Common Health Problems With Russian Tortoises

Updated on February 22, 2016
Whitney05 profile image

Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises and other exotics since 2003

Russian Tortoise Health

Russian tortoises are great beginner pet tortoises, as they are healthy and hardy creatures. These tortoises are relatively small compared to others in the pet market.

The most important thing that you can do to keep a tortoise healthy is to ensure that you are providing a proper environment and diet. By keeping the temperature, humidity, and overall enclosure at the basic requirements, you can easily keep a healthy, happy tortoise.

What you want to do is properly research how to provide care for a Russian tortoise. If you aren't able to support one, you may want to consider a different type of pet. Otherwise, if you have the time and space for a pet Russian tortoise, you'll want to make sure that you are knowledgeable about the care and illnesses of the pet.

Common Health Problems

It's very important that you are aware of what illnesses Russian tortoises may contract or develop. You need to keep an eye on your tortoise because any changes in appetite, behaviors, or overall routine may indicate an illness is developing.

The most common health problems that a Russian tortoise may contract are very minor. They may get cuts and abrasions, long toenails, or a chipped, cracked, or broken beak.

  • Cuts should be cleaned with lukewarm water and non-scented, mild soap. 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, and should be kept at short lengths. When the tortoise is housed in an environment with smooth surfaces that do not wear down its nails, they can grow too long. You can trim the nails, but be careful of cutting the quick.

  • If the beak cracks, chips, or breaks, it should rebuild itself over time. But you may want to consult your veterinarian if the beak is growing back abnormally. A tortoise beak will usually be worn away naturally by eating on a stone or flat rock, or by gnawing on a cuttle bone.
  • Male tortoises are prone to penal prolapse, which you may able to treat at home, if the prolapse is minor, but severe prolapses will need veterinary help. For minor treatment at home, you'll need to soak the tortoise in a saline solution or lukewarm sugar water. Do not push the tissues back in place, but if they don't shrink, you'll need to make an appointment as soon as possible.

Diseases and Ailments

Respiratory Infections—Respiratory illnesses are generally caused by bacteria, lower temperatures, and stress (causing a lowered immune system). You may notice wheezing and sometimes a mucous discharge from the nose and/or mouth. If you wait until the tortoise is breathing out of its mouth, you're not in for good results. You need to seek veterinary assistance immediately. 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.

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 rot can lead to septicemia (which is an infection of the bloodstream). You may notice shell rot in your tortoise if it has white powdery, pitted, or flaking patches on the shell; if left untreated, the infection may eat away the shell.

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.
  • 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.
  • Flies are usually attracted to cuts and abrasions and will lay their eggs in the wound. For Russian tortoises that spend time outside, you'll want to check for cuts frequently, and use fly traps to prevent flies.

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 Russian tortoises, but captive ones may also have internal parasites, so it's always a good idea to have a fecal test on new tortoises.

  • 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.
  • 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.

Empty Gut Syndrome—When protozoans are treated, antibiotics 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. This is typically caused by an antibiotic.

Calcium Deficiency and Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)—Calcium is very important, and if your Russian tortoise doesn't absorb enough, a deficiency can cause growth problems in the shell and bones. You may notice an 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 the phenomenon when the scutes, or bony external plates, of a tortoise experience vertical growth instead of the normal horizontal growth that takes place as the tortoise increases in size. It is common when a tortoise receives too much protein, is overfed, or has low enclosure humidity levels, inadequate hydration, or a calcium deficiency. Less severe pyramiding is common on ranch-raised tortoises and wild-caught tortoises. There are two types of pyramiding: Type 1 won't have any major appearance problems, and type 2 is more severe where the scutes will raise an extreme amount and grow at abnormal differences.

Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. Consult a reptile veterinarian if you notice any abnormal behaviors in your tortoise so that you can have him checked out, diagnosed, and treated.

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.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        Debbie 

        2 months ago

        Why would my tortoise have a white mouth

      • profile image

        Aiden 

        7 months ago

        my tortoise is not eating or pooping and has a foaming mouth. plez help we don't know whats happening.

      • profile image

        jennifer 

        7 months ago

        how long do they live

      • profile image

        Donna 

        9 months ago

        Help! Our Russian has suddenly become very swollen in the body!! He's about 20-25 years old.

      • profile image

        Denise 

        15 months ago

        Please help me..my russian tortoise pooped out some pink thing I've never seen before.I'm worried and I'm dying to know what it is.Please help!

      • profile image

        cindy 

        2 years ago

        i dont really have a comment but my 5 year old russian turtle got whits spots and bumps on hos shell the day acter we got him and im starting to be worried

      • profile image

        Jessie 

        6 years ago

        This is true, when you get a new tortoise, they're too stressed out to eat for awhile. Kinda leave the new one alone for awhile, but keep a close eyeball on them, especially if you got them from a retail store. Keeping offering a variety of food, the tortoise pellets, Romaine lettuce, and spring mix. Those are my Teddy's favorites. =)

        I purchased my Russian Tortoise from Petsmart, and within a week, I was at the vet being slapped with a $300 vet bill, being told he had an upper respiratory infection, and I would be giving him shots for the next three weeks.

        Now, chances are if the tortoise isn't eating, they aren't drinking. You need to make him very angry.

        Use a dish (I used a small cake pan) with lukewarm water, but only high enough that it'll come up to his chin. Then put the tortoise in the water. Watch them; you'll want to make sure they don't flip. This will encourage them to poop and all that, but also to drink some water!! It will even encourage them to eat. I can't guarantee the tortoise will have a blast.. Mine just sat their and glared at me the first few times, but it does help them. The tough love thing came into play there.

        Also, don't store them in a glass aquarium. Stresses them out hardcore.

      • profile image

        Danny 

        6 years ago

        What to do about mine? My Russian Tortoise keeps biting his front legs... but he NEVER does this in his cage. Inside, he is strong, never bites himself, and is happy. Outside his cage, he will adventure a bit and all of a sudden will start repeatedly biting his front leg painfully. It's hard to get a good look at him because he has been more nervous ever since he met the cat. It did not look like anything was wrong with him though. Any advice? I really don't want to take him to a vet because I don't want to be given some stupid medicine he won't even need or pay a ton of money and not given results I need.

      • profile image

        penelope 

        6 years ago

        I think his eyes are swollen...what to do

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        my russian tortoise has a strange lump protruding from his legs near his head they are only visible when he stretches his front legs out from his shell. is this cancer, or is he simply just out growing his shell? winter has just ended and i did not hibernate him during the winter. He was kind of active during winter and is very active now. i have been feeding him romaine lettuce, strawberries and tomato, and he has a calcium light and is next to a window. The bumps aren't too big. he likes to climb over rocks but sometimes falls down, this has made a few minor scratches in his shell, but didn't hurt him seriously. could this also be the cause of the bumps?

      • profile image

        Naomiezma 

        6 years ago

        I adopted a Russian tortoise in October. It took 16 days before she would eat anything. She barely moved, and did not want to interact at all. Just give him more time to come around.

      • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR

        Whitney 

        6 years ago from Georgia

        Sometimes it takes a few days to get situated in anew environment. I would suggest a vet, since you purchased an animal from a pet store. Many retail pet stores have problems with parasites and ill animals.

      • profile image

        mattsieczkowski 

        6 years ago

        please help!

        I bought a russian tourtois 5 days ago. He has not eatin since I brought him home. I have followed the diet , temp , and humidity guidelines but benjamin just hides in is store bought burrow. I contacted petsmart where I bought him and they said to just return him. I have grown fond of him and would like any ideas to help me. thank you

      • profile image

        clare in Spain 

        7 years ago

        These pages are so useful...plants to grow for eating, my two young tortoises are now outside with a larger friend in the sun, I will buy a cuttlefish now.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://pethelpful.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)