Can a Tortoise Get Covid-19?

There is currently no evidence to suggest that tortoises can catch Covid-19 or pass it to humans. The current evidence indicates it can only be passed from human to human. This is not to say, however, that tortoises cannot develop other types of respiratory illnesses. 

Respiratory illnesses in tortoises 

Just as a person can catch a cold, tortoises can also develop respiratory illnesses. 

Respiratory illnesses in tortoises are usually identified by a watery discharge from the nostrils of the tortoise. Respiratory illnesses in tortoises can be very serious and should always be investigated by a veterinarian due to the speed at which they can become extremely serious and in some cases life threatening. 

Early symptoms of respiratory illness in tortoises 

Early symptoms of respiratory illnesses include a watery discharge from the nostrils which may develop into bubbles. Your tortoise may also appear to be less active than normal and have a reduced appetite. If you notice these early symptoms you should get veterinarian advice as soon as possible from a veterinarian that specialises in reptiles. A respiratory illness in a tortoise can also produce discharge from the eyes with accompanied swelling but this tends to be less common. 

Due to the structure of the tortoises’ body,  the respiratory infection can quickly spread to the tortoises’ lungs which in turn can lead to pneumonia. If this occurs the symptoms of the respiratory illness become more obvious because your tortoises breathing will become laboured. 

Treatment for respiratory illnesses in a tortoise 

The type of treatment will depend on the type of respiratory illness the tortoise is suffering with. Antibiotics will be administered by a veterinarian if your tortoise is suffering from a bacterial infection. Anti-fungal and anti-viral medicines can also be administered and your veterinarian is also likely to provide you with advice on any environmental changes that are required to your tortoises living space. 

How do tortoises catch respiratory illnesses? 

Tortoises do not attend school or nurseries so you might wonder how tortoises develop respiratory illnesses. In the majority of cases the illness will be linked to the tortoises environment being too cold. This may be a result of being left outside during the colder months, an unreplaced blown heat bulb or the tortoise enclosure being placed next to a drafty window or door. To reduce the chances of your tortoise developing a respiratory illness you should always ensure it is kept at the temperature best suited to its breed. You should also make sure you remove an infected tortoise from its enclosure if you keep multiple tortoises in the same enclosure. This reduces the risk of the infected tortoise spreading the respiratory illness to the rest of your pet tortoises. 

Despite the evidence suggesting tortoises cannot catch Covid-19, if you remain concerned about the welfare of your tortoise and want to protect it against Covid-19 and other respiratory illnesses then you should continue to adhere to the following guidance: 

– practice normal hand washing before and after handling your tortoise if you are not sick.

– if you are sick or are known to have Covid-19 you should handle your tortoise as little as possible and you could even arrange for someone else to look after your tortoise whilst you recover. 

If you are ill with Covid-19 and/or having to self isolate, then as you will be aware, you are not allowed to leave your home. If this period of isolation means you are unable to forage for weeds in order to feed your tortoise then we would recommend asking a friend or relative to forage on your behalf, leaving any weeds outside your front door, or alternatively you can order dried food via the Internet (affiliate link?). We would recommend that dried food is only fed to a tortoise in the short term before reverting back to weeds as soon as you can. 

Care sheets 

A number of tortoise owners prepare ‘care sheets’ for their tortoises in case they, as owners, are hospitalised or otherwise incapacitated. In this situation a trusted friend or relative may need to take over care of the tortoise and not everyone is familiar with the needs and requirements of a tortoise. These ‘care sheets’ include information on your tortoises likes and dislikes, images of favourite weeds, hibernation details, habitat guidelines and veterinarian information. These ‘care sheets’ are handy tools when you need to pass over the care of your tortoise to someone else and provide peace of mind that your tortoise will be receiving the care it is used to. 

Pet insurance 

You may also be interested in obtaining pet insurance which is extremely useful should your tortoise fall ill and require costly veterinarian help. Two popular tortoise insurers are ‘British Pet Insurance’ and ‘Exotic Direct’ and you would usually be looking at paying between £10-£20 a month for a tortoise insurance policy with one of these insurers.  Please do make sure you read the policy terms and conditions in great detail before entering into any insurance agreement because they contain numerous exclusion clauses which means that insurers will frequently refuse to pay out for certain things. For example, most policies will not pay out for anything related to a pre-existing condition. 

An alternative to insurance is to simply put some money aside each month in savings in case you need to make an expensive trip to the vets at a later date. This method avoids paying monthly premiums for a service you may potentially never even use whilst at the same time giving you piece of mind that you have a savings pot available should you need it. Of course, this method won’t work for everyone. Costly X

-rays and medicines soon add up and the cost of these treatments may go well beyond what you have managed to put aside in a savings pot. With insurance you have the reassurance that your insurers will pick up the bill. 


As always, if you are concerned about the health of your tortoise the best source of advice would be to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible.

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