What Happens if A Tortoise Gets Too Cold

As ectothermic animals, tortoises are unable to regulate their own body temperature. They rely on the environment and need to live in the proper temperature range to function normally and live a healthy life. It is a disadvantage for them because their body temperature also changes when the temperature changes. 

what happens if a tortoise gets too cold
Temperature Change Effect for Tortoise

Extreme temperature changes can negatively affect the tortoises. When it gets too hot, their body can also get too hot, making them dehydrated. And when it’s too cold, their body temperature can also drop and cause serious health problems. 

This article will discuss the negative impact on tortoises when the temperature gets too cold. Read along to learn more about the symptoms, adverse effects, and ways to avoid them. 

What do I do if my tortoise is cold?

If your tortoise gets too cold below their ideal temperature level, you must warm them up immediately. There are several ways to warm them up. The first and quickest one is to soak them in warm water. Prepare a warm shallow bath enough to soak their legs. It will help to raise their body temperature. 

what happens if a tortoise gets too cold

While your tortoise is having a warm bath, you can prepare the basking area or preheat the enclosure with basking lights or warm lights. Once the temperature is at the ideal level, you can put the tortoise back in the pen. 

Consider an additional heat source other than a basking light during the winter. You can install a ceramic heat emitter, heating lamp, or a hiding cave with an extra heating pad. 

Temperature Control for Tortoises

Maintaining the ideal temperature for tortoises is the most crucial step to preventing them from getting cold. The following are several tips you can do to control the perfect temperature for your tortoise: 

Suitable enclosure

First and foremost, you need a suitable enclosure to create a comfortable environment for the tortoise. Be sure to use a large enough enclosure to accommodate both the warm and cool sides. 

Heat source

The heat source is the second thing you need to pay attention to, as it plays a crucial role in temperature control. You can use several heat sources, such as a basking light, a heating lamp, a heat emitter, and a heating pad. Use the heat source based on your tortoise’s needs and your local area’s weather. 

what happens if a tortoise gets too cold
Heat Source

Temperature monitoring 

It is essential to monitor the pen’s temperature on a daily basis. Use a thermometer to check if the temperature is in the ideal range. For most species, the temperature range on the warm side should be between 80-90°F (27-32°C), and the cool side should be between 70-80°F (21-27°C). Remember that each species may need a different temperature range, so make sure to recheck the individual needs of your tortoise. When the temperature goes down the ideal range, adjust the temperature right away, so your tortoise doesn’t get cold. 

Use a thermostat

A thermostat can be extremely helpful if you live in an area with fluctuating temperatures or if you find it hard to always maintain the temperature yourself. A thermostat will help you to adjust the temperature automatically when the area’s temperature changes, so the enclosure stays at its ideal temperature. 

Effects of Cold Temperatures on Tortoises

what happens if a tortoise gets too cold
Effects of Cold Temperatures

Tortoises are cold-blooded animals who rely on the environment to control their body temperatures. Some adverse risks can affect them when the temperature of the environment drops below the ideal level. Below are some effects of cold temperatures on tortoises: 

Less active

The first effect you may find when the tortoise gets too cold is that they become less active. Their metabolism slows down, making them sluggish and have lower energy levels. The cold temperature makes them choose to rest to maintain their energy level instead of going out and moving. In the long term, it will negatively affect their health. 

Low appetite

Cold temperatures also affect their appetite. This is due to the low temperature making their metabolism slow down and disrupting their digestive system. They find it hard to digest food and, therefore, lose their appetite. This can lead to severe health problems in the long run. 

Dehydration and Malnutrition

Because they are less active and eat less food, they can be dehydrated and malnourished. Malnourishment in tortoises itself is very dangerous since they need a certain amount of nutrients to keep their system going in a healthy condition. Several effects include weak immune systems, shell problems, organ damage, and metabolic bone disease can affect them when they get cold. 

Respiratory problems

Cold temperatures may weaken a tortoise’s immune system making them vulnerable to diseases. Some of the most common cases are respiratory problems such as pneumonia and respiratory infection. These problems can endanger the tortoise’s well-being when not appropriately treated. 


In severe cases, cold temperatures can also lead to a tortoise’s death. All of the abovementioned problems may develop into more severe ones and can be fatal to their health. Additionally, extreme cold temperatures can also shut their organs down and lead to death. 

What is The Significance of Maintaining An Appropriate Temperature Range for Tortoises? 

what happens if a tortoise gets too cold
What is The Significance of Maintaining An Appropriate Temperature Range for Tortoises? 

Maintaining an appropriate temperature range for tortoises dramatically impacts their health. There are some notable reasons you need to remember why you need to keep the temperature in the ideal range. 


Tortoise’s metabolism depends on its environment temperature. When the temperature is too slow, their metabolism slows down, leading to health effects such as rapid weight loss and malnourishment. 

Immune System

Their immune system also relies a lot on the temperature. When the temperature is too cold, they may develop a vulnerability to diseases, making them prone to illnesses such as eye infections, respiratory problems, and other problems that are dangerous to their health. 


Tortoises must live in the ideal temperature range to grow and develop accordingly. The cold temperature may also cause them to have development problems including stunting and shell deformities. 


When the temperature drops below the ideal range, tortoises become less active and may even go into their brumation mode to reserve energy. However, when the temperature gets too cold, it will disrupt their health when they are brumating and may cause death. 

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How Do I Know If My Tortoise Has A Cold?

How Do I Know If My Tortoise Has A Cold?
How Do I Know If My Tortoise Has A Cold?

Tortoises may not experience cold like us humans. However, they can still experience some adverse effects when their body temperature gets too cold. From the above explanation, you may already notice some symptoms, including lethargy and loss of appetite. Besides that, tortoises can also get respiratory infections, which you can see from the following signs: 

Breathing difficulty

Pay attention when your tortoise starts to breathe rapidly or when you find them gasping or wheezing. There’s a big chance they already experience respiratory problems. You need to take them to the vet immediately. 

Swollen eyes

Red and swollen eyes are another indication of irritation or infection. It can be very uncomfortable for the tortoises and disrupt their sight. An immediate health check is necessary when your tortoise has swollen eyes. 

Nose discharge 

Respiratory infection also causes liquid discharge from the nose or mouth. The discharge may be clear, white, or yellow. No matter the color, it indicates a severe health problem that needs immediate treatment. 

How Long Does It Take a Tortoise To Warm Up? 

The time needed for a tortoise to warm up depends on several factors, such as the environment temperature, suitable heating sources, the tortoise’s size, and individual metabolism. So there is no exact number on how long a tortoise takes to warm up.

How Long Does It Take a Tortoise To Warm Up? 
How Long Does It Take a Tortoise To Warm Up? 

However, due to their slow metabolism, they will need some time to warm up. It is natural, and you should keep the heat above the ideal range to speed up the process because overheating can also harm the tortoises. 

Should I Turn My Tortoise Light Off at Night?

Yes, you should turn the light off at night to maintain the tortoise’s natural circadian rhythm. This is especially important when they live in an indoor enclosure with limited sun exposure. The light should be turned on for about 12-14 per day, and when the time to rest comes, it should be turned off so they can sleep in a dark environment, just like how they live in their natural habitat.

Should I Turn My Tortoise Light Off at Night?
Should I Turn My Tortoise Light Off at Night?

When the temperature is too cold, you may be uncertain whether to turn the light off. If this is one of the things that concerns you, the answer is still yes. You need to turn the lights off so the tortoise understands and gets a proper rest. Remember that light is not the only heat source available. Instead, you can use a heating pad or ceramic heat emitter to keep the tortoise warm without disrupting its circadian rhythm.

Common Health Problems Caused by Low Temperature

Tortoises may experience several health problems when they live in an area with too low a temperature for a long time without immediate health treatments. The following list includes some of the most common health problems caused by low temperatures in tortoises.

Common Health Problems Caused by Low Temperature
Common Health Problems Caused by Low Temperature
  • Slow metabolism: A tortoise’s metabolism slows down when it gets too cold, resulting in reduced activity and decreased appetite. As mentioned earlier, this condition can lead to more dangerous health problems. 
  • Increased risk of disease: Cold temperatures can weaken a tortoise’s immune system, making it more susceptible to illness and disease. When the condition gets too severe, it may even lead to death. 
  • Breathing difficulties: Cold temperatures can cause a tortoise’s respiratory system to work harder, leading to breathing difficulties. Low temperatures also make them vulnerable to allergies and respiratory infections. 
  • Shell problems: If a tortoise’s shell is exposed to cold temperatures for an extended period, it can cause shell problems such as cracking or softening. A soft shell is dangerous because it won’t be able to provide proper protection to the tortoise’s internal organs. 
  • Hypothermia: In severe cases, a tortoise can develop hypothermia, a life-threatening condition characterized by a dangerously low body temperature. Their organs may shut down when this happens, making them lose their life. 

When tortoises live in an environment that is not suitable for them, they will have difficulties growing and living normally and healthily. One of the indications of the ideal climate is that it has to be in the perfect temperature range. This is why temperature and humidity are among the most important factors when preparing a tortoise enclosure

When they live in an environment that is too cold, they may experience several health issues mentioned above. Be sure to maintain the pen at an appropriate temperature range, typically between 75 and 85°F, for tortoises to avoid these harmful effects. If you’re concerned about your tortoise’s health, seek advice from a veterinarian specializing in reptile care. Provide proper heating and insulation to ensure your tortoise stays warm and healthy.

Final Thought

Taking care of tortoises can be challenging, especially in an area with extreme weather and temperature changes. Constant monitoring ensures the tortoise lives in an ideal and healthy temperature range. When the weather is too unstable, you may find it hard to monitor the pen’s temperature, and that’s when you need a thermostat to do the job.

You need to pay closer attention when the weather drops below the ideal temperature, such as during the weekend. You also need to take your tortoise to get a regular vet check to ensure they are in their best condition and to notice early signs of health problems. 

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do tortoises need heat at night?

They don’t need additional heat at night when the area’s weather is warm. However, tortoises need extra heat at night during colder months to maintain their body temperature at the ideal range. You can provide the heat by installing a heating pad under their substrate, providing them with a warm hiding cave, or installing a heat emitter that can work without lights. 

How do you warm up a tortoise?

There are several ways you can warm up a tortoise. The quick and easiest way is to give them a warm bath or simply soak their feet in warm water. You can also heat their enclosure using a heating light and other heat emitter devices to warm it up until it reaches the ideal temperature. When you put them back in the pen, their body will adapt to the pen’s temperature and warm up. 

Do tortoises prefer light or dark?

During the day, tortoises prefer light, but at night they prefer to rest in the dark. It simply follows their natural character in nature, which follows the sun’s cycle. You need to provide them with basking light during the day so they can warm themselves in the basking area. They usually go to a hiding cave on the cooler side at night to rest. 

Should I turn my tortoise light off at night?

You should turn your tortoise’s light off at night to maintain its circadian rhythm. A tortoise needs to know when it is time to be active and when to rest. When the light is left on all day and night, they may experience some kind of confusion that can disrupt their rest cycle.

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