Nursing Care and Shock

The following practices are used to help minimize the effects of shock and to strengthen or rebuild an ill or stressed tortoise’s immune system. The goals are cleanliness, low stress, and warmth.

Basic Nursing Care

It is usually best to set up a nursing tub or a separate habitat for the ill tortoise. Even if it is your only tortoise, it allows you time to completely clean the main habitat.

Some guidelines for good nursing care include:

  • Simple plastic tubs are cheap and easy to disinfect. Opaque-walled tubs also help minimize stress.
  • Use a clean substrate: newspaper or paper towels are often recommended. Change them as they become soiled. Dampen some of the towels for humidity-loving species and baby tortoises.
  • Make sure there are several hiding places, with at least one being some form of warm, humid hide. Broad leaf plants can help freshen the air and boost humidity as well as shade and hiding places. 
  • Use gentle lighting, and try hard to offer adequate UVB light for at least a few hours a day. Make sure there are plenty of hiding places from the light.
  • Heat the habitat to about 5-10 degrees F warmer than usual. A warming pad under about half the tub will help. For babies or humidity-loving species, mist the shell with warm water a few times a day. Partially cover the habitat if needed to maintain the right conditions.
  • Position the nursing habitat somewhere away from noise, activity, etc. and leave the tortoise as much alone as possible.
  • Consider offering warm water soaks to help relax and partially hydrate the tortoise.
  • Be sure you are using a good, varied diet, even if their appetite is off.


Shock is a common side-effect of traumatic situations, and can be life-threatening. The signs of shock can include:

  • Pale mucous membranes (inner mouth, around the eye),
  • Limp or unresponsive or over-active,
  • Slow or rapid breathing, and/or
  • Glazed eyes.


  1. Treat injuries that cannot wait, let minor injuries wait until after treating for shock.
  2. If practical, let the tortoise soak in warm water for awhile to rest and rehydrate.
  3. “Pack” the tortoise in a tub or box as if shipping it. Pad it with towels, crumpled paper, etc. making sure to leave air space by the head. Keep in a quiet, warm, humid place.
  4. If it is necessary to take the tortoise to the vet, leave it in the box and keep it warm.
  5. Let the tortoise rest for as long as possible (at least an hour) before continuing care; check on it periodically.
  6. When it has rested, continue necessary treatment.


Edited 8-15-2012 (C) Mark Adkins