Why Is My Tortoise Restless?

Maybe you’ve noticed your tortoise trying to climb the walls of its tank as if it’s trying to escape, or perhaps it’s been digging or pacing nonstop. This behavior can be worrying for many tortoise owners, but there are some simple measures you can take to keep your pet from feeling restless.

So why is my tortoise restless? Tortoises can get cabin fever just like humans and often need some variation in their environment, but sometimes restless behavior can also be a sign of illness.

Below, find out more about why tortoises can become restless, and check out our suggestions for activities to make them feel more calm and less trapped in their environment. You can even build an outdoor enclosure that your pet is sure to love! On the off chance that your tortoise is acting restless due to illness, you’ll want to take a look at the different [things] that can have restlessness as a symptom. 

Signs Your Tortoise Is Restless

A restless tortoise doesn’t always equal an unhappy tortoise, but it’s still important to look out any behavior that isn’t normal for your pet. Signs that your tortoise is restless can include:

  • Rearranging their tank
  • Breaking decorations
  • Flipping food and water bowls
  • Constantly walking or digging
  • Climbing the walls of their tank

Reasons for Restlessness

  • Cabin fever – Tortoises can get bored of living in the same environment just as humans can. In the wild, tortoises do quite a bit of walking, so it’s only natural that they don’t enjoy being confined all the time.
  • High testosterone – Male tortoises often pace back and forth, attempt to climb the walls of their enclosure, and scrape their shells during the time of year when their testosterone is up. This is normal tortoise behavior.
  • Overheating – The ideal temperature for your tortoise depends on what kind of tortoise it is. Generally, the basking area should be kept around 86 degrees Fahrenheit, while the other end of the enclosure should remain at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, the temperature should not fall below 50 degrees. If your tortoise is overheated, it may become restless as it attempts to escape the high temperatures. 

Solutions for a Restless Tortoise

There are plenty of activities you can partake in with your pet to help ease their restlessness, or you can even build an outdoor enclosure for them to enjoy!

Take Your Tortoise on a Walk

In nature, tortoises can walk for hours in search of food, so it makes sense that they can become restless when stuck in the same small environment for long periods of time. As long as you take the proper precautions, going on a walk with your tortoise is a fun and easy way to let them engage with a more stimulating environment. 

Always keep your tortoise on a specialized harness or leash. Do make sure your pet doesn’t eat any grass it comes across on your walk–grass is often sprayed with various pesticides and chemicals that could harm your tortoise.

Redesign Your Tortoise’s Habitat

Tortoises don’t understand the concept of glass walls. Because they can see through them to the outside world, many tortoises will attempt to get out. One solution is to put wood around the walls. This typically makes tortoises much calmer. If your pet seems to be digging a lot, adding more substrate is an easy solution.

If your pet often breaks or rearranges the objects in its habitat, this could also be a sign that it’s not set up correctly to meet its comforts and needs. A restless tortoise may need a larger area to roam or a different arrangement of accessories within its enclosure. You can also set up obstacles in its enclosure in such a way that your pet won’t easily be able to pace back and forth.

Let Your Tortoise Roam

Take your tortoise out of its enclosure and let it roam around the room or the house. Of course, you’ll need to “tortoise-proof” the area and keep a close eye on your pet. This will satisfy your tortoise’s restlessness and cabin fever by letting them explore some new territory.

Create an Outdoor Habitat for Your Tortoise

When creating an outdoor habitat for your pet, there are three main things to keep in mind: the climate, your tortoise’s specific needs, and available space. The size of the enclosure depends on the size of your tortoise. If it measures under four inches, a 4ft by 8ft habitat is recommended, while larger tortoises should have an area of about 10ft by 20ft. 


You can use stone, brick, concrete, wood, metal, fiberglass, or any combination of these to build your tortoise’s outdoor enclosure. Concrete, stone, and brick will make for a more permanent outdoor habitat, but they are also more expensive. 


A backyard with a tall privacy fence is the best option for your pet’s outdoor enclosure. Make sure to set up in an area that’s safe from other animals. You’ll also need to make sure the area is partly shaded.

How to Build the Enclosure

First, make sure that the walls of the enclosure are buried at least a foot below the surface of the ground. This will keep your tortoise from digging under the walls and escaping. You’ll also want to create holes every few feet along the base of the walls for drainage purposes. 

The walls should measure about two feet above ground level. Remember that tortoises are great climbers, so you’ll need to create a foot-long lip around the corners of the enclosure to keep your tortoise from being able to climb out. You can also create a roof (as long as it has vents) made of panels or wood covered in shingles.


Two choices for outdoor heating are infrared heating panels and ceramic heat emitters. These are typically suspended from overhead and controlled with a thermostat. A good average to set your heating source is 300w. Make sure it’s not placed in an area where there’s a risk of burning your pet. The temperature in the enclosure should be at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


In your outdoor enclosure, you’ll want to keep the decorations pretty simple and practical. Flagstones, tunnels, and a hide are all you’ll really need. Flagstones and tunnels are fun for your pet to climb on, under, or through. The hide is essential because it provides an area for your tortoise to feel totally safe and escape any unpleasant weather.

Building a Pond

To build a pond in the enclosure, shape a hole in the ground with sloped sides and form cement around it. You can also set gravel into the sides to provide easier footing. Another option is to simply get a water trough.

Plants and Landscaping

This is the last step to creating your tortoise’s outdoor enclosure! You can use Fescue, Orchard, or Bermuda grass for the substrate. Then add weeds such as Plantain and Dandelion, as well as shrubs and bushes for cover. 

Health Issues That Present With Restlessness

While restlessness is typically just a sign that your pet needs some more variety in their life, it can sometimes be a symptom of illness.


A tortoise with parasites may pace back and forth due to the discomfort it feels. To diagnose this problem, it’s necessary to take your tortoise to the vet, where they can examine a fecal sample and provide treatment. 

It’s a good idea to get your tortoise checked for parasites routinely once a year. Other symptoms may include reluctance to eat or drink, lethargy, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Respiratory Infections

If your tortoise has a respiratory infection, it’s possible that they will appear restless because they’re actively trying to breathe. Other signs of a respiratory infection are open mouth breathing, whistling, and drainage coming from the eyes, nostrils, or mouth. 


If your tortoise is acting restless, it’s probably time to take them out of their typical environment and give them a chance to explore a different habitat. You can do this by taking them on walks, switching up their tank layout or transitioning to a larger tank, or even creating a fun outdoor habitat for them to enjoy. 

Although restlessness typically isn’t a sign of a health problem, it can be when accompanied by other symptoms. If your pet is reluctant to eat or shows signs of difficulty breathing, this could mean it’s afflicted with parasites or a respiratory infection.

With all of the new information you’ve learned from this article, you’ll be totally prepared if your tortoise ever comes down with cabin fever!









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...