Why Is My Tortoise’s Mouth Green?

Have you ever noticed a green tint around your pet tortoise’s mouth, nose, or even their front legs? You might be wondering if this discoloration is a sign of a serious health condition, such as mouth or scale rot, and whether this warrants a call to your veterinarian.

Why is my tortoise’s mouth green? Your tortoise’s mouth is most likely green because of the plants and vegetables they eat. Grasses and greens are staples of a tortoise’s diet and will definitely leave a green tinge in and around your tortoise’s mouth.

There are a few other reasons why your tortoise’s mouth might be green, and we’ll explore all of them in this article. If your pet tortoise is suffering from mouth rot, rest assured that they will display other symptoms of this condition that you can learn to recognize. Mouth rot is also treatable, sometimes at home.

Tortoise Diet

Tortoise’s are natural herbivores, or plant-eaters. Most species of tortoise will readily consume a wide variety of high-quality vegetables and grasses. Grasses should actually make up the largest part of your tortoise’s diet and can be grown in small cups and pots right inside your tort’s enclosure.

The exception to the grasses rule is the Redfoot tortoise. These types of tortoises need a variety of nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits, and a very small amount of animal protein, provided to them just a few times a month.

Russian, Sulcata, and Greek tortoises need a diet that contains up to 85% high-fiber foraging material, such as hay and grass. Alfalfa hay is great for tortoises. It is highly digestible and provides protein, vitamins, and minerals to your tortoise.

You can also give your tortoise grass hays such as Brome, Orchard Grass, and Bermuda. Acceptable types of grasses for your pet tortoise include fescue, bluegrass, clover, alfalfa, wheatgrass, orchardgrass, sowthistle, and bermuda grass. Tortoises also love edible plants and flowers such as geraniums, violets, chard, and herbs such as oregano and basil.

Have you ever fallen or slipped in the grass, or mowed your lawn, only to find your pants, socks, and feet covered in green stains afterward? This is because grasses contain organic pigments, like chlorophyll. These pigments act as a dye and can easily bind to materials like cotton. They will also stain your skin… or your tortoise’s mouth. 

Many of the greens that you are feeding to your tortoise, such as collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, and dandelion, also contain high amounts of chlorophyll. In fact, chlorophyll is what makes them so nutritious for both humans and reptiles.

Chlorophyll is an excellent source of beta carotene, as well as some vitamin C and calcium. This chlorophyll will definitely stain your tortoise’s lips as they munch on these veggies.

In short, a green-stained mouth is a good thing, as it can be a sure sign that your pet tortoise is being provided with the proper diet.

Tortoises and Poop

There is another possible explanation for a green or brown-stained tortoise mouth, and this one isn’t pretty. 

Tortoises will sometimes eat their own poop. There’s a term for this behavior across the animal kingdom: Coprophagy. This behavior is a bit more rare in reptiles, but it has been reported in certain species of tortoise, including Sulcata tortoises and Desert tortoises.

It is important to note that any animal will do this under certain circumstances, however, so it is a possibility even if you own a tortoise of a different type.

So, why would your tortoise do this? Essentially, they are consuming their own droppings because they are not being provided with enough nutrients to meet their needs. By eating their poop, your tortoise is attempting to obtain nutrients in the fecal matter that were not absorbed the first time the meal was consumed.

It is important to nip this behavior in the bud so it does not become a habit for your pet tortoise. Be sure to provide your captive tortoise with all the nutrient-rich food they require on a daily basis, including a wide array of the grasses and vegetables listed in the previous section.

Diet diversity is key, and will ensure that your tortoise is receiving all the nutrition they need from food that has not already been ingested and digested. You should also avoid giving your tort foods that have no real nutritional value, such as iceberg lettuce.

Also, be sure to clean feces out of your tortoise’s enclosure regularly. If droppings aren’t available, your tortoise won’t consume them, simple as that.

Keep in mind that your tortoise also requires fresh drinking water. Tortoises do not actually acquire most of their water from the food they eat, as some people seem to believe.

Mouth Rot in Tortoises

If you’ve ever heard of “mouth rot”, you might be concerned that a green mouth is a symptom of this condition, but it often is not.

If you haven’t heard of mouth rot, here’s some basic information: Mouth rot is actually a general term for a group of medical conditions that cause inflammation in a reptile’s mouth. The infection that causes mouth rot can be viral, bacterial, or fungal.

Unfortunately, all types of reptiles can suffer from mouth rot. The type of mouth rot that most commonly affects tortoises is called infectious stomatitis. 

Like many reptile illnesses, the symptoms of mouth rot are not apparent until the disease has progressed. It’s very important to learn your tortoise’s normal routines, so if they deviate from these routines, you know as soon as possible and can take the appropriate action. If you do notice any of the symptoms of mouth rot, call your veterinarian immediately.

Symptoms of mouth rot include:

  • A loss of appetite, as mouth rot makes eating very uncomfortable for your tortoise.
  • Signs of discomfort or stress, such as pacing, lethargy, or becoming newly shy or defensive when you attempt to handle them.
  • Discharge or trauma to the mouth, which can include inflammation inside your tortoise’s mouth, as well as bleeding, ulcers, white growths, excess saliva, or yellowish discharge in their mouth and on their tongue.
  • A gaping tortoise, which indicates that your tortoise is trying to relieve pressure inside his mouth.

An experienced veterinarian will need to examine your tortoise so they can diagnose them properly and recommend treatment. Your veterinarian will also ask you about general husbandry so they can determine what caused your pet’s mouth rot and enable you to prevent it in the future.

Preventing Mouth Rot

You can prevent mouth rot in the first place by doing several things to keep your tortoise healthy.

First, be sure to keep your tortoise’s habitat clean. Mouth rot generally occurs when bacteria or other microbes attack a tortoise with an already weakened immune system. You can keep these microbes at bay by spot-cleaning your tortoise’s habitat every day. Remove all droppings and uneaten food each evening, and change out the water in your tortoise’s dish daily.

You should also be certain that your tortoise’s temperatures and humidity are at the proper levels. Poor husbandry is one of the biggest contributing factors to a sick tortoise. The appropriate temperature for your tortoise’s enclosure will vary a bit by species, so be sure to do your homework.

Russian tortoises like a basking area that is 85-90°F, for example, while Sulcata tortoises prefer a basking spot that is a bit hotter, about 95-100°F. The requirements for your tortoise’s cool spot will also vary based on the type of tortoise you have, but as a general rule, do not allow the temperature of this area to fall below 70°F.

If you have more than one tortoise in the same enclosure, and you suspect that one has mouth rot, it is important to separate the tortoises as soon as possible. Certain types of mouth rot are transmittable, and one infected tortoise can pass the condition to their tank-mate.

Prepare a separate, temporary enclosure for the tortoise without suspected mouth rot, and be sure to provide them with fresh, clean substrate and their own, freshly washed water dish.

Lastly, mouth rot is especially common for tortoises coming out of hibernation. Many species of tortoise hibernate, including Desert, Russian, Hermann’s, and Greek. If you have one of these types, and they have recently woken up from their long winter’s nap, be sure to check their mouth and observe their behavior carefully.

Conclusion

In most cases, a tortoise with a green-stained mouth is not a cause for concern. Typically the chlorophyll-rich greens that make up your tortoise’s diet will stain their mouths and cause this situation, which is purely cosmetic.

If you’ve observed your pet tortoise eating their own droppings, and you suspect they’re turning green because of this, be sure to tweak their diet so that this behavior does not become a regular habit.

Lastly, if you have any suspicions that your captive tortoise is suffering from mouth rot, call a trusted veterinarian as soon as you can. Mouth rot can be treated successfully, but needs to be taken seriously so that it doesn’t lead to bigger problems for your tortoise.

Sources:

  1. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5706bdd507eaa0b8239942b7/t/5de7fa116dde150c16969552/1575483922189/RedfootTortoiseCaresheetAuroraAnimalHospital.pdf 
  2. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5706bdd507eaa0b8239942b7/t/58b9b5f386e6c08cabe91590/1488565748672/Russian_Tortoise_Care-Aurora_Animal_Hospital.pdf 
  3. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5706bdd507eaa0b8239942b7/t/5df5b4264f4ce57dd247ba0c/1576383529776/SulcataTortoiseCareAuroraAnimalHospital.pdf 
  4. https://crazycrittersinc.com/tortoises-need-grass-flowers-weeds-and-hay-before-they-need-fruit-and-vegetables/#:~:text=Acceptable%20types%20of%20grasses%20include,oregano%2C%20cilantro%2C%20and%20basil
  5. https://www.lifegate.com/chlorophyll-vegetables 
  6. http://www.anapsid.org/coproph.html