How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy

As pet owners, we are responsible for keeping our pets healthy and happy under our care. This also applies when we adopt a tortoise as a pet. However, tortoises are not social animals and are not very expressive, making it hard to tell if a tortoise is happy. 

How To Bathe A Tortoise
How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy

However, there are several signs we can refer to tell if a tortoise is happy. In this article, we will examine some of their natural behavior to determine if your tortoise is happy. By understanding their natural behavior, you can provide adequate care for them to ensure their happiness and keep their health in the best condition possible. 

Why It’s Important to Know if Your Tortoise is Happy

Happiness is one of the critical elements of a tortoise’s health and well-being. When a tortoise is happy, it eats well, is active, explores its environment, and interacts with its peers and owners. On the contrary, unhappy tortoises may refuse to eat and be less active, which can harm their well-being. Happier tortoises are also more likely to have a longer lifespan. This is because they exhibit positive behavior that is beneficial for their health. 

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
Know if Your Tortoise is Happy

Apart from the reasons above, it is also your responsibility to maintain your tortoise’s happiness. You have to make sure that you give them proper care. If your tortoise is unhappy, it could be a sign of you not caring for them properly. 

Indicators of A Happy Tortoise

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
Indicators of A Happy Tortoise

Each species has a different behavior. However, several factors indicate a tortoise’s happiness you need to understand below. 

Active and alert behavior

A happy tortoise should seem alert and tend to be more active. They will explore their environment and show interest in their surroundings. They will be more likely to walk around the enclosure, hunt for food, climb, and do other activities during their active time. 

Eating regularly

A happy tortoise also has a great appetite. They will eat regularly and enthusiast as a healthy tortoise should. They will love to explore and find their food. This is why spreading the tortoise food around is essential to encourage them to move. 

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
Eating regularly

Good body condition 

Happiness leads to dynamic behavior and will benefit their body health. A happy tortoise tends to have an ideal body weight and normal development according to their age. In contrast, an unhappy tortoise may get too thin because they refuse to eat or even gain too much weight leading to obesity due to stress eating. 

Clear eyes and nostrils

One of the indicators of a happy tortoise is its good health. Besides an ideal body weight, you can also notice their eyes, nose, and mouth. A healthy tortoise will have clear eyes and nostrils, while an unhappy tortoise may have swollen and runny eyes. 

Soft, smooth shell

Their happiness is also directly correlated to their shell health. Because a happy tortoise tends to be more active, they typically get enough UVB and hydration, leading to a soft and smooth shell. While unhappy tortoises may tend to hide and move less, leading to rough or even broken shells. 

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
Soft, smooth shell

Normal waste elimination

You may already be familiar with the term happiness starts from the tummy. Just like us humans, a healthy digestive system leads to happiness. If your tortoise is happy, it will defecate regularly. And if they have problems with their digestive system, it will make them lethargic or even feel sick, making them feel unhappy. 

Exploring and foraging for food

When feeling happy, tortoises will be active and naturally explore their environment. They will also be interested in foraging for food. You are encouraged to provide their food in different areas so they will be even more interested in hunting their food. 

Basking in sunlight

Basking may seem inactive because all they do is just chill under the sunlight or basking light. However, this can be another indication of a tortoise’s happiness and significantly benefit their health.

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
Basking in sunlight

Interacting with other tortoises or humans

Unhappy tortoises will retract themselves and prefer to hide. While happy tortoises will socialize and interact with their peers and their owner. If you see your tortoise refuse to socialize and isolate itself in the hiding spot, there’s a chance your tortoise might get stressed, and you need to find out why. 

Engaging in healthy mating behaviors

Another indicator of a happy tortoise is they will engage in healthy mating behavior. Once they reach their sexual maturity, they should show mating behaviors where male tortoises will perform courtship to attract females, including circling, nodding, and bobbing their tails. 

Engaging in healthy mating behaviors
Engaging in healthy mating behaviors

Engaging in natural behaviors such as digging and burrowing

Different species have different characteristics and behavior. A happy tortoise will do their typical natural behavior, such as digging and burrowing, while unhealthy tortoises will typically become less active. Provide them with a suitable substrate to do those things to keep them happy. 

Factors Impacting Tortoise’s Happiness

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
Factors Impacting Tortoise’s Happiness

You also need to understand the factors affecting a tortoise’s happiness so you can provide them with the best care possible to keep them happy. Some of the factors playing roles in their happiness are mentioned below.

Appropriate temperature and humidity levels

Living in a suitable environment will make a tortoise feel comfortable and happy. To provide a comfortable environment, you should ensure the enclosure is at the right temperature and humidity levels. It can be different for each species, but in general, it should be between 75-85°F (24-29°C) and 90-100°F (32-38°C) in the basking area. 

Access to natural or artificial light

Like humans, access to sunlight plays a significant role in a tortoise’s happiness. It is best to keep a tortoise in an outdoor enclosure, so they have direct access to natural light. If it’s not possible in your area and you have to keep the tortoise indoors, provide them with an artificial light mimicking natural light so they can get enough UVB. 

Access to natural or artificial light
natural or artificial light

Adequate space and hiding places

Tortoises often need some hiding space when they want to be alone. Lack of hiding spaces may make them feel unsafe, leading to depression. You can provide them with hiding spaces made of wooden logs or stones. 

Access to clean water and a balanced diet

Clean water is especially important to keep them hydrated. A balanced diet is also beneficial both for their physical and mental health. Lack of hydration and nutrition will impact the tortoise’s body health, and they will not be happy about being sick. 

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What is Normal Behavior in A Tortoise?

Each species has its own characteristics and behavior. Hence, what’s considered normal behavior for tortoises depends on their type, age, and personality. In general, there are several normal behaviors almost every tortoise does. Those activities include basking, eating, resting, and exploring. 

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
Normal Behavior in A Tortoise

Some species also have different behavior, such as climbing, foraging, burrowing, and soaking in water to keep themselves hydrated and keep their body temperature cool. Be sure to understand the species of tortoise you adopted so you can monitor their normal behavior. 

Signs of A Stressed or Unhappy Tortoise

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
Signs of A Unhappy Tortoise

Sometimes it is hard to tell if a tortoise is happy or not. But when they are stressed or unhappy, they typically show some unusual signs below.

Hiding or withdrawing from social interactions

Hiding is a normal behavior for tortoises. Sometimes they need to retreat and be with themselves because they are solitary animals. Their frequency of hiding also depends on each species. Some species are naturally less social than others. However, tortoises are still typically more active and more social. When your tortoise stays in its hiding space for a long time, it indicates they feel unsafe, threatened, or depressed, so you need to take the necessary steps to help them. 

Refusing food and water

A huge indication of an unhappy tortoise is loss of appetite. Tortoises will refuse to eat and even drink water. Stress can release hormones such as cortisol, suppressing appetite and slowing digestion. Stress also slows down their metabolism in general, resulting in a lack of appetite. 

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
Refusing food and water

Weight loss

Because they refuse to eat, they will lose weight after some time. This can be very bad for their health because they will not get enough nutrients their body needs. This condition will lead to illness and severe health problems, including developmental issues and metabolic bone disease. If this condition is untreated properly, it will also lead to death. 

Dull, dry skin and shell

Refusing to drink and soak in water will have a massive impact on their health, both internally and externally. One of the most visible signs of dehydration is dull and dry skin and shell. You need to take immediate care when your tortoise shows this sign, including preparing a better environment that suits them. 

Dull, dry skin and shell
Dull, dry skin and shell

Change in waste elimination patterns

Due to changes in their metabolism system, there will also be some changes in their defecating patterns. The waste elimination patterns also vary depending on the species and age. Some tortoises naturally defecate once every few days or at least once a week. If you notice your tortoise does not defecate in more than a week, it may be experiencing constipation or other digestive problems that make them uncomfortable and unhappy. 

How Do You Play with A Tortoise?

You need to understand that every tortoise does not like being handled. If you hold them intending to play with them, it will only make them stressed. However, it doesn’t mean you cannot play with them. There are some interactions you can do with your tortoise safely. 

how to tell if your tortoise is happy
How Do You Play with A Tortoise?

The first activity you can do is encourage their foraging behavior by spreading their food all over the enclosure, so they get the impression of hunting their food. You can also hand-feed them as a form of interaction and create a bond between you and the tortoise. 

You can also gently touch or rub their shell as a form of interaction. Just make sure you do it in the gentlest way possible to keep them safe and not threatened. If you see your tortoise hide inside their shell and refuse to interact, do not force them to play. Let them hide until they feel safe. 

Additional Information Regarding Tortoise’s Happiness

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
Tortoise’s Happiness

The role of diet

A balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources is essential for a happy tortoise.

The importance of exercise

Tortoises need plenty of space to explore and engage in natural behaviors. A large, secure outdoor area or indoor setup can help them stay active and happy.

Importance of proper temperature and humidity

Tortoises need an environment with appropriate temperature and humidity levels to thrive.

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
proper temperature and humidity

The importance of routine and structure

Regular feeding times, bathing, and opportunities for basking in natural or artificial light can help create a pattern and structure that makes tortoises feel secure and happy.

Avoiding stressors

Avoiding sudden changes in the environment, loud noises, and handling too frequently can help reduce stress and maintain happiness in tortoises.

Monitoring for changes

Observing and monitoring for changes in behavior or physical condition is crucial for maintaining the well-being of your tortoise. Any sudden changes should be addressed promptly by a veterinarian.

How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy
Monitoring for changes

Understanding tortoise behavior

Understanding the natural behaviors of tortoises, such as burrowing and digging, can help you recognize when they are happy and content in their environment.

Summary of Key Indicators of A Happy Tortoise 

Sometimes it can be hard to know if a tortoise is happy. But there are several indicators you can remember and refer to. Healthy tortoises will typically be alert and active. They will engage in their natural behavior, especially basking and eating. They show healthy signs, including a strong and shiny shell and clean eyes and nostrils. 

They should have no problem eating and will explore their surroundings. They will defecate regularly and show an overall healthy physical condition. Monitoring changes is necessary to get noticed early unhappiness signs. 


To keep your tortoise happy, it’s essential to research the specific requirements for your tortoise’s species to ensure they are receiving the proper care they need. Any significant changes in behavior, such as lack of appetite, lethargy, or aggressive behavior, may indicate stress or depression. If you notice a substantial change in your tortoise’s hiding behavior, such as spending more time in their hideout than usual, you need to evaluate their environment and habit to determine the cause. By providing your tortoise with a suitable environment, a proper diet, and adequate care, you can help ensure they lead a happy and healthy life.

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Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)

How do you tell if a tortoise likes you?

Tortoises may not show affection in the same way as dogs or cats. However, when a tortoise likes you, it will feel comfortable and safe around you. They may even approach you and engage in hand-feeding activities. They will also relax around you by stretching their legs and neck. Along with time, they will also be able to recognize you through your voice and smell. They may turn their head when you call and talk to them. They will also be active and behave naturally because they don’t see you as a threat. 

How do I know if my tortoise is happy and healthy?

A happy and healthy tortoise will show healthy physical signs, including healthy skin, a strong and shiny shell, and clean eyes and nostrils. They will also engage in their biological activities, including basking. They will be curious and explore their environment. They also should have no eating problems and defecate regularly. 

How do I make my tortoise happy?

You can make your tortoise happy by providing a proper environment suitable for their needs. Get to know their natural habitat to mimic it as closely as possible. A healthy and balanced diet will also help them stay healthy and happy. Also remember that UVB light exposure is very important for their well-being. 

Can tortoises feel when you pet them?

Yes, tortoise shells have nerve endings, making them feel your touch when you pet them. However, not every species of tortoise enjoys being petted. If they enjoy it, they will be relaxed by stretching their legs and neck and even closing their eyes. But if they withdraw into their shell, it is a sign that they do not enjoy being petted. 

What emotions do tortoises feel?

Tortoises are believed to feel basic emotions, including fear, stress, and happiness. However, they are not naturally social creatures, and their feelings may not be visible. However, you can identify their emotions through their behavior. When they feel scared, they may withdraw to their shell or hide in their hiding space. If they feel happy, they will relax and enjoy basking in the sun.

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