Why Does My Tortoise Sit on His Food?

It’s mealtime for your tortoise, and you’re probably looking forward to seeing your pet nibble on its favorite foods. But instead, your tortoise takes a few bites and then sits down inside its food bowl. Or maybe it avoids eating altogether and instead just sits on its food. What exactly is going on; is this normal tortoise behavior?

So why does my tortoise sit on his food? There are three main explanations for why your tortoise sits on his food. It may be a sign of aggression, your tortoise may prefer to pee or poop in its food bowl, or it could just be your pet’s natural instincts.

Read on to find out more about the three reasons why your tortoise is sitting on its food. We’ll also go over the best type of food bowl for your tortoise, as well as some reasons why your pet may not be eating normally. 

What Are Some Reasons My Tortoise Sits on His Food?

It’s very normal for tortoises to sit in their food and water bowls, and many times they’ll pee or poop there as well! This is nothing to worry about; it’s a widespread behavior among tortoises in captivity. There are three main reasons that your tortoise is sitting on its food.

Sign of Aggression

First, your tortoise may be showing signs of aggression or asserting its dominance. This is especially common if you’re housing more than one tortoise in the same enclosure. The tortoise that holds dominance over the others will typically sit in the food bowl while it eats, only leaving the bowl and allowing the other tortoises to eat once it has had its fill. 

Preferred Restroom

Many tortoises prefer to use the restroom in their food or water bowl rather than anywhere else in their enclosure. This is actually a good thing, even if it doesn’t seem like it–it makes it a lot easier to see where your pet has gone to the bathroom. Cleaning a food bowl is usually a much easier process than switching out soiled substrate. 

If you want to try to avoid this behavior, first realize that you can’t train a tortoise the way you would a dog or a cat. But if you are observant and begin to pick up on your tortoise’s patterns, you should be able to reduce the behavior by quite a bit.

For example, if you know that your tortoise tends to use the restroom in its food bowl immediately after eating, allow your tortoise to soak in the bathtub after mealtime instead. This way the waste won’t get into the food bowl, and your tortoise will also get some much-needed hydration from the soak.

Natural Instincts

In the wild, tortoises won’t eat an entire plant. Instead, they’ll leave some of it behind, watering and fertilizing it (i.e., urinating and defecating on it) so that it will grow back and continue to be a source of food in the future.

So if your tortoise eats some of its food and then sits and poops on it, its natural instincts could be to blame. Again, there’s really nothing wrong or unusual about this behavior. It’s just something that tortoises do!

What Kind of Food Bowl Is Ideal for Tortoises?

It’s important to provide food to your tortoise in the right kind of bowl. It may seem like a small thing to be concerned about, but the kind of food bowl you provide has an effect on how your tortoise eats.

Size

The size of your tortoise’s food bowl depends on the age and development of your pet. For example, if your tortoise is a hatchling or juvenile, you’re going to want a much smaller bowl than you would for a full-grown adult tortoise.

Ensure that the bowl you choose can easily hold your pet’s entire meal. Generally, you want to choose a food bowl that your pet can fit into and climb in and out of easily, since tortoises do enjoy sitting in their food and water bowls. 

Material

Food-grade plastics are a good choice for your tortoise’s food bowl; make sure that they’re nontoxic, though! Stainless steel also works well. Remember that you want to select a food bowl that will be easy to clean!

Location

The best place to put your tortoise’s food and water bowls is on the cool end of the enclosure (remember, you should have a temperature gradient with a warm basking area on one end). By placing the food and water bowls on the cool end, you’ll ensure that they won’t get warmed up under your tortoise’s heat source.

Additionally, tortoises sometimes climb into their water bowls and flip over onto their backs. It’s very difficult for them to flip themselves back over, so you definitely don’t want your pet to be stuck under the heat source! It’s very possible for tortoises to overheat and even die in this situation.

How Often Do I Need to Clean My Tortoise’s Food Bowl?

Your tortoise’s food and water bowls need to be cleaned out daily. Bits of substrate, shed skin, and waste can all begin to pile up if you don’t clean often enough, and bacteria will build up as well. The best thing you can do for your tortoise’s overall health and wellbeing is to provide a safe and clean enclosure for it to live in.

Why Isn’t My Tortoise Eating Its Food?

If your tortoise isn’t even bothering to eat its food before it sits on top of it, that’s definitely something to look into. There are a few explanations as to why your tortoise is choosing not to eat. 

Stress

A stressed-out tortoise is likely to have less energy and to eat less. Stress is very serious in tortoises; it can lead to a weaker immune system and an increased chance of illness and other health issues.

Typically, tortoises feel stressed when they think their environment is unsafe. For example, if a dog or cat is able to walk by your tortoise’s enclosure, your tortoise may see the other pets as potential predators. 

In addition, if you handle your tortoise too frequently, that can cause stress as well. Finally, a lack of sufficient hides and other tank accessories can lead your tortoise to feel unsafe and stressed.

Improper Husbandry

Husbandry covers your pet’s environment and diet. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in these areas, so it’s very important to do research and gain knowledge on the optimal conditions for your tortoise’s wellbeing.

Here is a brief overview of what is needed for your pet’s enclosure and diet. Deviation from any of these general guidelines can cause your tortoise to feel uncomfortable in its environment, and to then choose not to eat. 

1. Size. At the very least, a 10-inch tortoise needs 15 square feet of space in its enclosure. Larger tortoises require a much larger space. For a good estimate, add one square foot of space for each inch over 10 inches. For example, if your tortoise is 15 inches, add five square feet for a total of 20 square feet in its enclosure.

2. Temperature. You’ll need to create a thermal gradient in your tortoise enclosure, with a basking area around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and an ambient temperature around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Humidity. Tortoises need consistent humidity of at least 70%.

4. UV Light. Tortoises need regular exposure to both UVA and UVB rays to keep their bodies functioning normally. 

5. Day and Night Cycle. Keep the heat source and UV light on for 12 hours and off for 12 hours each day.

6. Substrate. Recommended substrates include soil (free of fertilizers and pesticides), coconut fiber, and newspaper. Avoid play sand and wood chips.

7. Accessories. Your tortoise needs two identical hides, high-quality food and water bowls, and real or artificial plants. You can also add background paper, rocks, and branches. 

8. Food and Water. Provide fresh water daily. Your tortoise’s diet should be made up of mainly plants with a few vegetables and fruits added in on occasion. Make sure to provide variety in your pet’s diet!

Parasites

A final reason why your tortoise is sitting on top of its food without eating any is that it has parasites. Symptoms of parasites include weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy along with eating less or even refusing to eat completely. If you suspect your tortoise has parasites, be sure to take it to the vet as soon as possible!

Conclusion

If your tortoise is sitting on its food, there’s nothing to worry about! This can be a way to assert dominance or to follow its natural instincts. It may also be the case that your tortoise prefers to go to the bathroom in its food bowl. 

If your tortoise isn’t eating normally, it may be stressed or have parasites. Additionally, there could be some issues with its environment or diet. Be sure to look into the situation and see what you can do to provide a solution!

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