If you’ve ever given a tortoise a bath, then you’ll know that as soon as your pet gets his or her feet wet, they tend to poop all over the place. Have you ever wondered why they do this? Well, we’ve researched all things tortoise poop to get you the answer.
So why do tortoises poop in the water? There is no definitive scientific answer for why tortoises poop in water. One answer is that warm water relaxes a tortoise’s bowels making it easy to release poop. Another possibility is a “hygiene mechanism” in the wild (poop in running water equals bye-bye poop!)
So, let’s take a look at tortoise poop, quite literally, find out what it’s like, what white poop means why they poop in water, what healthy poop is, whether it can be used as a fertilizer and what do when a tortoise doesn’t poop.
What Does Tortoise Poop Look Like?
The actual condition of tortoise poop can vary widely depending on the individual tortoise, their species, their size and, of course, what they’ve had to eat. So, it’s very important too realize that this is a “rough guideline” and not an “absolute rule”.
However, as a rough guideline a tortoise’s poop should be green-brown to brown in color and it should be a solid and “odiferous” (that means “stinky”) mass. Basically, tortoise poop looks roughly as you might expect a creature that only eats vegetables to poop like.
Related article: Can a tortoise be potty trained?
One thing that you should be aware of, however, is that tortoises don’t just poop out the back they also pee from there and this can affect the color and consistency of their poop (though not every time).
What does white tortoise poop mean?
Tortoises produce both urine (pee) and urate (which is a slightly pasty substance that is white in color). They generate urate based on the amount of protein in their diet, ideally, a tortoise should be fed a low-protein diet because too much protein can lead to a condition called pyramiding.
The more protein the tortoise consumes, the more urate there is to go around. When a tortoise pees, it also expels this urate, and this normally ends up as a sort of white sludge on the floor that you probably don’t notice.
Sometimes, though, your tortoise will pee at the same time as it takes a poop. When they do this, the urate may build up on top of the poop giving it a white coating. So, white poop from a tortoise is not normally the sign of a sick tortoise but rather one that has been using all of its waste systems at the same time.
If you find that your tortoise is producing a large amount of urate, you need to reduce the protein content of their diet. Tortoises should mainly eat green vegetables and fruit, things like cat food or dog food contain far too much protein for their needs.
Related article: How to feed a tortoise: The guide to tortoise diet, food & nutritional needs
It is also possible that if you discover white poop that the poop is much older than you think it is and it has been given a harsh bleaching in sunlight. We think that in most cases, tortoise poop won’t be laying around long enough for this to happen in captivity – it’s more likely with wild tortoises which don’t have kind owners to clean up for them.
If you’re still worried about your tortoise having white poop and you think that neither of these explanations fit what’s happening with your pet – bag some up and take it to the vet for testing. Make sure the vet has experience working with small reptiles, though, or they may not know what to look for.
Why Do Tortoises Poop In Water?
Well, the absolutely accurate answer is that no-one has given this the kind of scientific study that we would have liked them to have done. That means, what follows is a bit of conjecture from us based on our own observations and the observations of other tortoise owners.
It appears that most tortoises seem to void their bowels the moment that their feet get wet. That means when you bathe a tortoise, it almost instantly poops in the water.
This is a little irritating as you then need to empty the water and refill it because you don’t want any bacteria to get into your tortoise’s skin.
However, it does make sense that a tortoise should poop in water because that, in the wild, would mean that the poop would likely be washed away from the tortoise’s current position and therefore make it less likely to catch any diseases.
As we say, though, this is a theory we’re proposing – we don’t have a hard study to refer to on this.
How Do I Know If My Tortoise’s Poop Is Healthy?
If you’ve had a tortoise for any period of time, you ought to come to know what “healthy poop” looks like because tortoises are fairly hardy animals and they don’t tend to get stomach problems very often.
That means that over time, you’ll be able to spot any variation from the norm. Minor changes in color or texture are probably not anything to be concerned about and we certainly wouldn’t be booking a trip to the vet over that.
However, if your tortoise appears to have developed diarrhea over a period of days, then you might want to consider having a vet give it the once over. As with all animals, the big risk with diarrhea is that it leaves the tortoise dehydrates which can be fatal.
By and large though, we don’t think that you’re going to find much up with your tortoise’s poop for most of their lives.
Is tortoise poop any good as fertilizer?
On a separate note, tortoise poop and tortoise pee (including the urate) is an excellent natural fertilizer, though, one tortoise is unlikely to produce enough poop for you to cover a vegetable patch or even a flower bed on a regular basis.
As with almost all forms of vegetarian animal poop it should be added to a composting bin (it is a source of nitrates and thus a “brown” from a composting perspective) rather than being added directly to flowers or vegetables.
This prevents too much nitrogen being added directly to anything, something that can cause bleaching and even the permanent death of an area.
How Often Should A Tortoise Poop?
Once again, we find ourselves with a question about tortoise poop which is only answerable with “it depends”. The truth is, of course, that this varies rather like it does in people.
We found one guy on Reddit who insists that their tortoise only poops once a week and another that says theirs goes once a fortnight. We’ve found that most tortoises poop more regularly than that and that daily is not unheard of.
A vet says that consistency is the key factor here. If your tortoise is pooping and on roughly the same schedule everything is probably OK health-wise.
Natural Laxatives For Tortoises
So, if you find that your tortoise isn’t pooping what should you do? Well, we’d recommend that you pop them in some water, if they can poop – they probably will. As we discussed earlier, there seems to be an almost automatic reflex that drives a tortoise to poop as soon as they get their feet wet. So, why not make use of it?
If not, then you might want to try feeding your tortoise some bananas which appear to act like a natural laxative and some even recommend them to try and force out a worm infection from the tortoise’s body (we don’t – we’d suggest speaking to a vet if you think that your tortoise has worms). Sometimes pumpkin can work too.
Impaction – The Biggest Poop Related Problem In Tortoises
One of the most serious conditions to affect tortoises is “Impaction” which is what happens when a blockage occurs inside the alimentary canal and prevents the tortoise from pooping at all.
So, if your tortoise stops pooping – you should try our laxative tips above but if they don’t poop after that, you want to get them to the vet. Impaction requires a medical intervention to remove the blockage and if it’s not removed, your tortoise will die as they will not be able to eat or expel any waste.
Why do tortoises poop in the water? We’d like to think that our conjecture will spark somebody’s scientific mind and get them to research exactly why – however, our gut instinct says it’s just a tortoise’s way of keeping clean in the wild.
As you can see, tortoise poop is rarely an exact science but taking care of your pet properly does involve keeping an eye, occasionally, on their poop too.