How to Care for Tortoise Mouth


"Mouth rot," also called "stomatitis" or "canker," describes a variety of bacterial, fungal and viral infections that are common among reptiles in captivity. Mouth rot may cause the animal to stop eating, or the infection may spread to the jawbone, eyes or respiratory system. In addition to treating the symptoms when they occur, practice optimal husbandry and nutrition to prevent mouth problems from happening in the first place.

Things You'll Need

  • Topical solution
  • Cotton swabs
  • Reptile-safe antibiotics

Examine the tortoise's mouth monthly by firmly grasping the animal's head behind the ear flaps and jaw with the thumb and second finger of one hand, then gently forcing down the lower jaw with the thumb and first finger of the other hand. Is there redness and swelling? Is white or yellow "cheese" building up in the mouth? Always be observant of whether the animal is eating normally or the beak is overgrown or damaged.

Mild cases of mouth rot may be treated at home by experienced tortoise keepers. Apply a topical rinse of Betadine (povidone-iodine) or Novasolon (chlorhexidine diacetate) solution to the mouth twice daily. Hydrogen peroxide is not recommended, as it destroys good tissue along with bad.

If the mouth is cankerous or the animal is not eating, see a reptile-knowledgeable veterinarian, who will most likely perform a culture to determine the strain of the infection, and who will then prescribe the safest and most effective treatment. It is likely that the vet will prescribe a course of reptile-safe antibiotics, such as Baytril (enroflaxin). A tortoise who is not eating will require supportive care, such as quiet and extra warmth, as well as oral administrations of fluids (Pedialyte works well) or force feeding of fruit-and-vegetable slurry.

A tortoise with an overgrown or damaged beak may require beak trimming, which should be done by your veterinarian, as an improper beak trim may cause bleeding, infection or disfigurement.

Eliminate environmental causes of mouth issues. Clean and disinfect enclosures frequently. Quarantine sick or new animals. Make sure temperature is optimal for your particular species of tortoise, and ensure he is eating a proper diet for a herbivorous chelonian. Sometimes the animal may damage the mouth trying to eat food that is too hard or sharp. On the other hand, food that is too soft can allow the beak to become overgrown, which may also contribute to mouth problems.

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