of minerals.
Related article: Can tortoises drink milk? What pet owners must know
A tortoise’s skin requires plenty of moisture and the easiest way to help them get it is to give them a regular soak. Now, we’ve already written an in depth guide to bathing your tortoise – so, if you want all the details on this, you should check that out.
However, we can touch on the highlights here so that you can be sure of what’s needed.
You should give your tortoise a bath at least twice a week. You will find that they can absorb some of the bath water through a valve in their cloaca and they may drink some of it too.
That means you should probably de-chlorinate the water that they bathe in too, just to be on the safe side.
You can bathe a tortoise in a shallow container that they can easily climb out of. You pop them in some lukewarm water that doesn’t come up any higher than the tortoise’s chin. They may poop in the water and if they do, you should change it immediately.
Then you can let them soak for about 20 minutes and they will let you know when they’re done by climbing out of the bath.
If you’re feeling particularly kind then you can put some fresh water (no chlorine please) in one of those misting bottles that you can buy in any supermarket, then at least two hours before you switch the heat lamps off in the vivarium – you can give your tortoises a little spray of mist each day.
You don’t want their enclosure to become damp though as this can lead to mold, bacteria, etc. thriving in parts of the enclosure. Misting is a nice touch that helps the tortoises stay healthy but only if you don’t create other health hazards. So, if you can’t deliver the misting at the right time of day – it’s better to skip it than risk breeding diseases.
It is very important that the majority of your tortoise’s diet (about 80%) is made up of dark green vegetables. If you think your tortoise might be a little dehydrated, you can up the water content in their food and there are several vegetables which have a high water content such as lettuce and cucumber.
It’s important to recognize that in the wild, the majority of orally consumed water in a tortoise’s diet comes from the food that they eat and any moisture (rainwater) that is on the food when they eat it. So, if you have concerns regarding hydration, their diet is always a good place to start.
Vitamins and Minerals In Their Diet
As with pretty much all living creatures, tortoises need and expend minerals and vitamins and they may be related to hydration. Sadly, this has not been studied in any kind of depth and apart from the obvious need for dietary calcium (which promotes shell growth), phosphorous (which works in the nervous system) and vitamin D3 (which helps the body use the calcium) effectively the precise mineral balance a tortoise requires is unknown.
Therefore, it is difficult to say which minerals a tortoise requires to stay hydrated and it is, generally, assumed that they get enough of these vitamins in their general diet.
You may find that a vet prescribes certain medications or supplements for a tortoise but they are unlikely to do so in a form that requires that the supplement or medicine is added to their drinking water because it would be hard to ensure that a tortoise drank enough to make a difference to their health.
What Should You Do If Your Tortoise Refuses To Drink?
Always keep a close eye on the general health of your tortoise. Because tortoises don’t always need to drink water (particularly if they get enough from other sources), not drinking is not an indication that there’s something wrong with your pet.
Related article: Do tortoises eat every day?
Tortoises may also go a little while between meals without arousing any concern (in fact sometimes tortoises skip a day between meals).
So, instead of trying to gauge their health through diet, you should keep an eye on their eyes, mouth, nose, limbs and shell and see if everything appears “normal”, if it does, and they are pooping normally, your tortoise is probably perfectly healthy.
Related article: Why do tortoises poop in water?
However, if you are concerned about your pet’s health in any way, the best place to get a definitive answer regarding your tortoise is not online but rather from your local vet.
A Healthy Tortoise Knows When To Drink
As you may have guessed by now, you can’t make a tortoise drink and while, theoretically, you might be able to force some down their throat with a dropper or other aid – you really shouldn’t need to do this.
A healthy tortoise that is eating well and getting regular baths is almost certainly getting enough water in their diet and therefore, it doesn’t need you to make it drink. If there’s water available, they’ll come and get it when they need it.
Is It True That Only Sick Tortoises Drink Water?
Unfortunately, this truth about tortoises and water seems to have led to some misunderstanding on behalf of some tortoise owners and at least one writer, who shall remain nameless here, that only sick tortoises will drink water.
You should not worry if your tortoises are drinking water. It’s far more likely that a sick tortoise would go off their good than suddenly start taking a drink. Healthy tortoises can and, in fact, do drink water. It’s that simple.
You might be concerned, however, if they start to drink huge volumes of water as that might be an indictor of something wrong, you would need to consult a vet about this, however. It’s not a warning sign of a common tortoise problem.
Do Tortoises Drink Water In The Wild?
Yes, as you might imagine if healthy tortoises can drink water, then healthy, wild tortoises will drink water too. Again, they often won’t drink very much water because they can find it in their diet and they will give themselves a regular soak when water is available too. However, “not very much” is not the same as “none”.
Can A Tortoise Become Dehydrated?
Yes, as with any other animal that requires regular amounts of water a lack of water will result in dehydration. This can be quite serious in terms of the implications for your tortoise’s health and it ought to be addressed if you identify it.
Water-Deprivation And Tortoises
So, what are the problems associated with water deprivation in tortoises?
The four main ones are:
- A build up of uric acid in the renal system, the renal system is the body’s waste system and it is linked to the tortoise’s kidneys which do the processing of the waste.
- A build up of solid uric acid in the bladder, the tortoise may end up with large deposits of insoluble uric acid in their bladder too.
- They may suffer from articular gout, this is the result of uric acid crystals building up in the joints of the animal, it is the same as gout in human beings and thus, it is probably as painful for your tortoise as it is for a person too
- Kidney failure, the final outcome of extreme levels of dehydration in a tortoise is kidney failure and at this point the death of the animal is pretty much assured as there are currently no facilities to do kidney transplants for tortoises
As you can see, none of these conditions is a joking matter. Even short-ish periods of dehydration can cause irreparable damage to a tortoise, so if you believe that your tortoise is not getting enough water, you really should discuss it with a vet at the earliest opportunity.
As always, we recommend that you use a vet which has experience working with tortoises and small reptiles as they can need specialist knowledge to get to the root of what ails your tortoise.
When a tortoise becomes too hot it may enter a state known as “aestivation” which, in many respects, is similar to hibernation. The tortoise basically lowers its metabolic rate and decreases its activity to help conserve energy and keep itself safe.
It’s not as deep a state as hibernation and assuming your tortoises have had enough to eat and drink prior to the period of aestivation they can safely endure a few weeks of this without any ill effects and they should not become dehydrated (at least not dangerously) during this period.
Do Tortoises Drink And Pee At The Same Time?
Yes, tortoises have been known to drink and pee at the same time. Perhaps this is nature’s way of conserving energy. As water escapes one end of your tortoise it arrives at the other end. In some species of tortoise, this is more common in others, it’s certainly not behavior that should give you any cause for concern.
Morever, tortoises pee urine as a liquid but they also produce a substance known as “urate” which is a more solid form of uric acid and which is excreted from the cloaca (often while they pee) and forms a sort of whitish paste.
How to get a tortoise to drink? As you’ve seen, you shouldn’t really need to get a tortoise to drink because they she should do it herself. Of course, water must be available to them at all times.
Tortoises do need water and it is not the case that only sick tortoises or pet tortoises drink water. Without enough water to drink, your tortoise risks dehydration which can cause substantial health issues for your pet. Fortunately, it’s very easy to keep them hydrated as tortoises get most of their water from baths and from their diet. Regular, normal care with a healthy diet should ensure that a tortoise stays hydrated.