It’s important to understand your tortoise, knowing what’s normal and what isn’t can help you care for them better. When it comes to their health, particularly infections and bacteria you need to look out for the symptoms in order to treat them effectively. Worms in dogs is quite common, but we often get asked if tortoises can get worms, let’s find out.
Can tortoises get worms? Yes tortoises can get worms, they are usually harmless and you won’t even know your tortoise has them. Tortoises are more susceptible to getting worms if they are held in groups as they thrive in this environment. A tortoise that has worms may show no signs at all, appear less active, have little interest in food, and lose weight.
In this article we’re going to cover how tortoises get worms, signs and symptoms of worms, and how to treat them so be sure to continue reading!
How Do Tortoises Get Worms?
Tortoises get worms because they don’t have the same levels of sanitation that use humans adhere to, which is why almost every other animal gets worms. They don’t regularly wash themselves nor do they care about hygiene therefore they are exposed to bacteria and parasites.
Tortoises can catch worms through a number of different ways :
- Through other tortoises
- Dirty environment
- Contaminated food, water, or substrate
- Weakened immune system
Through Other Tortoises
A common reason why your tortoise may get worms is exposure to another tortoise that’s been infected. Tortoises that have worms in their gut will excrete them in their faeces, this leaves other tortoises in the enclosure open to being contaminated.
Before introducing a new tortoise into an enclosure it’s important to have them tested for worms, you can do this by getting a stool sample and sending it off to be investigated. If you don’t and the tortoise has worms, the whole enclosure is likely to be infected which will lead to a bigger headache for you.
Parasites and bacteria rely on a dirty environment in order to keep multiplying and spreading. If your tortoises living area isn’t being regularly cleaned then the likelihood of parasites infesting it dramatically increases.
Contaminated Food, Water, Or Substrate
Parasites might make their way into your tortoises system through different types of food, dirty water or through their substrate. If you live in a country where tap water is known to be dirty, make sure you don’t give it to your tortoise in order to hydrate them.
A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t give it to your tortoise.
Stress is known to cause the immune system to weaken, this can be an opportunity for worms to infest your tortoise. They might be stressed for a number of reasons such as a poor diet, improper living conditions, noise levels, and a number of other factors.
Making sure your tortoise is free of stress will decrease their chances of being infested by worms, or being sickly in general.
Signs and Symptoms of Worms In Tortoises
Worms can go undetected in your tortoise as they may not affect their quality of life. In some cases your tortoise will display certain signs and symptoms that indicate the presence of parasites. They include :
- Not eating or drinking
- Stomach problems
Not Eating Or Drinking
Your tortoises overall appetite and desire to drink water will decrease if they have a parasite infestation. This is due to the worms irritating your tortoises bowels as they latch onto them.
This can further lead to your tortoise losing weight as they don’t want to eat.
In the worst possible cases a significant build-up of worms in your tortoises intestines can lead to a complete blockage, which would lead to a sudden death.
In most cases however your tortoise is likely to face mild stomach upset along with nausea. It really depends on the amount of parasites your tortoises has been infested by.
Worms can sometimes be located outside of the intestinal tract and make their way to other parts of the body. This is more common with ascarids (roundworms), they are known to travel throughout the body, for example if they make their way to your tortoises ear some swelling will appear.
Oxyurids (pinworms) tend to stay within the digestive tract.
Worms can be a major contributor when it comes to your tortoise being fatigued. As their body uses up resources to try and fight the worms, they get worn down. The body starts to produce antibodies in order to try and remove them, which can lead to the immune system attacking itself.
Worms In Their Faeces
Having a closer look at your tortoises poo is probably the quickest way to find out if they have a worm problem. Tortoises have a dark faecal component in their faeces, but there is also a white component. As pinworms are white and transparent you might be able to notice them in the darker part of the faeces.
What Kind Of Worms Can Tortoises Get?
Tortoises usually get infested from worms that belong to the nematode group, the two most common ones being oxyurids (pin worms) and ascarids (roundworms).
Oxyurids are the most common type of worm to infect tortoises and they are mainly found in European species of tortoise like the Hermann’s or Horsefield tortoise.
They are known as pin worms due to their small size. Pin worms can measure anywhere between 1.5-1.7mm (0.06-0.28 inches). Oxyurids tend to stay around the intestinal tract, whereas ascarids have been known to spread to other places causing swelling.
You might be able to see oxyurids in your tortoise poo, as the are white and almost transparent you might be able to see them. However as they’re very small in size you might not be able to see anything.
Ascarids are the other type of worm likely to be found in tortoises, they’re mainly found in Spur-thighed tortoises and other Mediterranean species.
Ascarids are a lot larger than oxyurids as they can grow up to 10cm (4 inches). They can be easier to notice in your tortoises faeces because of the size difference, simply look out for creamy white, or pink coloured strands.
They are also known as intestinal roundworms since they feed off food in your tortoises digestive system, this can lead to malnutrition as the worms are essentially stealing the nutrients off them. Ascarids also travel to other parts of the body, there was a case of swelling being caused in a tortoises ear due to a roundworm.
Diagnosing And Treating Your Tortoise For Worms
You shouldn’t diagnose your tortoise by yourself, instead have a vet test out their faecal matter to get a definite answer. Simply take a sample of your tortoises faeces to any vet, they will test it under a microscope and give you back the results. Now, pinworms aren’t exactly a bad thing for tortoises, in-fact they can actually help them break down food more efficiently. This can lead to nutrients being absorbed easily.
However you should always get them tested regardless, there may be a build-up of worms in your tortoise which as we mentioned above can lead to sudden death.
De-Worming Your Tortoise
If it comes back that your tortoise does have worms, not to worry they can easily be treated. Before deciding what treatment to go with the vet will assess your tortoise for a few things to decide what is best. They include :
- The weight of your tortoise
- Time of year
- The type of worms
There are two common ways suggested to treat your tortoise. You can buy a ready-made product that’s designed to de-worm a tortoise, or another option is to use a drug called Flubendazole.
To remove worms from your tortoise you should follow a three step process :
1. Weigh Your Tortoise
Before giving your tortoise any treatment it’s essential to weigh them. This is so you give them the optimal dose for their weight, you don’t want to over and under dose them. Recording their weight helps give you an accurate weight in grams before administering the de-wormer.
2. Give The Treatment
It’s recommended you give them the treatment via the mouth. Using a syringe with no needle is the best way to go about it, if you go to a specialist vet this can be done by them to remove any doubt or fears about doing it incorrectly.
Alternatively you could try mix the treatment in with their favourite food. You must ensure the surface is damp beforehand as it helps the treatment stick to it. Using their favourite food will ensure the treatment is effective as it will all get ingested.
Finally you can give them the treatment while they are being soaked. This method depends on the type of treatment as you won’t be able to give all of them if they’re in the bath so check your treatment carefully.
Giving them treatment while they’re in the bath may make it harder for them to consume all of the treatment, however all tortoises are different so you can choose which method will be most effective for your tortoise.
3. Ensure They Are Hydrated And Fed
Once you’ve administered the de-worming treatment you need to make sure your tortoise is well-fed and hydrated. Regularly soaking and giving them foods with a high water content such as watermelon will help their bodies get rid of the parasites.
Some people might have de-worming products that are designed for cats and dogs around the house. Tortoises require their own specialized de-worming treatment so you should never give them products meant for any other animals as it can seriously hurt or even kill them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Humans Get Worms From Tortoises?
Thankfully, the type of worms that exist in tortoises aren’t a threat to humans. However you should always practice good hygiene habits around your tortoise as they are known to carry harmful bacteria like salmonella.
Anti-bacterial wipes, regularly washing your hands and disposable gloves when handling your tortoise or cleaning their environment will be enough to deter bacteria.
What Do Worms Look Like In Tortoise Poo?
Worms in tortoises are extremely small in size, with the most common type of worm being around 1.5-7mm in size, hence why they are called pin worms. You might not know if your tortoise has worms but you might be possible to spot some in their faeces.
There are two types of components when it comes to tortoise poo : a dark faecal component, and a white component often known as urates. It’s possible to see pin worms in the dark faecal component, as they are white and almost transparent in appearance.
As for ascarids (roundworms) they are easier to notice due to them being larger in size. They look like pieces of strands and are a creamy white, brown, or pinkish colour.
Tortoises and Worms – Final Thoughts
Worms can exist in tortoises without you or the tortoise even being aware. They are likely to contract them through other tortoises who live in the same enclosure, via contaminated food, or due to a weakened immune system.
They are mainly harmless however they might affect your tortoise by causing a lack of appetite, digestive problems, and fatigue. The good news is they are easily diagnosed and treated. A vet will take a closer look at their faeces and determine if worms are present. Treatment will then be prescribed and your tortoise will be worm free!
I hope you found this article useful and you can use it to become more educated about your tortoise and any possible issues they might be facing.