How Long Can a Tortoise Survive Without Water

How Long Can a Tortoise Survive Without Water?

A question I see asked a lot from tortoise owners is can a tortoise survive without water, and it asked for many reasons, some down to worry because their tortoise doesn’t seem to be drinking. Tortoise’s natural habitat is pretty tough that they have to stand up to that many other animals would perish. In the wild, there will be extended periods a tortoise will need to go without water.

An adult tortoise can survive without water for up to a year as they take most of their water intake from foods. A tortoise is adapted to holding and storing water in its bladder to use to rehydrate itself. If a tortoise can’t get water from the food, it would only survive one to two weeks.

Unfortunately, some tortoise owners can get the idea that tortoise lives in harsh conditions and can live without water for a year. That their tortoise they keep as a pet can do the same. I have heard people leaving their tortoise while going on long holidays.

A pet tortoise has utterly different living conditions to a wild tortoise; for instance, access to fresh food to get all the water they need will not be available when on holiday for a pet tortoise. We will explore why it is essential to learn about your tortoise’s needs.

How Long a Tortoise Can Go Without Water

With any animal going any extended period without drinking will cause health problems leading to their death. The actual period that they could survive without water is challenging to answer.

Due to tortoises being so well adapted at taking on water through foods. So if a tortoise consumes foods containing water and the correct amount of lighting, the period could be years.

However, this is not ideal and should be avoided as a tortoise that doesn’t have a regular amount of water can be left with many health problems.

What Are the Effects of Tortoise Going Without Water?

So, despite a tortoise being able to live a long time without water, many other things need to be in place, such as access to foods with a high water count.

A tortoise has the perfect setup, the right foods, and the correct lighting in the wild. Being slightly off with any of these with a pet tortoise can cause issues and the reasons why water should always be supplied to your tortoise. As not doing so can lead to the following problems.

  • Urinary/renal system backup
  • Articular gout
  • Kidney failure

These problems persist when your tortoise becomes dehydrated. When they don’t have an adequate amount of water, the tortoise system is built to store as much water as possible. As they store water, they are also storing toxins within their body. Over time these toxins build-up, causing issues we named above.

Sadly many people believe that they can offer their tortoise the perfect diet that contains all the water they need. I would say this is a dangerous game to play, and it is not necessary to get it slightly wrong, and you will be causing your tortoise numerous health issues.

Tortoise Urinary/renal system backup

One of the most common problems you will likely see is dehydration, and you will then get a build-up of solidified uric acid inside the tortoise urinary system. Tortoise removes their body waste through uric acid, and the reason people get confused when believing their tortoise is pooping white when in fact, it is uric acid. Without water, your tortoise will have a build-up within their system, causing them many problems.

Tortoise Articular Gout

You may have heard of gout but would commonly associate it more with humans than a tortoise. While this may be true, a tortoise starved of water can typically have gout problems. Just as in the urinary backup we discussed above, the uric acid builds up in the tortoise system. Unlike above, this time, the build-up occurs in and around the tortoise’s toes and feet. As in humans, gout can cause lots of discomfort and pain.

Tortoise Kidney Failure

If you are extremely neglecting your tortoise’s need for water, then kidney failure is one of the extreme outcomes to happen. Kidney failure slowly creeps up on tortoises and doesn’t happen overnight. However, keep neglecting water, and it can happen and unfortunately lead to death.

Best Practices

All that may sound a little scary and one of the reasons why I always encourage people to offer their tortoise water every day. Yes, a tortoise may be able to go a year without it but get their diet slightly off or their living environment, and you are going to be causing your tortoise to become ill.

Offer your tortoise water within their enclosure in a shallow dish; it is so simple and can keep many problems at bay. Offer your tortoise a bath at least once weekly where they can take on water.

When you do this, you may see them depositing their uric acid, which can cause some concern, but it is entirely natural. Tortoises are flushing their system of all the buildup we discuss above to take on the needed water.

Despite a tortoise being able to live a long time without water, it is essential to say it is not recommended. A tortoise has a longer lifespan in captivity than in the wild and the reason being the lack of stress. Not having access to water will cause stress to a tortoise and cause a much shorter life.

Can Tortoises Drink Tap Water?

I know some people just don’t like the taste of tap water and will filter it before drinking. Others will only drink it from a bottle as people we can have some funny ways. However, does a tortoise have these problems, or are they happy to drink tap water?

Yes, tap water is perfectly fine to give your tortoise people, and I included have been giving tortoise tap water for years with no ill effects.

If your tap water is clean and not dirty, I can not see why a tortoise could not drink it. I reshared this question by asking vets, and they say this is a common question that is asked. The typical answer of the vets I asked was, “it is perfectly fine to give your tortoise tap water even when it is treated the effects of not offering water would be much worse.”

How Do Tortoises Drink Water?

Looking at a tortoise mouth, it is sometimes hard to believe that they could drink using it due to the shape and structure. A tortoise mouth is very rigid and is not conducive to drinking like other animals.

A tortoise drinks water by submerging its face into the water and taking water through its mouth and nose. The tortoise doesn’t gulp in the water, so it rarely causes bubbles in the water as they slowly take on the water in a fluid way.

Seeing your tortoise submerge their head into the water can be very alarming; however, it is perfectly normal and just the way they take on their water.

Best Ways to Offer Your Tortoise Water

We all want to offer our tortoise the best, and after reading above, I’m sure you now are more confident you want to provide your tortoise water.

The best way to offer your tortoise water is with a water dish designed for tortoise within the tortoise housing. Allowing them to take on freshwater as and when they want, and tortoises are good at doing the job by themselves.

While a water dish or watering hole within their housing is excellent, a tortoise will need to offer a bath. We are allowing them to release all the toxic build-up within their bodies.

Do tortoises drink water through their tail?

A general question I see all the time and one I did lots of research on as I found it fascinating are do tortoises drink water through their tail.

When you bathe your tortoise, they will dip their heads into the water to get a drink. You will also notice that they wiggle their tail and appear to try to get it as deep into the water. Leading to people ask are they drinking with their tail.

Many studies have been done on tortoise drinking through their tail. The evidence is that they can’t drink through their tail; however, a tortoise will absorb water through the cloaca, located in the tail.

So when you see your tortoise wiggling their tail in the water, they take on water by absorbing but not drinking. It is a myth that has been around for years that are tortoise drinks through thor tail.

Can a tortoise survive in water?

Unlike a turtle, a tortoise can not swim and will not survive in the water they live on land.

We have a full guide on why turtles swim, and tortoises don’t if you want a complete in-depth look at this topic.

For this reason, the watering hole that you offer your tortoise within their tortoise house must be only shallow, and they can quickly get out off. As well as this, when you bathe your tortoise, you will often fill this a little deeper, so always monitor your tortoise while in the bath.

How long can a desert tortoise go without water?

Desert tortoises live in harsh conditions with very little water available to them. Luckily their diet consists of plants, grasses, fruit, and cactus that contain lots of water. Getting most of the water through their diet still requires water access and would only survive one year without freshwater access.


Even though some tortoises like the desert tortoise may be able to survive in the wild for up to a year without water, it is not recommended for a pet tortoise. You should offer your tortoise water within their house every day to stave away health problems.

Getting the water intake correct is one crucial part of keeping your tortoise happy and healthy. The process is not challenging, and your tortoise will do an excellent job of regulating its water intake. As a pet owner, you just need to provide them with access to water. Something to keep in mind a tortoise with no water worries is less likely to be stress and is more likely to live a lot longer.