Tortoises are unique animals in terms of anatomy, biology, behavior, and lifestyle. These are reptiles, but they are unlike any other reptile species in the world.
They have their unique thing going, and today we’ll look into one aspect that may be more important than you realize: the poop.
As a reptile owner, you probably already know how much poop can tell you about the reptile’s health. The same principle applies to tortoises, too, so let’s get into that!
Anatomy of Tortoise Digestive System
Tortoises have a completely different digestive system compared to most other reptile species. This isn’t random but rather the direct result of the animal’s dietary preferences.
Tortoises are primarily omnivorous, but their diets are rich in plant-based foods and, hence, in fibers. Most tortoises consume fibrous vegetation, which most other animals have a very difficult time dealing with.
For this reason, the animal’s digestive system has adapted to break down and consume these chewy and fibrous materials. This reptile’s digestive system contains special characteristics that make it ideal for this type of food.
- The small intestine – The ‘small’ part refers to the intestine’s girth because the organ itself is longer than in other reptiles. This, combined with the intestine’s relatively slow activity, results in the food being digested slowly, giving the digestive system the time necessary to extract the valuable nutrients.
- The villi – These are structures located on the interior of the small intestine, and their sole purpose is to aid in digestion, increasing nutrient absorption and food breakdown.
- The caecum – This is an internal structure only found in herbivorous animals. Or, at least, animals with a predominantly herbivorous diet, as is the case with tortoises. The caecum, or the cecum, is a pouch-like organ situated at the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. The pouch holds the cellulose-heavy food for a while, allowing the bacterial agents to break down this hard-to-digest matter.
This anatomical structure explains why tortoises are quite adept at consuming fibrous and hard-to-digest food items that other reptiles prefer to avoid.
It’s also why tortoises, unlike most other reptiles, eat daily, even though it’s recommended to give your tortoise at least one-off day per week.
This is to allow its digestive system to cope with the harder-to-digest foods.
Types of Tortoise Poop
Now that we’ve broken down the tortoise’s digestive system let’s look into the by-product: the poop itself.
When it comes to tortoises, you have 2 types of expected fecal matter:
- Solid feces – These represent the standard fecal matter and should appear earthy in coloring and of solid consistency. Not too dry, because that means that the tortoise is dehydrated, but not too runny either, because this is a sign of diarrhea.
- Liquid feces – If your tortoise is producing liquid feces, this is a sign of diarrhea or other digestive problems. There’s no context in which a perfectly normal tortoise would produce liquid or runny feces.
This being said, this is the perfect place to discuss the pee part. Tortoises and turtles also urinate, just as pretty much all animals on earth. The difference is that they do it in a reptile-specific manner: via the cloaca.
Reptiles have a cloaca, just like birds, which is a single opening used for both peeing and pooping. Most reptiles pee and poop at the same time, not tortoises, though.
Tortoises may pee separately, but they can also produce some urine when pooping. Especially if they’ve had sufficient water or eaten water-rich food items. So, don’t mistake the presence of pee for runny poop.
As an interesting fact here, tortoises can actually suppress their pee willingly if they don’t have sufficient water available.
This is to protect their body from losing any more water until a water source becomes available. So, if your tortoise isn’t peeing as often as it should, it may be because it’s dehydrated.
Factors Affecting Tortoise Poop
There are several factors that could affect your tortoise’s defecation habits.
- The diet itself – Your pet’s diet makes all the difference here. If your reptile doesn’t have sufficient fibers in its food, expect digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea, depending on each case.
- Dehydration – Dehydration is particularly dangerous for reptiles, and tortoises are no exception. If your tortoise lacks sufficient water, the fecal matter will harden in the intestinal tract, leading to constipation and even impaction. Not good.
- Aging – Your tortoise’s metabolism will drop with time. This means that older tortoises eat less food less frequently, which will change the animal’s pooping behavior along with it. Don’t worry, this is a natural outcome, as it’s part of the aging process.
- Stress – Tortoises are reptiles, which means that they are prone to stress. Regular stress will impact the reptile’s digestive system and cause additional health issues like a poor immune system and increased vulnerability to diseases and parasites. These animals can experience stress for a variety of reasons, including being placed in a new home, improper environmental parameters, improper housing, inadequate food, etc.
- Health problems – Tortoises can struggle with various health issues, primarily parasites, and bacterial infections. These are far more prevalent in closed ecosystems due to poor husbandry practices and lack of adequate hygiene. These problems can influence your tortoise’s defecation patterns, leading to longer pauses between the pooping sessions, constipation, diarrhea, or impaction.
Common Signs of Health Issues in Tortoise Feces
You can investigate your tortoise’s fecal matter to detect various health problems, depending on what you observe.
Some of the observations to expect include:
- Color change – For the most part, your tortoise’s feces should appear brown with an earthy coloration. If the poop is too lightly-colored, this may be a sign of dehydration. And, knowing that dehydration is a potentially deadly condition, you need to act fast.
- Consistency changes – The animal’s fecal matter should be consistent and solid but not dry or brittle. Think of something similar to bread dough. If the poop is too runny, this is a sign of diarrhea. If it’s too solid and compact or straight-up dry, that’s a sign of dehydration.
- Infrequent bowel movement – A healthy tortoise usually has frequent bowel movements, depending on its eating patterns. Keeping track of the animal’s pooping behavior allows you to detect any abnormal pooping patterns along the way.
- Abnormal composition – A variety of things fall under this umbrella, including parasites, mucus, and even blood. These usually indicate internal infections and parasitic infestations that require addressing fast.
- The presence of undigested food – If you observe undigested food particles in your tortoise’s fecal matter, this is a sign of a digestive problem. Maybe the animal’s digestive system doesn’t function properly for whatever reason. Or maybe the food item itself isn’t right. Whatever it may be, you should investigate further to figure out the cause.
As a standard recommendation, always contact your vet in case of abnormal pooping.
You risk misdiagnosing your tortoise’s problem, which can cause an array of additional issues along the way.
How Often do Tortoises Poop?
The pooping frequency in tortoises isn’t set in stone. Some tortoises poop every day, others once every several days, while others can only poop once a week. It all depends on the animal’s age, diet, size, and eating frequency.
So, you should learn your tortoise’s normal pooping behavior and keep track of each pooping session to make sure everything remains within the charts.
More importantly, doing so allows you to detect any digestive problems in time and address them before they aggravate.
Cleaning Up Tortoise Poop
You should ideally clean your tortoise’s poop immediately to keep its enclosure clean and hygienic.
Doing so prevents the tortoise from stepping into the poop by mistake and spreading it everywhere. Furthermore, I recommend having a personalized cleaning schedule to employ each time your tortoise poops.
That’s because the reptile may also urinate when pooping, so removing the fecal matter may not be enough to clean the habitat properly.
To achieve that, consider the following:
- Remove the solid matter – It’s as easy as it sounds. You most likely need to remove some of the substrates along with it to make sure there are no residues left.
- Disinfect the area – Use a reptile-friendly disinfectant to clean the area. Use the instructions on the package and speak to your vet to figure out the best product for your tortoise.
- Perform in-depth cleaning regularly – You should clean the entire enclosure regularly, depending on how often your tortoise poops. This involves replacing the substrate, removing the bedding and the decorations, and cleaning and disinfecting everything. This is necessary to remove urine and bacterial formations that are natural in a warm and humid environment.
Tortoises eat more often and poop accordingly, compared to other reptiles. But everything else stays the same in terms of poop appearance, pooping behavior, urine elimination, etc.
If you didn’t know much about tortoise pooping, I hope today’s article has corrected that.