Do tortoises and turtles need vaccinations? -

Do Tortoises and Turtles Need Vaccinations?

Pet ownership is a big responsibility. Everyone knows that when you get a new cat or dog you take it to the vet to be sure your new friend is up-to-date on all their shots. But there isn’t a lot of information on immunizations for tortoises and turtles.

Do tortoises and turtles need vaccinations? Tortoises, turtles and other reptiles do not need vaccinations or frequent vet visits, but they might need a little help sometimes. Tortoises and turtles do need some vet care but not as often as a cat or a dog.

Do Tortoises and Turtles Need to Go to the Vet?

Your pet tortoise or turtle will not need frequent trips to your specialized vet. That’s usually considered a bonus to reptile ownership. However, if a turtle or tortoise gets sick or you have concerns over their health, a quick trip to your vet is recommended.

Some people say you should at least take your tortoise or turtle in for a simple checkup once a year. This recommendation is especially true if your tortoise lives outdoors. Outdoor tortoises and turtles are usually exposed to a wider range of bacteria, weather changes, and pests.

How To Find a Vet for a Tortoise or Turtle

When it comes to furry friends such as dogs or cats we have many veterinary options available. Yet things are a little harder, and more expensive, when you have a reptile or other exotic animal under your care. We recommend looking for reputable vets in your area before purchasing any exotic animals like tortoises and turtles. Make sure potential vets specialize in reptile care and exotic animals.

A good vet can even guide you in buying your animal from a reputable source.

And yes, tortoises and turtles definitely count as exotic. Any pet that is not a typical mammal or bird is technically an exotic pet that needs specialized care. This is not to say that regular vets can’t handle simple or routine care, but it’s always better to find a specialist.

You should be prepared to make a rather lengthy drive though, as exotic veterinary offices are few and far between. But that also depends on your area and its laws on exotic pets. Accessibility to veterinary care could probably be a deterrent for some people, but if you really have your heart set on a tortoise or turtle you should be willing to spend that extra cash or gas to keep them healthy.

Can You Vaccinate Your Tortoise at Home?

We do not recommend you try to vaccinate your tortoise or turtle at home. It takes a practiced exotics vet to safely administer medicine or shots to animals such as tortoises. If you were to try and do this yourself you could very seriously hurt or even kill your pet tortoise or turtle.

You should also never self-diagnose your tortoise. These are special pets that require a knowledgeable vet for optimum care. Diagnosing your tortoise at home, without consulting a vet who has trained to care for these animals, can spell disaster for your pet and heartache for you.

Please don’t take this to mean that you shouldn’t learn about all the medical needs or possible issues for your tortoise. Your valuable insight may actually help your vet diagnose the tortoise or turtle properly.

Take the time to learn more about the various illnesses and health problems that could crop up. Nobody knows your pet like you do, and your observations could help your vet save his or her life.

When a Tortoise or Turtle Needs a Shot

If it is determined by your vet that your pet tortoise or turtle needs to have a vaccine or shot of some kind, be sure that your tortoise or turtle will not receive an injection for vitamins A, D, or E. All of these can cause big problems if given in large doses, and most tortoises get plenty in their regular diets.

Vitamin A is the one that your tortoise or turtle should really avoid in excess. It can cause serious issues such as the nutritional disorder called hypervitaminosis A. This should not be a problem as long as your tortoise’s diet is good and they are getting all the nutrients they need.

It is unlikely that your pet tortoise or turtle will need a vitamin injection, so put your mind at ease. Tortoises are hardy and their diets should consist of vitamin-heavy and mineral-rich foods with the occasional supplements and treats.

Don’t Worry it’s Just a Little Shot

In the event that your tortoise needs to have an injection, the vet will prepare the site carefully. It is a little trickier on a large tortoise but essentially the same practice. Your vet will push the head back and move either the left or right front leg to expose the softer skin there. They will then push the needle into the pectoral muscle on the inner side of the plastron. It’s quick and relatively painless, but it does take a practiced hand.

If you are not squeamish then here is a video on giving a vaccine to a small tortoise. But, once again, remember not to give your tortoise or turtle injections on your own. Only let your vet do this! The video is here for educational purposes only.

A Healthy Tortoise is a Happy Tortoise

The best way to make sure your tortoise or turtle has a long happy life is to buy them from a reputable breeder, not a pet store. Breeders understand tortoises in general and the species they breed in particular. The breeder will know the bloodlines and the breeding, hatching, and early care history of your new pet.

Before purchase, you should check that the eyes and nose are clear. Be sure there are no mites or wounds on the body and that the shell is in good condition. Check that your tortoise is having no issues with breathing either. Just listen for any wheezing or strange sounds before purchasing. And if buying online, see if you can contact the seller and ask for more pictures and information on the turtle or tortoise’s current habitat and living arrangements.

Once you have your tortoise you should bring it in for a checkup as soon as possible. That way the vet can check for any internal issues or parasites before they become severe or untreatable. If your pet tortoise or turtle needs any shots, your vet will recommend them at this time. Usually, however, vaccinations aren’t needed.

Provide the correct habitat and food source with clean water and appropriate basking spots and your tortoise or turtle should live a very cozy and long life.


There’s a lot to take in here, we know. This advice goes against conventional pet owner wisdom, but that is because tortoises and turtles are exotic pets. Even though tortoises and turtles don’t need vaccinations like cats or dogs do, they still should see their vet at least once per year.

While tortoises are hardy little tanks, they do need that yearly checkup to make sure they are staying strong and healthy. If you are providing the right balance of foods and enrichment that should be no problem.

Related Questions

Is my tortoise happy? We’ve compiled this list so that you can tell! Learn all about it in this article: ‘How to tell if a tortoise is healthy and happy‘.

Do pet tortoises smell bad? Usually they don’t have much of a smell. If they do, it can be another reason for making the trip to the vet. Read the details here: ‘Do pet tortoises smell bad?

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