Recognizing the Symptoms of Stress in Tortoises

Recognizing stress in tortoises may be difficult, but it is important to recognize as they do suffer from stress from time to time. Lethargy, lack of appetite, and hiding a lot are common symptoms. Illnesses, injuries, environmental changes, consistent noises, being moved or handled, and bullied are potential reasons for stress. 

Owning a tortoise can be a pretty unique experience, and this is because they are very different than more common pets, like dogs. They have their own requirements, and they behave very differently. Due to their distinctly subtle behavior, noticing signs of stress is very difficult. Some signs may simply seem normal, or you may confuse them for symptoms of other issues. 

In reality, tortoises can suffer from stress, and you need to recognize these symptoms so that you can eliminate the cause. So, let’s see the signs of stress in tortoises. 

What Are the Physical Effects of Stress on Tortoises?

When it comes to stress in tortoises, psychological stress (if the phrase even applies!) is not the only issue. A major concern is the physical toll it can take on the tortoise. Basically, the tortoise’s immune system can be affected by this issue – leading to immune suppression.

What this means is that your pet might become more likely to suffer from bacterial infections, and the immune system might have a slower response to such infections. It will get sick more easily, and more often, and fighting off the infection will become a real struggle. 

Stress can also lead to depression and a lack of motivation in tortoises, which again results in the immune system getting weaker over time. In worst-case scenarios, tortoises can even end up dying from stress if the problem is too bad and the owner does nothing to solve it. 

What Are the Signs that a Tortoise May Be Stressed?

Stress is something that may be difficult to detect in a tortoise because the symptoms are either not that apparent, or you will simply end up confusing them for signs of other issues. But if you pay a lot of attention to your pet as a matter of course, it’s impossible not to see behavioral changes. Suddenly, your tortoise will seem very depressed by their normal standards. 

Let’s take a look at some of the symptoms a tortoise will show in moments of stress to see what that means in practice. 

  • Feeding Problems

Tortoises usually stop eating when they have to start hibernating, so if you see that the tortoise suddenly stops caring for food, you might think about hibernation. However, if it’s not the time for the pet to hibernate (or indeed it isn’t a hibernating species) and it stops touching food and water, this might suggest that the tortoise is under a lot of stress. 

In general, appetite changes are very common when stress takes over the life of the tortoise, so it’s likely to see this happen in the case of stress. Pay close attention to your pet and its eating habits. If it has a reduced appetite for food, it may either signal an underlying health issue or that the tortoise is stressed.

It goes without saying of course, that if it’s not eating properly, the tortoise can die from starvation.

  • Basking and Sheltering Problems

Usually, tortoises will bask in the light of a heat bulb to maintain adequate body temperature, and as a result stay healthy and happy. If the basking stops, it clearly demonstrates a deviation from otherwise instinctive behaviour, and thus might be caused by stress.

This needs to be taken care of before the tortoise ends up in a critical condition. 

  • Hiding a Lot

If the tortoise starts hiding a lot, it could be because of stress caused by something, or some stimulus, in its environment. The tortoise will refuse to be present and active and will start hiding instead.

  • Lethargy

In addition to all of all the other symptoms, you might also notice that your tortoise appears more lethargic than usual.

Even though they are very different from other pets and do not express joy the same way, it will still be pretty evident if your tortoise is being lethargic, with very little movement. For example if they appear confined to the same spot all day long, and refuse to move, even to eat.

If you see this symptom in your pet, it might be caused by stress. 

How to Minimize Stress in Tortoises?

If your tortoise is stressed, or you strongly suspect they are, there are some things you can do to reduce stress and even get rid of it for good. First of all, you need to analyze the situation and see if any of the following issues are to blame.

  • Stop Environment Changes

Tortoises are creatures of habit, and they do not appreciate having their environment changed all the time. Therefore, if you start moving things around in its enclosure, especially if you do it frequently, your tortoise may become distressed by this.

That being said, make sure you don’t move things around the pet’s enclosure. Whether you keep it inside or outside, it’s best to ensure the area stays the same. 

Also, don’t move it from an environment to another too often. They will feel unsafe if they’re moved from their familiar surroundings. Maintain the same routine instead. 

Whilst it might seem innocuous enough to you, tortoises certainly don’t view change as a positive thing, so be sure to do so as sparingly as possible.

  • Keep the Environment Quiet

Tortoises don’t like loud noises or music, so don’t be surprised if you start throwing parties and the tortoise hides all the time. These pets prefer a rather quiet environment, and loud noises are not something they seek. Mimicking their natural environment is the best thing you can do, and clearly music isn’t something that exists there.

So, if you want to play some music, keep the volume down, or else keep the tortoise well away from the party.  

  • Don’t Keep the Tortoise Alongside Other Aggressive Tortoises

If you have a tortoise, you should keep it alone in solitary confinement. Unlike us humans, they don’t have an issue with living alone.

If you’ve thought about giving your tortoise a partner, you should rethink your decision, especially if the pairing will be two males. Sooner or later they will start competing, and one of them will dominate the other and bully it. The bullied tortoise will feel stressed as a result and may become depressed.

The easiest way to ensure this doesn’t happen is simply to keep your tortoises in seperate enclosures. 

  • Don’t Handle The Tortoise Too Much

Tortoises don’t like being picked up and handled too much. As far as they’re concerned it will feel like something is about to eat them and will start to feel very stressed indeed.

So as tempting as it might be, don’t handle them for fun – only do so when inspecting for dirt, disease, or damage. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, stress can occur even in tortoises, and it’s essential to make sure you’re not doing anything to cause or exacerbate it. Observe your pet and its behavior regularly and try to eliminate any stress factors so that it can live a happy, peaceful life.

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