What to Do with A Dead Tortoise

What to Do with A Dead Tortoise
What We Need To Do With Dead Tortoise

Even though tortoises are known for their long life span, they are still natural creatures prone to death. Aside from age alone, many possible reasons can cause your tortoise’s death, including injury, illness, or being attacked by other animals. 

It must be heartbreaking to lose our pet, but if you find your tortoise is dead, you know you can’t wait any longer to say goodbye. Keeping a dead tortoise at home will do more harm than good. The body will start to decompose, and it can cause several problems, including unpleasant smells, bacteria, or even disease transmission to other pets and humans. 

So without further ado, the following is what to do with a dead tortoise: a practical guide to help you take the right action. 

How do you clean a dead tortoise?

Never just throw away the dead tortoise, since if it died due to sickness, it might affect other animals who ate the dead body. The bacteria will also spread and may cause common illnesses among other animals. 

If you find your tortoise is dead, you can follow the steps below: 

  1. Immediately separate it from the other tortoise and prepare a space to bury it. Remember to bury it at least 3-4 feet down the ground. 
  2. You may need to cover the grave with stone or branches to avoid wild animals digging it up. 
  3. You can also consider cremating the dead tortoise. To do so, you need a proper crematorium, or you can do it at a nearby pet clinic that offers crematorium services. 
  4. If you want to preserve the shell, you need to wait until the body is fully decomposed. It may take up to several months or even more than a year. 

How do I know if my tortoise is dying? 

You can observe several signs to see if your tortoise is sick and dying. But you need to know that tortoises also go through several brumating/hibernating phases throughout their life. New tortoise owners may have yet to learn this information, and it is very easy to confuse the two. Understanding the dying signs will ensure clarity between hibernation and dying.

How do I know if my tortoise is dying? 
How do I know if my tortoise is dying? 

When a tortoise enters a brumation/hibernation phase, it may look very unwell because its metabolism will slow down. They will become less active and will just stay still throughout the day. This may raise confusion and worries among unknowledgeable owners to think that the tortoise is dead. But since they are still alive, their breath will be steady. 

On the other hand, dying tortoises will show more concerning signs, such as losing weight, feeling cool to the touch, and hiding in their shell. You may also find discharge from their eyes, nose, or mouth. One of the most common traits is that they struggle to breathe and may act aggressively, such as trying to bite you as you interact with them. If you find one or more of the signs above, immediately take your tortoise to the vet. 

What does a dead tortoise smell like? 

A dead tortoise will emit a very strong odor. The odor is produced when bacteria and microorganisms feed its body. The body will decompose and create a strong, rotting, unpleasant smell. You may only be able to smell it after 2-3 days. However, a dead tortoise that is already sick for a long time may take a shorter time to decompose. 

How do you know if a turtle is hibernating or dead? 

Hibernating tortoises will be very inactive and stay still all day long. This may confuse you and make you wonder if they are hibernating or dead. There are a few tips you can follow to differentiate between the two as follow: 

  • Hibernating tortoises will limit their movement, but they will still wake up to hydrate, which is very important for them.
  • Hibernating tortoises have a steady breath, while dead tortoises will no longer breathe. You can check their breath using a feather or mirror.
  • Hibernating tortoises will still have muscle movement and reaction. The easiest way to test it is by slowly poking their tail. If they react, they are still alive.
  • Dead tortoises will have sunken eyes and swollen eyelids. 

How long does it take for a tortoise’s body to decompose? 

It varies depending on many factors, such as the body size of the tortoise, the environment, and, yes, temperatures. The tortoise will decompose slower in a cool temperature, while a warmer temperature promotes faster decomposition. 

There are five stages of tortoise body decomposition below: 


Starts from the time the heart stops beating. The tortoise’s body will start to cool down to match the environment’s temperature. 


This is when the foul odor starts to occur. As their body decomposes, gasses form in their dead body. These gasses cause the abdominal area to bloat, increasing buoyancy and making them float on water.

Active decay

This stage may occur within several days or weeks when the turtle cadaver starts to wither. The smells attract maggots, insects, and other critters to aid decomposition.

Advanced decay

When the maggots and insects stop feeding on the corpse, it reaches advanced decay. This stage lasts for several months or even years. Again, the duration depends on several factors, including body size, temperature, and the environment.


Eventually, the only remains left are the dry bones of the turtle and its shell. This stage takes even longer because the hard bones take a long time to decay. The shell, which is the tortoise’s hardest part, takes an even longer time than you can preserve it and keep it to remember your beloved pet. 

Practical Tips to Do When Your Tortoise Dead

1. Immediately separate from other tortoises

What to Do with A Dead Tortoise
Immediately separate from other tortoises

Once you realize that your tortoise is, in fact, dead instead of brumating, you need to separate it from other tortoises right away. This is very important to avoid spreading the bacteria or the cause of illness to additional tortoises. You may need to move other tortoises to another cage.

2. Clean up the cage

What to Do with A Dead Tortoise
Clean up the cage

Bacteria and viruses can spread very quickly. Therefore, cleaning up and sanitizing the cage is crucial to ensure no viruses and bacteria are left. This is very important to keep other tortoises or future pets in the cage healthy.

3. Properly dispose of the tortoise body

What to Do with A Dead Tortoise
Properly dispose of the tortoise body

As mentioned above, you also need to take the right step in disposing of the body. Make sure to bury it in a safe space and deep enough so no wild animal will be able to dig it up. Cremate the body if necessary.

4. Evaluate and take precautions

Evaluate and take precautions
Evaluate and take precautions

After going through those processes, you may need to evaluate and find the root cause of your tortoise’s death. You can consult an expert and find the possible causes. This will benefit your other tortoises so you can keep them healthier.

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Common Causes of Tortoises Death and How to Prevent Them

To take a better evaluation, you need to understand the common causes of tortoise’s death below: 

1. Underfeeding


One of the common causes of tortoise death is underfeeding, resulting in malnourishment. Nourishment is critical for tortoises to survive and live a healthy life. To prevent it, you must ensure you give your tortoise the right amount of food following its age and growing phases. You can even give them supplements if necessary. You can consult a nearby vet or expert to give your pet a proper and balanced diet.

2. Overfeeding


Just like underfeeding, overfeeding can cause harm to your tortoises as well. Overfeeding may result from the worry that you don’t give them enough food. It is essential to understand the tortoise’s feeding needs according to their age and growing phases. When your tortoise overeats, it can get obese. Meanwhile, their shells grow not as quickly as their body. Being trapped in an ill-fitted shell causes discomfort and may impact their breathing, movement, and blood flow. To prevent this, ensure you give them just the right amount of food and give it in batches instead of dumping it all at once.

3. Improper Diet 

Improper Diet 
Improper Diet 

Even if you already give them the amount of food, they still need the right amount of nourishment. Your tortoise may need more nutrients if you give them a balanced diet. Lack of nutrients results in nutritional deficiencies that can restrict blood flow, lower heart rate to dangerous levels, and deprive your tortoise of energy and the ability to recover from illnesses and injuries.

4. Unsanitary Environment

Unsanitary Environment
Unsanitary Environment

Living in a filthy environment will cause many bacteria to grow and make the tortoise sick. Make sure to keep the enclosure clean by scooping their poop regularly, taking away food waste, changing the water regularly, and maintaining the cage condition, including temperature and humidity. To prevent illness, you must stick to a cleaning schedule once to twice weekly.

5. Stress


Tortoises can get stressed too. Several factors can stress them, including an unsanitary environment, an enclosure too small for them, and a lack of sun exposure. Things like loud noises can freak out a tortoise. Another significant stressor for tortoises is being handled too much. Most tortoises don’t like being picked up, so try to avoid it as much as you can even though you want to hold them so bad.

6. Illness and Injuries

What to Do with A Dead Tortoise
Illness and Injuries

Undetected illness and injuries are the common cause of tortoise death. The problem is that only some illnesses and injuries are visible, and our tortoises can’t tell us if they feel pain or discomfort. To prevent this, take your tortoise to a local vet regularly to get their general condition checked so no early signs of illness will go unnoticed.

7. Broken Shell

Broken Shell
Broken Shell

The shell is the most essential part of a tortoise as it helps cover and protect its vital organs. A broken shell won’t be able to give them enough protection and may lead to several problems, including injuries. Broken shells can be caused by different factors, including soft shells due to birth defects, lack of calcium, and lack of UV exposure. Consult the vet to see if their shell is healthy and robust enough to protect them.

8. Drowning


Tortoises need water to bask, but turtles don’t know how to swim. This is very important for tortoise owners to understand because some people can’t tell the difference between turtles and tortoises and think they are good swimmers when they are not. Never leave your tortoise in the water deeper than its head because it will drown and die.


Losing our beloved pet is a hard thing to go through. However, it is one of the risks every pet owner has to face. Take the necessary steps and evaluation to better care of your future pet. 

However, you must remember that all natural beings will die at some point. It is a part of the natural cycle and is very typical. With that in mind, you don’t have to feel so bad about yourself. You may feel guilty, but remember that you are already the best you could be. If you didn’t deliberately neglect your pet, their death is not your fault. Stop blaming yourself too much. 

On the other hand, you need to educate yourself about tortoises, the right way to take care of them, and how to proactively protect them from the possible causes of death. Regularly consulting a vet will be an excellent step in educating yourself and protecting the tortoise so they can live a happy and healthy life.

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