How Long Can A Tortoise Be On Its Back? Why They Keep Doing It

Occasionally, a tortoise owner would come see their beloved pet struggling on their back, appearing miserable and helpless. Some pet tortoises find themselves in this situation more frequently than appears to be usual. It makes us wonder how it got there, if it can right itself, and if it will die if it can’t. Believe it or not, science has looked into this and has a solution for you!

how long can a tortoise be on its back

Why Are Tortoises On Its Back

Climbing mishaps

An upside-down turtle is frequently due to a tortoise’s weak climbing ability rather than anything else. Tortoises were not designed for speed or agility since they are short, heavy, and strong creatures. That doesn’t stop them from exploring their surroundings.

Unfortunately, a tortoise can land awkwardly on its back if it falls from a height high enough or at exactly the correct angle. This is most commonly observed in juvenile tortoises attempting to climb a water dish, a hide, or a rock that wasn’t designed to be climbed. They also attempt to climb the corners of their tanks or the room on occasion.

To prevent this, if your tortoise is prone to this adventurous mishap, take the offending decorations out of his enclosure. It may take some time to figure out which piece of furniture is causing the issue, but once you do, everything should return to normal. Switch to a shallow, broad type for essential items like feeding or water bowls.

Illness or injury

It’s not enjoyable to think of our tortoise friends becoming sick or hurt, but we have to be realistic. There might be a problem with your tortoise if he always ends up on his back. If your turtle keeps flipping over, you should suspect illnesses or injuries. There could be a medical problem with your tortoise if it keeps ending up on its back. If it’s consistently rolled over for no apparent reason, illnesses and injuries might be responsible. It may have difficulty walking, feel too weak to self-right, or have balance problems.

Does he appear sluggish or unresponsive?  If he isn’t acting like himself, pay attention and contact your veterinarian immediately.

Weird habits

If you’re sure your tortoise isn’t being turned over by a rival, trying to climb on the furniture, or isn’t sick, you could have a weird buddy. Tortoises will occasionally simply turn over. It’s unclear why, but a few tortoises appear to love turning over, or at least prefer to engage in activities that cause them to do so.

Tank Mates

During a territorial conflict, competing males are known to actively try to flip one other to demonstrate dominance. As a result, while tortoises can sometimes cooperate, having territorial males in the same tank can be problematic.

Male tortoises, especially those in mating behavior, regularly engage in bouts to roll over one another. Tortoises are known to push each other over for food. This may happen to both men and women, but same-sex confrontations are more prevalent.

How Long Can A Tortoise Be On Its Back

It all depends on where it flips over. If you have a light and a little turtle, it could take an hour (just a guess) because they dehydrate rapidly. The tortoise will live longer if it is bigger, but hydration under a light will kill it.

Read more: How Long Can Tortoises Go Without Food? Vacation Tips

What Happens When A Tortoise Turns Upside Down?

Start to starve

The tortoise’s inverted stance also makes it vulnerable to predators and insects like flies. Meanwhile, dehydration and malnutrition continue to deplete their energy levels. This won’t happen until the turtle is stranded on its back for an extended period of time, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.


Because of the improper pressure and location of its organs, the tortoise may vomit. It might inhale the vomit, causing choking or other respiratory problems. In any situation, the tortoise will become physically and emotionally distressed, flailing in an attempt to regain control.

Having Breath Problem 

The lungs, which fill the upper half of the shell, will be pressed against the internal organs. This becomes very distressing for the turtle over time.

Soil itself

The tortoise’s bladder and bowels will most likely be empty. This isn’t usually a problem, but it can make dehydration worse. If the tortoise is exposed to the light or heat for an extended period of time, it may develop sunburn, which can exacerbate dehydration.

Have Intestinal Problems

The tortoise’s intestines may twist (bowel torsion), particularly if it was forcibly turned during a struggle or assault. This typically corrects itself, but if the tortoise stops passing excrement or shows other indications of high stress later, pay attention. It is recommended that you consult your veterinarian. This disorder can become dangerous or even fatal if left untreated.

Can an Upside-down Tortoise Turn Itself Over?

Is it possible for an upside-down turtle to flip around? A turtle can roll over on its own, but it takes a lot of effort. A tortoise’s capacity to flip over is influenced by its form, size, and health. It is simpler for a tortoise to flip itself over if the shell is spherical, but it is more difficult if the tortoise is huge or unwell.

If the ground beneath their feet is uneven, tortoises can easily tumble, turn over, and land the wrong way up. Because tortoises enjoy climbing and exploring, the chances of this happening are significantly greater. The good news is that most tortoises can stand up on their own. 

Most tortoises will lengthen their necks, brace their heads against the ground, and push to get off their backs. Their legs will thrash side to side, rocking them until they have enough leverage to roll onto their feet. The domed shells of certain tortoises make rocking simpler. Others have a saddleback form that takes a lot of work to self-right, but they’re strong enough to achieve it. The movement is difficult for flat-shell tortoises, but their long neck and limbs make it conceivable.


It’s simple to help a flipped turtle. Return it to its original location as fast as possible. You don’t want to twist your bowels. If at all feasible, roll it back in the same direction it tumbled. After that, look for symptoms of overheating in the tortoise. Next, examine the tortoise for signs of dehydration. Provide a shaded location to relax and/or a nice soak when required. It will aid in the treatment of dehydration. If problems arise or the tortoise appears confused, call your veterinarian. A turtle can get off its back, but it will not always be simple, so assist if you can.

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