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Category: Vet
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Experience:  dasdasd
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I have a tortoise 3years old. She always tries to eat rocks

Customer Question

Hello I have a tortoise 3years old. She always tries to eat rocks and stones - is this normal / ok?
JA: Hi there. I'll do all I can to help. When did you first notice this increase in the tortoise's appetite? Any changes in her weight?
Customer: I've only had her for 2 months and it's been constant - everytime she goes in the garden
JA: What's the tortoise's name and age?
Customer: She's called Mouza, I'm not exactly sure how old but around 3 years
JA: Is there anything else the Vet should know about Mouza?
Customer: She's a Mediterranean sur thighed tortoise
Submitted: 18 days ago.
Category: Vet
Expert:  CarynP625 replied 18 days ago.

I am sincerely ***** ***** there was a delay in someone responding to your question. (Experts are independent contractors and as such are online based on their own schedules.) However, I am available and can assist you if you still need veterinary advice.

Hello and thanks for posting your question on My name is***** and I have been a licensed and accredited veterinarian in the US for over 22 years, specializing in aquatics, reptiles, amphibians, avian and other exotic species. JustAnswer is a question and answer service, not a veterinary telemedicine or emergency service. On this platform veterinarians can provide insight and advice based on the information you provide, but as this is not considered a legal client-patient relationship and we cannot examine your pet, we are unable to provide definitive diagnoses, prescribe medications, provide medical records or sign documents for your specific pet. For any of those you would need to make an in person visit with a local veterinarian. If your pet has a serious illness or life-threatening emergency, I strongly recommend you obtain hands-on veterinary care with a local veterinarian or veterinary emergency service as soon as possible. I am happy to chat with you via the JustAnswer app via text. For US based clients, if you are interested in a phone call instead that is an option you can choose for an additional charge. In the meantime, I am putting together some questions and/or suggestions to help with your pet’s concern.

Expert:  CarynP625 replied 18 days ago.

Thanks again for posting your question about your Mediterranean spur thighed (aka Greek) tortoise Mouza frequently trying to eat rocks and stones.

No this is not normal. Tortoises will sometimes eat small rocks if they feel they are deficient in some types of minerals or micronutrients, but eating rocks puts them at risk for blockage and GI impaction. So it's a good idea to look at their diet and supplements to make sure they are being provided with not only enough to eat (since excess hunger can also lead to eating inappropriate things) but also the proper variety of things to eat and sufficient supplementation of calcium, vitamins and other nutrients.

I have some questions that will help me get a better idea of your pet’s environment and what may be going on with them:

-What is the current enclosure set-up, e.g.,

What is the enclosure temperature gradient (cool, warm and hottest basking spot)?

What is the humidity in the enclosure?

What type of substrate or bedding are you using?

-Do they receive any access to UV light? If housed indoors and using a UVB bulb, when was the UVB bulb last changed?

-Have they been eating otherwise normally (except for the stones)? How often and how much are they fed?

-What do you normally feed them?

-Do they receive any calcium or vitamin supplements? If so, which ones and how often?

-Have they been pooping regularly and has it looked normal?

-Any other signs such as weight loss, weakness/lethargy, bloating, straining to defecate, sunken eyes, wrinkled skin, lumps/bumps, increased yawning, neck stretching or open mouthed breathing, etc.?

Thanks very much for providing additional information, it is very helpful for me to try and figure out what is going on with your tortoise and the history information will help me to do that.

Expert:  CarynP625 replied 18 days ago.

Since ingestion of rocks/stones might be a sign that your tortoise is craving calcium and other nutrients, it is always a good idea to start by checking that their environment and husbandry (especially diet and nutrient supplements) are proper for their species.

Taking a physical measurement of the temperature gradient within the enclosure and measuring humidity with a hygrometer are a good idea. Making sure the UVB bulb is appropriate for the size of the space and has been changed regularly if they are housed indoors. Even if they are still producing visible light, UVB bulbs have a limited lifespan and need to be changed every 6-12 months, depending upon bulb type. Making sure diet is varied and appropriate for their species of tortoise and supplemented with calcium and multivitamin powder as recommended. Therefore, I am providing a Greek tortoise care (husbandry) reference sheet that I put together. Please review it at your convenience and let me know if you have any questions.

Greek Tortoise (Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise), Testudo graeca

Life span: 50+ years

Native: Northern Africa, Southwest Asia and Southern Europe

Adult size: 10 inches

Behavior: Greek tortoises make good pets as they are mellow and can become social with people over time but, in general, they prefer not to handled and can bite if they feel threatened.

These tortoises should ideally be housed separately singly since males will fight, especially during the mating season and during courtship males will persistently chase females, sometimes leading to injury. These are active tortoises and are good diggers and foragers though not strong climbers.

Housing: If housed outdoors they need options for sunbathing as well as shaded areas to escape the sun and heat if needed. A large, shallow water pan should be provided and changed daily, or more frequently when soiled. They require heated, dry housing to escape cold temperatures or bad weather. Care must be taken when housed outdoors to protect them from predators (or even people who will sometimes steal them).

When housed indoors, they require UVB lighting, suitable temperature gradient and a sizeable enclosure (3x6 ft/1x2 m at minimum) for proper exercise lined with 4-6 inch deep of natural substrate for digging that should be changed out monthly. Nice options for substrate include pesticide and vermiculite free topsoil mixed with peat moss or coconut fiber. Cypress mulch can be used as a substrate or top dressed on the soil mix to help maintain humidity.

Lighting: Direct sunlight is optimal but if indoors, they require 12 hours per day of UVB lighting along with 12 hour visible light cycle. For indoor tortoises, a 10% (10.0) T5 linear fluorescent bulb mounted in a reflector housing is a good option, though for larger enclosures mercury vapor bulbs, which combine heat, visible light and UVB light can be used. Care should be taken that the basking or mercury vapor bulbs aren’t too close to flammable materials as they get very hot.

Temperature: Greek tortoises require a warm temperature gradient of 75-85F (23.9-29.4C) as well as a hot basking spot, 95-100F (35-37.8C) though they can take slightly warmer temperatures in the summer if provided sufficient shady spots or a cooler zone to retire to. Nighttime temperature of at least 70F (21.1C) is recommended. Tortoises housed outdoors will need a raised, heated shelter if night-time temperatures drop below 65F.

In cooler weather, they require supplemental heating and advise keeping the pen elevated off the ground to prevent chilling. If heating is required at night, use something that does not produce light, such as a ceramic heat emitter. Fully adult, outdoor tortoises (over 3 years old) can be allowed to hibernate if acclimated to outdoor temperatures, when temperatures are consistently below 48F (9C). They should be fasted for 2-3 weeks prior to hibernation to ensure their GI tract is empty during hibernation. However, it is critically important to still provide fresh water every day during this time as they will need to build up hydration and reserves prior to hibernating. Temperatures should not go below 40F (4.5C) during hibernation, otherwise a hibernating tortoise might die from exposure. It is not recommended to hibernate indoor only tortoises unless you are a highly experienced tortoise keeper. Hibernation is not required for proper health and improper care or temperatures can lead to serious health issues.

Humidity: Humidity of the enclosure should be 40-60% which might require periodic misting of the warmer side of the enclosure. Avoid moistening substrate on the cool side of an indoor enclosure as damp and cool conditions can predispose respiratory or skin infections.

Diet: High fiber diet of leafy weeds plus timothy grass and orchard grass hay. Avoid alfalfa hay as it has too much protein. Weeds might include clover, dandelions, spineless Opuntia cactus pads, broad and narrow leaf plantain weeds, honeysuckle, white deadnettle, yellow archangel, chickweed, hawkbit, sow or globe thistle, and others. Other vegetables should include dark, leafy greens such as dandelion, watercress, escarole, clover, globe artichokes as well as edible flowers such as hibiscus, geraniums, evening primrose, African violet, marigold or nasturtium. Small amounts of other beta carotene rich vegetables such as carrot, bell peppers, squash can be added for variety.

Limit amounts of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, bok choy or brussel sprouts as they contain goiterogens which can interfere with thyroid function.

Also avoid vegetables high in oxalate such as spinach, swiss chard, raspberries, rhubarb, parsley, beet greens as these can interfere with calcium metabolism.

Lettuce is not very nutrient rich so should be avoided in favor of dark, leafy greens and hays, grasses and tortoise safe weeds.

A wonderful online resource for searching tortoise safe plants, fruits and vegetables is maintained by The Tortoise Table at:

Supplements: If only eating foraged vegetation, provide a source of calcium such as cuttlebone, calcium block or eggshells to supplement dietary calcium at least two times weekly, if not more often. If feeding prepared salad, lightly dust the salad with calcium only powder three times per week for adults (4-5 times per week for young tortoises) and with reptile multivitamin (calcium, vitamin A and D3) twice weekly.

Expert:  CarynP625 replied 18 days ago.

And if your tortoise continues to eat rocks and stones or starts showing any signs of clinical illness such as lethargy, weakness, loss of (normal) appetite, straining to defecate or bloating, passage of blood or discolored feces or urates, weight loss, etc. then a visit to a local reptile experienced veterinarian for a hands on evaluation is recommended.

To help find a local veterinarian with reptile experience, here is a useful website you can use to search for a local reptile veterinarian. These veterinarians are active members of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, which means they have interest and experience in treating reptile patients:

(please note this site may not work on older browsers like Safari)

Please note that since you are outside the US, you will need to choose Advanced Search.

Advanced Search: Step 1 of 2, Member status

Select/toggle honorary member, life member, new grad, active veterinarian, and associate.

Press Continue.

Advanced Search: Step 2 of 2

Use the drop down menu in Country to select your country. Press Search.

I should be notified if/when you respond with additional information so we can connect about your Mediterranean spur thighed tortoise Mouza but, in the meantime, I hope this information is helpful and I wish you both the best. Thanks again for posting your question to Sincerely, ***** *****

Customer: replied 18 days ago.
Hi, oh no. Please find the answers below:1. We are based in the UK. She lives in an indoor ensclosure in a sunny room which isn’t very humid. We have a UV lamp which she uses to bask which is switched on from 7am-8pm. As we are in London, it’s warm/cool but hot under the lamp. Her bedding is Pro Rep tortoise life substrate with a thin layer of aspen bed terrain on top.2. We have a UV lamp as mentioned above but it hasn’t been changed recently.3. She eats regularly. We feed her a big bowl every morning. Her main diet is: cucumber, dandilions, kale, spinach, and the occasional strawberry.4. We sprinkle calcium dust and multi vitamin / nutrient powder that’s has a number of vitamins onto her food.5. Her poo is normal and she poos regularly.6. She doesn’t show any signs of what you describe but her face is quick flakey.Other: she has a shallow water bowl but rarely drinks. I give her a bath a few times per week. She pees regularly.Thank you?
Expert:  CarynP625 replied 18 days ago.

Hello and sincere thanks for the additional information about Mouza and her care.

What type of UVB lamp are you using? If it's a fluorescent UVB bulb they do need to be changed every 6 months. If it's a mercury vapor then every 12 months.

Sounds like she get a nice varied diet, though I do encourage you to try and feed a bit higher fiber plants as well like timothy or orchard grass hay.

Could you please let me know the product name of the supplements you are using and the frequency with which you use them? Thanks.

They do get most of their water from their foods, so it's not uncommon not (sorry about the double negative!) to see them drink often, in fact if they are drinking frequently that would be a concern. However even for tortoises from moderate humidity climates (recommend humidity for a Greek tortoise is around 50%) a warm water soak in shoulder depth water once or twice a week is a good idea to make sure they are clean and well hydrated.

Expert:  CarynP625 replied 18 days ago.

So if the UVB lamp has not been changed regularly, this might be a reason for the increased eating of rocks as she might be having some issues with calcium metabolism. They not only need calcium in their diet but also sufficient UVB light to make the active form of vitamin D (called vitamin D3) in their body which is needed for proper calcium metabolism.

Expert:  CarynP625 replied 18 days ago.

So it's sounds like your care is good, bathes, varied diet, supplements, but make sure UVB is sufficient for the enclosure size and in date and double check that temperatures and humidity are also proper. If humidity is too low or diet is not sufficient in some vitamins (like vitamin A) then that can lead to flaky skin or beak.

Personally I really like ZooMed Reptivite with D3 as a multivitamin supplement for tortoises. It has good variety and amounts of necessary nutrients, especially vitamin A and D3. In addition to three times dusting of calcium, I recommend twice weekly dusting of a good quality multivitamin.

Expert:  CarynP625 replied 18 days ago.

Personally I like mercury vapor bulbs for Greek tortoises. They produce sufficient UVB rays plus heat and light all in one bulb. Depending upon the enclosure size, 100 to 150 (or 160 depending upon manufacturer) watt are usually sufficient. Note that UVB is distance dependent meaning it's not just strength of the bulb but the placement that will dictate proper amounts of radiations.

For example as mostly full sun/occasional full sun basking species, Greek tortoise need what's called "zone 3" level of UVB (equivalent to 1 to 2.6 UVI or UV Index level).

If using a ZooMed Power Sun 100 w mercury vapor lamp that would need to be placed 6 to 10" above the basking spot to produce the correct amount of UVB light for your tortoise.

If using a ZooMed Power Sun 160 w mercury vapor lamp that would need to be placed 14 to 22" above the basking spot to produce the correct amount of UVB light for your tortoise.

Also note that UVB is best when there is nothing between the bulb and the basking area. Glass or acrylic block 100% of the UVB light. And a metal screen would block about 1/2 of the UVB light.

Expert:  CarynP625 replied 18 days ago.

Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance. My sincere best to you and Mouza.

Thanks for using

Sincerely, ***** *****