Do Tortoises Eat Their Own Poop?

Don’t even think about it friend…

If you aren’t able to keep a close eye on your tortoise throughout the day you might be wondering if there is a possibility that he or she might resort to consuming their own feces should they run out of other food. Perhaps your suspicions have been aroused by the fact that the amount of poop you find yourself cleaning up doesn’t seem to be anything near enough given the amount of food your tortoise eats.

In short, tortoises are known to eat their own poop, just as almost all animals will do under certain circumstances. For the most part it isn’t anything to be concerned about, and can actually be quite normal process whereby nutrients are digested having not been fully absorbed ‘first time round’.

It can be an alarming sight the first time you see your tortoise chowing down on his own business, or scientifically speaking, ‘coprophagy’, but again it isn’t usually terribly concerning. One thing you’ll definitely want to be sure of is that the habit hasn’t developed because the tortoise isn’t being provided with enough fresh food to meet their needs. This of course would be an issue, and something you’d need to address straight away.

Preventing Coprophagy

The reason why a lack of proper nutrition is a concern, besides the obvious fact that it means your tortoise won’t be getting the nutrition they need to be healthy, is that it means coprophagy will likely become more of a regular compulsion than simply an occasional, harmless act.

Why is this an issue? Well if you think about it, redigesting poop once to remove nutrients that were missed previously is likely only to be effective once. There isn’t much chance that digesting the same material a third or fourth time will yield much in the way of nutritional value for the tortoise, and may even reintroduce toxins that were previously deliberately flushed out.

Thus to prevent your tortoise engaging in habitual coprophagy you should ensure that:

  • You provide them with all the food they require on a daily basis. If you’re not sure how much to feed your tortoise a good rule of thumb is to provide as much as they are able to consume in 20 minutes. By deliberately providing more than would reasonably be possible to eat in this time and observing how much your tortoise gets through, you’ll have a good idea of how much to provide going forward
  • Ensuring the food you provide is nutritionally diverse. Your tortoise is less likely to eat their poop if they not only receive enough food, but also that it satisfies their body’s nutritional demands. Be sure to provide a range of appropriate leafy vegetables and weeds, and avoid iceberg lettuce as this provides little nutritional value besides water. A calcium supplement is also important, and in some instances it may also be a good idea to provide a nutritional supplement
  • Cleaning out feces regularly, ideally as soon as it appears in your tortoise’s enclosure. Obviously this can be tricky as it isn’t always possible to be on hand to deal with a poop, but certainly be as vigilant and fast acting as you can be.

Do Tortoises Eat Other Tortoises Poop?

Let’s face it tortoises aren’t the smartest creatures on the planet, that’s kind of obvious when you’re talking about any animal that willingly eats their own poop. So it isn’t surprising that they aren’t able to distinguish between their own poop and that of their companion(s) if they share an enclosure.

This can be more of a concern than if they simply eat their own poop because the gut of another tortoise may contain a whole host of new pathogens that may be harmful in far more serious ways than the pathogens that already live in their own gut.

Naturally if we’re talking about two tortoises of the same species that have lived side by side for many years, then that’s less of a concern than a new arrival, especially if they’re of a different species.

It’s never a good idea to mix different species in the same enclosure for several reasons that you can read about here, and in this case the reason is that pathogens they may not upset the gut of one species, may be very harmful to that of another.

Even if you’re introducing another tortoise of the same species, you can still run into problems if one is immune to a pathogen that the other has not developed immunity to.

Preventing Cross Contamination

Quarantining new animals is the first step to ensuring no harmful pathogens are able to jump from one tortoise to another, as is being extremely vigilant with regards to cleanliness and clearing away poop as it appears.

You also need to make sure your tortoise enclosure is suitably large enough to accommodate more than one tortoise, not only so that each has their own space, but that poop is dispersed over a wider area, much as it would be in the wild. Although in the wild of course the tortoise would simply be able to roam over a much larger area and likely not encounter a poop again once they have deposited it.

Do Tortoises Eat Other Animal Poop?

In short, yes! Just as we mentioned that tortoises aren’t fussy when it comes to eating the poop of other tortoises, it’s also not unheard of for them to tuck into the waste of other animals either.

This is likely to be an even greater recipe for illness given the complete difference in gut flora between the tortoise and another animal such as a cat or a dog.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but dog and cat poop are just the worst substances imaginable, so you shouldn’t let your tortoise anywhere near either!

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