How Long Can A Tortoise Go Without Food

by Carl Crane | Updated: August 17, 2021

The amount of time a tortoise can last without any food will depend on several conditions. 

The species of the tortoise, the age, and how well the tortoise has eaten and drank before the period without food are the specified conditions.

The temperature also comes into play a bit here. If it’s warm, they will use up reserves and if it’s cold they will hibernate and some tortoise species can undergo hibernation or brumation, which can significantly reduce their need for food.

Tortoise can go without food for many weeks and even months as their meat is very high in fat, as the old sailors used to use “tortoise oil” for candle making and such because of that.

Overall a healthy grown-up tortoise can go without food for as much as 6 months to 3 years, given that they have access to any sort of drinking water and their other needs are satisfied.

How Long Can Tortoises Survive Without Food?

There have been interesting and sad stories of tortoises that have gone for really long periods without any access to food.

One of them being of a desert tortoise that was lost for 2 and a half years before being discovered beneath a house. The foundation of the house had work done on it, exposing crawl space.

After it was sealed off the tortoise was trapped inside, but nobody thought to look there.

Everyone just assumed that he had escaped through a gate. Eventually, the tortoise was miraculously noticed and was found skinny, dehydrated but otherwise in a good state to have survived for longer than that.

Another story that appeared on the news is of a tortoise that lived 30 years in a shed, which automatically suggests that the survival skills of a tortoise may be even more astounding than we had imagined.

Tortoises and reptiles, in general, are very resilient creatures, so if you are planning to leave your pet tortoise for longer periods be sure to feed them heavier a couple of weeks before you will be away from them.

Other than that they can forage on in their enclosures which will keep them busy until your arrival back at home.

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Factors That Impact How Long A Tortoise Can Go Without Food

1. Available Sources of Water

Although tortoises can survive long periods without eating any tortoise food, water is a separate story. 

If a tortoise can drink water or be able to soak without being hindered in any way, then they can survive for much longer, even when they don’t eat.

The worst that could happen to tortoises that don’t have food but have enough access to water is that they’ll lose fat, which occurs often enough in their natural habitat.

If you plan on going on a holiday and couldn’t find someone to feed your tortoise while you’re gone, at least make use of an automatic water container. 

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2. Available Sources of Heating and Light

I think whether the tortoise is being kept indoors at the time or outdoors also makes a difference.

Another important resource that will enhance your tortoise’s endurance in times when food isn’t available is access to proper heating and UV.

So long as your tortoise can bask easily and has access to both UVA and UVB rays, then they can survive with minimal health issues.

3. The Age of the Tortoise

Another part that needs to be taken into consideration is the age of the tortoise. Hatchlings and juveniles tortoises are far less resilient than their adult counterparts and may need to be fed every day, or at least once every two days. 

That said, hatchlings and juveniles can only last for a few weeks to just one month without food.

Also, young tortoises who have been stripped of food during their developmental years for too long may develop health issues when they grow older, such as metabolic bone disease and pyramiding.

Older tortoises can survive without being fed for longer. If you can provide a safe area for your tortoises outside, they can forage on the weeds and other greens.

4. The Tortoise Species

Some species of tortoises enter states that allow them to absorb much less food than usual, allowing them to survive much longer without any food. 

Hibernation is very common amongst species that live in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and some species of tortoises native to the United States can also hibernate.

During the state of hibernation, it is typical for tortoises to not eat for months at a time, and if done correctly, it could still promote healthy growth for your tortoise.

Conclusion

I personally would not leave my tortoises for longer periods of time and if I’m forced to do so, I would find someone who can give them the basic care for the duration of my leave.

If that’s impossible for you, be sure you leave them in their enclosure with everything that is essential for them.

Carl, the reptile-obsessed creator of this website, got his first turtle years ago and he made a ton of mistakes along the way. His goal now with TheCritterCove is simple: help others to not make the same mistakes that he did!