Common Health Problems With Red-Footed Tortoises

Updated on July 24, 2019
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Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises, and other exotics since 2003.


Red-Footed Tortoise Health

Red-Footed Tortoises are usually pretty healthy as long as they're diet and habitat is kept proper. As long as the humidity, temperature, lighting, and diet is kept according to proper requirements, you'll find that a pet Red-Footed Tortoise is going to stay pretty healthy in most cases, but there are you have to keep these main elements in check.

But, even if you have proper care and diet, you're still not completely free of illness, as tortoises can still get sick. In most cases though, you won't see symptoms until the illness or disease is pretty progressed.

It is very important that you keep an eye on your tortoise's behaviors, feeding habits, and routines so that if there is a change, you can act immediately. Even slight changes may signal illness.

Common Injuries That Affect Red-Footed Tortoises

You'll find that there are different degrees of health problems that your Red-Footed Tortoise may succumb throughout his lifetime. Minor ailments can include minor cuts and abrasions, long toenails, and a chipped, cracked, or broken beak.

  • Cuts need to be cleaned with lukewarm water and mild soap; you can apply a topical antibiotic ointment and reapply it daily. If the wound starts to swell, you'll want to seek veterinary assistance.
  • Toenails are typically short and stubby in the back and longer in the front. Generally, they're going to be kept pretty short and at normal lengths, but when kept on smooth surfaces, they can grow to abnormal lengths. Keeping tortoises on dirt substrates, this usually wears down the nails. You can trim the nails like you would a dog, but be careful of cutting the quick.
  • If the beak cracks, becomes chipped, or breaks, it can rebuild itself over time, but you may want to consult your veterinarian if the beak is growing back abnormally, as sometimes when the beak regrows, deformities can occur and the vet will need to trim and/or shape the beak. In most cases, the beak will be worn away naturally as the tortoise eats and gnaws on a cuttlebone.
  • Penile prolapse can be common among male tortoises, and you will need to soak the tortoise to moisten the penis and wash away dirt from the tissues. Saline solution or warm sugar water is suggested to use to help shrink the tissues. Do not push the tissues back, but consult a vet as soon as you can, especially if the tissues do not shrink.

Tortoise Diseases and Ailments

Respiratory Infections:

Respiratory illnessses are generally caused by bacteria, lower temperatures, and stress (causing lowered immune system). You will notice a wheezing sound and sometimes a mucous discharge from the nose and/or mouth. If you wait till the tortoise is breathing out of its mouth, you're not in for good results. You need to seek veterinary assistance immediately. Depending on how far along the illness is, a nebulizer may be required to help the tortoise breath and get oxygen to its lungs. The tortoise will also need an antibiotic, which may be given through the nose or injections. If the tortoise has a respiratory illness, you'll want to bump the temperatures up in the enclosure to help boost the immune system. You'll also want to make sure that you keep it hydrated. If caught early, the tortoise should have a full recovery. Keep in mind that respiratory infections are contagious; so separate any infected Red-Footed Tortoises.

Shell Rot:

Shell rot is an infectious disease that is generally caused by bacteria or fungus. In most cases, the bacteria or fungus will enter the body through a cut, scrape, or lesion on the shell. If not caught and treated early, shell rott can lead to septicemia (which is an infection of the bloodstream). You may notice shell rot in your tortoise if it has a white powdery, pitted, or flaking patches on the shell; if left untreated, the infection may eat away the shell. To treat shell rot, the vet will clean the shell with mild soap and a soft brush and then disenfected. After treatment, you'll need to keep the enclosure a little dryer than usual. An antibiotic may be prescribed to preven septicemia.

Swollen Eyes:

Red-Footed tortoises can succumb swollen eyes which can be caused by vitamin A deficiency, improper diet, or a bacterial infection. A vet will prescribe a topical antibiotic or an antibiotic injection.

Ear Infections:

Red-Footed tortoises can experience ear infections occasionally. It's thought to be caused by improper husbandry. You may notice swelling in the cheek or behind the jaw. Antibiotics will be needed.

External Parasites:

External parasites include ticks, mites, and flies. If you notice any of these, you'll need to treat immediately as they can cause disease.

  • Ticks are generally more of a problem with wild caught or imported tortoises. They will typically burrow into the upper legs, neck, and tail. You'll want to carefully remove the ticks with tweezers, making sure to remove the mouthparts. Use a small dropper of rubbing alcohol or fingernail polish remover on the tick, and then use a topical antibiotic ointment on the bite.
  • Mites are rare, but can be picked up from other reptiles. Most mites will be black or red and about the size of a poppy seed. Mites can be hard to get rid of because they can be found in hard to get places. You'll want to find a safe and effective treatment to treat the tortoise and enclosure. Ivermectic is deadly, so don't use it. Instead, spray 0.5% permethrin or a lice spray on the bedding. Do not apply directly on the animal.
  • Flies are usually attracted to cuts and abrasions and will lay their eggs in the wound. You'll want to be leery of Red-Footed Tortoises that are kept outdoors, and you'll want to check them frequently. Use fly traps when possible to preven flies.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Ear Abscess on a Red-Footed Tortoise
Ear Abscess on a Red-Footed Tortoise
Ear Abscess on a Red-Footed Tortoise

Internal Parasites:

You'll find that worms and protozoa are two common endo-parasites that affect tortoises. Internal parasites are most common with wild caught and imported redfoot tortoises, but you should have all tortoises checked for parasites before bringing them home and introducing them to other reptiles.

  • Roundworms are common to tortoises, and will usually cause diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and a lack of appetite. A vet can detect worms by a fecal exam, checking for eggs in the poo. Panacur is commonly used as treatment for worms.
  • Protozoa can include various bacteria, but in general, you'll find that they can cause diseases. Signs that your tortoise has protozoa include diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, dehydration, and lethargy. Flagyl is commonly used to treat this type of internal parasites in tortoises.

Empty Gut Syndrome:

When protozoans are treated, it can wipe out any good bacteria in the gut, which can cause food to not be properly digested. You'll notice undigested food in the poo. You can add a small amount of live-cultured yogurt to the diet which will help build back the bacteria in the tortoise.

Calcium Deficiency and Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD):

Calcium is very important and if your Red-Footed Tortoise doesn't absorb enough calcium in the body, a deficiency can cause growth problems in the shell and bones. You may notice abnormal appearance in the shell and legs. By leaving a cuttlebone in the enclosure, you can reduce the risk of MBD.

Pyramidal Growth:

Pyramiding is common when a tortoise receives too much protein, is over fed, has low enclosure humidity levels, inadequate hydration, or a calcium deficiency. Less severe pyramiding is common on ranch-raised tortoises and gives the carapace a bumpy appearance but each scute is not severely raised from the others; generally type 1 pyramiding isn't going to have any major appearance problems. Type 2 pyramiding is more severe and extreme where the scutes will raise an extreme amount and grow at abnormal differences. Pyramiding is not reversible.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


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    • profile image


      3 months ago

      my baby tortoise is making weird noises while he sleeps. Should I be concerned?

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      Is it bad if the tortoise is not active and sleeps alot

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Georgia

      You'll want to see a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and antibiotics.

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Georgia

      You can test for parasites by bringing in some of the tortoise's fecal matter. You need to bump up temperature and see the vet again asap. Your tortoise doesn't sound like he's doing too great. The poop should be a dark brown or black color.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      My 2 month old tortoise is sick, he just lies there, his plastron is soft. About 4 weeks ago I took him to the veternarian, she was fasinated by the baby tortoise. I thought it might have parasites, but she said it was too small to tell if it did. I took in some poop it was very light tan color. Now his shell is soft he didn't have trouble eating before. I just ground up some lettuce and f ruit, he doesn't want to eat.

    • profile image

      Herman Lawerence 

      4 years ago

      My baby red foot tortoise is sick and it looks exactly like the picture for a ear abscess. What antibiotics should I use ?

    • Dona Rosa profile image

      Dona Rosa 

      10 years ago from Tennessee

      TUrtle lover - -had to check this out. Interesting!

    • myawn profile image


      10 years ago from Florida

      I liked the info I don't think I need one as a pet but they are interesting

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      10 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Interesting. This has a lot of information I would never have looked for but there is always something new to learn on hubpages.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      You definitely have a lot to look out for when you have this tortoise. Very interesting.


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