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Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 11418
Experience:  Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
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I got my 5 month old Horsfield tortoise yesterday...noticed

Customer Question

Hi, I got my 5 month old Horsfield tortoise yesterday...noticed on here you questioned somebody about seeming to be this bad? Mine has been doing it, other than that, nothing except burying himself - Im a bit concerned (but know it's very early days)
Any ideas on how to help him be less lethargic? Yesterday he ate one small leaf, nothing else...
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Reptile
Expert:  Anna replied 1 year ago.


I apologize that no one has responded to your question sooner. Different experts come online at various times. I just came online and saw your question. My name is ***** ***** I’m a biologist with a special interest in reptiles. I'm sorry to hear of this problem.

Repeated yawning very often indicates a respiratory infection. Burying himself often and not eating can also tell us that Button doesn't feel good.

These infections are usually caused by bacteria, not by viruses like the human cold. for that reason respiratory infections in tortoises can be treated with prescription antibiotics.Unfortunately, if these infections are not treated promptly, they can be very difficult to clear up. One of the most common medical complaints in tortoises of all types is referred to as "Runny Nose Syndrome (RNS)." It is a chronic RI or pneumonia. Even after it seems to clear up, the tortoise can be a carrier and spread it to other tortoises. After treatment, tends to recur and require more treatment. You can read more about RNS here:

I wish I could give you a home treatment, but there isn't one. I recommend that you take Button to a reptile vet as soon as you can. These links will take you to directories of vets.

In the UK:

In the USA:

In Australia:

Most tortoises are wild-caught. They're then transported in crowded, dirty conditions, and transferred from one location to the next until they finally end up in a pet store. Many of them are sick and infested with parasites at that point. For that reason, I recommend that any new tortoise be taken to a reptile vet right away for a check-up. The vet can check for parasites and provide treatment if needed. There may be other health conditions that also require attention. When any symptoms at all appear, such a visit is even more important.

In the meantime, you'll want to be sure all conditions are optimal. I'll give you a summary, and of course, you can ignore what you already know.

A tank isn’t the best environment for tortoises to live in because the air can’t circulate properly. They should have some kind of an open enclosure that is at least 4 feet long and 2 ft. wide, and 1 to 2 ft. deep. You could build such an enclosure or convert a preformed garden pond or child’s plastic wading pool (one of the larger sizes). Large RubberMaid totes can also be converted. Here is a site where you can see photos of indoor and outdoor homes for tortoises:

The temperature gradient in the enclosure should be 21*C to 29*C, with the basking area warmer yet, at 35*C. Night temperatures can go down to 21*C to 23*C, so you probably don’t need to leave the heat on at night. Tortoises need the night time drop to stay healthy. If temperatures are a little too chilly in the daytime, lethargy and appetite loss will occur. This may be what is wrong with your tortoise. A good digital probe thermometer is needed to accurately measure temperatures.

Button also needs UVB rays. Many of the so-called daytime lights for reptiles are called full- spectrum, but they do not produce any UVB rays at all. If your light doesn’t specifically state UVB (not UV or UVA, but UVB), it doesn’t produce UVB rays. Without UVB tortoises develop Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). It causes a very slow and painful death, often over a period of months to years. I recommend a light called the Reptisun 10.0 for UVB rays. UVB bulbs are ineffective after 6 months, even though they may look fine, and must be replaced twice a year. Calcium is also needed to prevent MBD. The best way to provide it is to give your tortoise a cuttlebone, which can be found in the bird section of pet stores.

Tortoises need a high fiber diet. Hay and grasses should be a big part of the diet. If you don’t spray your lawn, take him outside to graze when you can supervise him. Grass hay should be available at all times. You can buy bags of timothy hay in pet stores in the rabbit section. Greens such as dandelion, collards, and turnip greens are also good. Fruits and some vegetables are not good for tortoises, and lead to many health problems.

I’m also going to give you a first aid measure to take. Button is probably somewhat dehydrated. P

Buy an electrolyte solution. In the USA, that would be unflavored Pedialyte (yes, the kind for human infants). In the UK, it would be a product called Lectaid, which is sold in pet stores. In Australia, it’s a human product called Dioralyte. Prepare a shallow bath consisting of 1/2 water and 1/2 electrolyte solution. Soak your tortoise for about 20 to 30 minutes twice a day. Reptiles can absorb the electrolytes and fluids through their vents (where droppings pass out), so make the water deep enough to cover the vent. Be sure to supervise closely.

In summary, I would begin giving soaks, make an appointment for a check-up, adjust the temperature, read up on diet and get appropriate foods, get a UVB light if the one you have doesn’t say it provides UVB light, and make any adjustments that are needed for housing. I hope this doesn’t sound too overwhelming.

If you have more questions, let me know in a REPLY. I hope Button will thrive for you.


My goal is to provide you with excellent service – if you feel you have gotten anything less, please reply back, I am happy to address follow-up questions. Please remember to rate my service only after you have all the information you need. Thank you!