Caring for a blind tortoise can be pretty challenging because a tortoise that cannot see has very different needs to one that can. You must feed them by hand, and manually put them in the right position to drink water and receive exposure to heat and UV light.
Owning a blind tortoise comes with a few challenges. Even though the tortoise cannot see, it still has the same needs as any other tortoise. Unfortunately, being blind can stop the tortoise from doing normal things, like eating or drinking water, simply because it cannot locate food and water. But although they have so much difficulty doing different activities, blind tortoises can still lead a fulfilling life as long as you are prepared to assist them.
I have a friend who has a blind male Spur Thigh tortoise in his care alongside several others. Having acquired the tortoise from a deceased person he is unsure of its precise age, but the overall condition of the animal (including his blindness) suggests that he has reached a respectable age. Suffice to say this tortoise still thrives, and with a little bit of hands on care each day, appears more than happy with his existence.
In this article, we will talk about blind tortoises and how to care for them properly.
How Do You Determine If Your Tortoise Is Blind?
Usually, it’s not hard to tell if a tortoise is blind because you might notice an obvious physical sign of blindness. When a tortoise is blind, its eyes will look unusual. They will either be pale blue or gummed closed. More often than not, damage to the eyes can cause blindness, although some tortoises simply hatch with such aberrations already present.
In addition to the unusual look of the eyes, there are other behavioral signs that your tortoise may be blind. One of the most obvious being the fact that it may be unable to locate food or water, even when you place it directly in front of the tortoise it may seem to ‘miss’ with its mouth. The tortoise may move in circles trying to find the food, even when you’ve obviously placed everything right in front of it. So, the inability to locate food is likely a clear indicator that the tortoise’s vision is impaired.
Another sign that you may be the owner of a blind tortoise is immobility. Blind tortoises tend to move around less than tortoises that can see. After all, they don’t know where they’d be going, and they may also be scared to move or else walk right into the path of a nearby predator or some other hazard.
Some tortoises also hold their head at an unusual angle when blind, typically up or down, because there is no benefit to holding the head in a position where they would otherwise be able to see effectively.
Another possible symptom is the failure to react to any visual stimuli, as well as the failure to voluntarily wake up from hibernation, or even just routinely at sunrise each day.
Keep in mind that if you see one of these signs, it’s not always caused by blindness. When the tortoise doesn’t have eyesight, you will usually see a combination of the behaviors described, without any deviation back to ‘normal’ behavior. So, if you notice any symptom that you suspect could be caused by blindness, the best thing to do would be to visit the vet to determine if blindness is the reason, or if there is any other underlying health issue (another eye condition for example) behind the unusual behavior.
How Should You Feed a Blind Tortoise?
Since blind tortoises may be unable to find the food you placed in their enclosure, you will have to feed them differently. You don’t necessarily have to feed the tortoise from your hand. Instead, try following this process:
- Move the tortoise to a separate, smaller container: To feed a blind tortoise, you can take it to a separate container where it doesn’t have as much space to move and place the food there. This will make it much easier for the animal to find the food.
- Give it food that has a strong smell: The tortoise is blind; therefore, it has to rely more heavily on its other senses to function. As such, placing food with a strong odor nearby will make it easier to find. Foods such as pellets or dried worms would work well, although be careful not to overdo it with the protein. Try mixing smaller amounts of more pungent food in with more standard fare.
- Try helping the reptile: If the tortoise is still struggling, you could take a piece of food and softly stroke their head with it. Of course, this will make it easier for the tortoise to know that food is there and that it has the opportunity to eat. It’s also good to make it detect the smell of the food you’re offering. Afterward, you can just put the food close to the tortoise’s mouth so it can eat it.
Although this process may be a bit boring and time-consuming, it is important if you want your pet to be happy and healthy. Besides, with any luck it won’t take long for the tortoise to eventually learn from this and adapt it’s behavior such that it can find the food on its own.
How to Soak a Blind Tortoise or Help It Drink Water
In order to get a blind tortoise to drink water or soak, you will probably have the responsibility of placing it in the right position to do so for the remainder of the life of the tortoise. While a blind tortoise stands a fighting chance of locating food thanks to the smell, finding odourless water is much more difficult. Whenever the tortoise needs to drink, be sure to place it in front of the water source and let it find it. You will need to do the same when it comes to soaking.
UV/Heat Light Exposure for Blind Tortoises
Tortoises tend to seek light naturally. However, indoors in captivity, you have to be the provider, even more so when the tortoise is blind. While most tortoises can simply place themselves under the light source, blind tortoises may not be able to find the perfect spot. So, to make sure it gets all the light it needs, you must be the one placing the tortoise under the light. Otherwise, the tortoise may end up suffering from health issues such as pyramiding.
A good tip is to use a combined heat and UV light bulb. While a blind tortoise can feel heat, and may locate a heat bulb with some success, normal UV bulbs don’t tend to give off much heat, and will not be easily located. Using a combined heat/UV bulb will go a long way towards solving this problem.
Other Care Requirements for a Blind Tortoise
Apart from teaching the tortoise how to eat and drink, as well as placing it under the light yourself, you also have to supervise the pet closely at all times. Sometimes, blind tortoises will attempt to move, which may result in them getting trapped. Being deprived of eyesight may not allow them to navigate out of an awkward confined space, meaning they will need your help.
Always make sure you are nearby to periodically check on the tortoise throughout the day, or that you have someone who can look out for the pet when you’re away or busy.
On top of that, you should have a simple enclosure layout that doesn’t change, which hopefully lets the tortoise remember where everything is placed. It may be prudent to keep them indoors if there is a risk that a large outdoor enclosure presents too many hazards, uneven ground, or difficulty locating food and water.