My son's Russian Tortoise won't move. He's indoor with heat lamps. We tried scratching his shell. Not sure if he is

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Customer: My son's Russian Tortoise won't move. He's indoor with heat lamps. We tried scratching his shell. Not sure if he is hibernating or dead?
JA: I'll do all I can to help. How long has the tortoise been lethargic? Any changes in his appetite?
Customer: About a week since he ate. My son says when he picks him up he moves around but he wasn't moving this morning.
JA: Could he have eaten something unusual?
Customer: no, stays in his habitat. Only eats spring mix with calcium.
JA: And what's the tortoise's name and age?
Customer: Marko, not sure the age. Approximately 1 year old.
JA: Is there anything else the Vet should know before I connect you? Rest assured that they'll be able to help you.
Customer: I don't think so.
Answered by Dr. Caryn – Vet in 13 mins 11 months ago
Dr. Caryn – Vet
Pet Specialist

2,210 satisfied customers

Specialities include: Reptile Veterinary, Herp Veterinary, Exotic Animal Medicine, Amphibian Veterinary

Hello and thanks for posting your question on My name is***** and I have been a veterinarian in the US for over 21 years, specializing in aquatics, reptiles, amphibians, avian and other exotic species. You may already be aware, but on this platform, veterinarians can provide insight and advice, but as this is not considered a legal client-patient relationship, we are unable to prescribe medications, provide medical records or sign documents for your specific pet. For that you would need to make an in person visit with a local veterinarian. I am happy to chat with you via text but if you are interested in a phone call instead that is an option you can choose for an additional charge. In the meantime, I am putting together some questions and/or suggestions to help with what’s going on with your pet.

I am sorry to hear that your son's Russian tortoise Marko is not moving. It can sometimes be difficult to tell if a tortoise is hibernating or is dead.

These are the signs to look for that suggest the tortoise has died:

-Will not be responsive if you put it on its back or side.

-Will have no visible signs of breathing no chest movement (or movement of front limbs and shoulders or under the neck/gular respiration) and no air flow from nose or mouth when you hold a small piece of tissue in front of it

-Will lack of any movement at all. It will not have any muscle tone, the limbs will be limp and unresponsive if you pick up the tortoise. A brumating tortoise will still have muscle tone and the limbs will be held against the body, they will not dangle and be limp.

-The pupils (the dark center portion of the eye that light passes through), will be dilated or large and not responsive to bright light when shined in the eye.

-Will not blink when you touch its eyelids.

-Jaw will be limp and without tone. You can easily open the mouth without resistance and there will be no bite pressure when something is placed into the mouth.

-After a period of time, they may become stiff and color may change on the down side as blood pools on the down side of a deceased animal.

-There may be fluids coming out of the nose, mouth or vent, but not always.

-Sometimes the eyes will roll back and they may become sunken.

It is a bit unusual for a relatively young tortoise like Marko, if kept at consistent indoor temperatures that are within the tortoises ideal temperature range to start brumating.

What is the air temperature and basking temperature that Marko is currently being kept at?

Spring mix, while it does provide a bit of nutrition, is not an adequate diet for a Russian tortoise. They need a very high fiber diet, rich in beta carotene. I'm attaching below a short Russian tortoise care sheet that I put together as well as links to two very good online references about Russian tortoise care:

Russian Tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii)

Life span:

Native: Native to the dry steppes, grasslands, forests and savannahs of SE Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Northern China, Pakistan as well as Azerbaijan, southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan

Behavior: Territorial and not recommended to be mixed with other tortoises. Excellent burrowers.

Housing: Outdoor housing preferred if sufficient temperatures with buried fencing to prevent escape as they are good burrowers. They will need indoor housing for temperatures below 40F. They should be provided with dug hollows or deep enough substrate for them to dig their own burrows.

Lighting: UVB lighting recommended for indoor housed tortoises.

Temperature: Daytime temperature is seasonal ranging from 60-90F with a basking spot about 10 degrees warmer than the daytime temperature and nighttime temperature about 10 degrees cooler.

Humidity: 40-70%

Diet: Diet should be rich in vegetable fiber (grazing on grasses and grass hay), calcium and carotenoids (dark leafy greens and orange/yellow vegetables). A small amount of fruit, such as berries or apples can be provided as treats. Avoid lettuce as they are poor nutritionally. Also, avoid grains and meats as these dietary concentrates are not a natural part of their diet and can lead to secondary medical problems.

Supplements: Provide a source of calcium such as cuttlebone, calcium block or eggshells to supplement dietary calcium at two times weekly, if not more often. Dust salad with calcium only powder three times per week and with reptile multivitamin (calcium, vitamin A and D3) twice weekly.

If there is still limb or neck tone or signs of respiration, then Marko is still alive and I do recommend you get him to a local reptile experienced veterinarian for an evaluation as soon as you can.

To find a local veterinarian with reptile experience, here is a useful website you can use to search for a local reptile veterinarian:

(please note this site may not work on older browsers like Safari)

These veterinarians are active members of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, which means they have interest and experience in treating reptile patients.

In the meantime, you can try to hydrate him with a warm water bath. 85-90F shoulder depth, but with his head kept out of the water (you may need to tip the container to help keep his head out) for 15-30 minutes once or twice daily. If he has jaw tone, then it is unlikely you will be able to syringe feed him any water and you don't want to try if he is not responding as he might choke.

I am sorry if he has passed on. If he hasn't and you need help locating a local reptile vet, I am happy to help, please let me know. Please let me know how and if I can be of any further assistance.

Sincerely, ***** *****

Hi Dr. Caryn, so far nothing is working so I'm on hold with a reptile vet. I'm pretty sure he's passed. Thank you so much for your help.

Oh, no I am so very sorry. Are his limbs and neck limp when you lift him up? That is a good indication that he is dead and not brumating/hibernating....

You do lose nothing by trying the warm water bath, just in case......

My best to you all at this difficult time. Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.

Limbs are. Head is in the shell. We have him in the bath now.

Okay, if limbs are limp and dangling, then he has likely passed. So sorry.
Have you tried to pull his head out to see if there is any response?

You are welcome. My sincere condolences.

We are taking him in now. Thanks so much, we really appreciate it.

Best of luck to all of you. You are most welcome. Sincerely, ***** *****

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Dr. Caryn – Vet
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Pet Specialist
Dr. Caryn – Vet
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