Why Is My Tortoise Crying?

If your tortoise appears to be teary-eyed or is making crying sounds, you might wonder if it is normal or if something more serious is going on. Tortoises “cry” for a variety of reasons, some of which are absolutely natural and others that should be taken more seriously. 

So why is my tortoise crying? The appearance of tears can be a result of regular drainage, protection against a dry environment, dehydration, injury, or a respiratory infection. Crying sounds are typically made during the mating process.

Read on for more detailed information about the possible causes of a teary-eyed tortoise, plus solutions and treatment to get your tortoise feeling as good as new! We’ll also explain why tortoises sometimes make crying sounds, and how to tell if your tortoise is healthy.

Regular Drainage

One reason your tortoise appears to be crying is pretty normal. Because tortoises don’t have tear ducts that act to drain away tears, any sort of secretions of the eye simply stream down the face. In small quantities, this is nothing to worry about. Gently clean your tortoise’s face if necessary. 

“The Crying Tortoise”

The Sulcata Tortoise, also known as the African Spurred Tortoise, is sometimes referred to as “the crying tortoise.” This is because if it isn’t provided with the correct level of humidity in its environment, its eyes will begin to water to protect against the dryness or any dust in the air. This is easily fixed by increasing the humidity in your tortoise’s enclosure.


Some tortoise owners report that their pets get “bubbly eyes” when they are dehydrated. Ensure that your tortoise has access to plenty of fresh, clean water and this shouldn’t be an issue. You can also bathe your tortoise more frequently so it can absorb water that way.

While some believe that tortoises don’t need to drink water often, they should actually be provided with fresh water each day. Make sure to monitor your pet’s water bowl to make sure that they’re taking in plenty of liquid.

You should also place your tortoise in shallow water about three times a week for 25 minutes. Regular soaks are a great way to encourage your tortoise to drink water.


If your tortoise sustains an injury to its eye, its eye may water and appear to be crying as a response. Many tortoise owners suggest using Terramycin or Neomycin, as well as regular eye drops, to treat the injury. If it doesn’t clear up in a few days, take your tortoise to the vet.

Respiratory Infections

One reason it may appear that your tortoise is crying is a respiratory infection, which can cause discharge from the eyes, nostrils, and mouth. Respiratory infections are relatively common in tortoises, and they’re usually caused by problems in your pet’s environment.

Although you can find some “home remedies” for respiratory infections online, this is a serious health issue and you should take your tortoise to the vet rather than trying to treat it at home.

Causes of Respiratory Infections

There are several possible causes of respiratory infections, from environment to temperatures to microbes and fungus. Read about each of the causes in more detail below.

Mycoplasma: This is a harmful microbe that is usually kept in check by your tortoise’s immune system. But if the environmental conditions your tortoise lives in aren’t ideal, mycoplasma can begin causing symptoms and a rapidly worsening infection. Usually a fall in temperature or Vitamin A deficiency is the cause of your tortoise’s immune system not being able to keep mycoplasma at bay.

Bedding: If you use hay for bedding, it’s possible for your tortoise to breathe in harmful fungal spores, which can then cause a respiratory infection.

Post-Hibernation: If your tortoise emerges from hibernation with mouth rot or stomatitis, there’s a good chance it will also develop a respiratory infection.

Environment and Temperatures: Being outside during a wet and chilly summer can suppress your pet’s immune system and lead to a respiratory infection. Likewise, if their indoor environment is too dry and dusty, the same problem can arise.

Early Stages

At first, your tortoise might not show any symptoms. Typically, the first sign of a respiratory infection is a runny nose. You’ll notice clear discharge coming from your tortoise’s nostrils. Sometimes this discharge will form small bubbles and become thicker and more of a yellow color. Your tortoise may also breathe loudly.

This early stage is also when your tortoise may appear to be crying as discharge can also come from its eyes. You may also notice some swelling in the eye area. Your pet’s appetite will most likely be reduced, and it will be more lethargic than usual.

Advanced Stages

Unfortunately, respiratory tract infections that aren’t treated immediately can often spread to the lungs, causing pneumonia. At this point, your tortoise will have very labored breathing and will appear to be in distress, moving its head around to try to clear the mucus out of its lungs. It will also keep its mouth open to try to breathe better.

If you don’t take your tortoise to the vet, it will get weaker very quickly. You’ll see your pet resting its head on the ground and staying in one place rather than walking around and eating.

How to Handle a Respiratory Infection

As mentioned previously, do not try to treat a respiratory infection at home or wait for it to get better. Because tortoises don’t have a diaphragm between their chest and abdomen, any mucus that builds up is stuck inside the lungs. Get your pet to a veterinarian as soon as you possibly can.

If your tortoise lives with any others, make sure to isolate it. This will help to keep the respiratory infection from spreading. You’ll also need to thoroughly clean your tortoise’s enclosure with a reptile-safe disinfectant. 

How a Respiratory Infection is Diagnosed

The vet will carefully examine your tortoise and ask about its symptoms. Typically this is enough to make a diagnosis, but to figure out the cause of the infection, they may also do lab work. The vet will take swabs to determine which bacteria is the cause of the infection.

Treatment and Recovery for Respiratory Infections

If your veterinarian determines that the respiratory infection is bacterial, antibiotics will be prescribed. Antiviral and antifungal drugs are also commonly used. Additionally, the vet will recommend making some changes to your tortoise’s care and environment to keep the infection from coming back.

Much of the time it’s helpful for your tortoise’s immune system to raise the temperature of their environment while they’re recovering. You may also need to administer nasal drops and wipe down your tortoise’s nose regularly at home.

What If My Tortoise Is Making Crying Sounds?

Male tortoises make a variety of noises when mating, some of which can resemble the sound of continuous crying. This is completely natural and shouldn’t be a cause for worry. 

Signs of Healthy Eyes

Your pet tortoise’s eyes should be bright and clear. The third eyelid, which is located in the corner of the eye, should barely be visible. Your pet’s eyes should be wide open and alert.

Other signs of a healthy tortoise include being active and moving around fairly quickly. The bottom of the shell (also known as the plastron) shouldn’t drag on the ground as your tortoise walks. A healthy tortoise can climb and dig, and it should have good muscle tone in all of its limbs.

Your pet’s shell should be smooth and firm without any signs of damage or injury. When you hold a tortoise, it shouldn’t feel light, but solid instead. Your pet’s tongue should be clear and pink, and its beak should have a slight overbite. 


If your tortoise is looking teary-eyed, there are a few possible explanations. One is simply that it’s having normal discharge, as tortoises don’t have tear ducts. Another is that its eyes are protecting it from a dry environment. Dehydration is another cause. If your tortoise sounds like it is crying, it is most likely attempting to mate.

Some more worrisome causes include injury and respiratory infection, which should be taken very seriously. If you notice signs of infection, take your tortoise to the vet immediately and do not try to cure it with any home remedies. Follow the veterinarian’s advice when it comes to modifying your tortoise’s environment and care during the recovery period.

Now that you know more about why your tortoise appears to be crying, you’ll be armed with the tools you need to identify the cause of the tears and ensure your pet stays healthy!












I’m Devin Nunn, an average joe that just so happens to have a deep love and passion for everything to do with reptiles. Because taking care of them for the vast majority of my life wasn’t fulfilling enough, I decided to begin educating others about them through my articles. read more...