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Can a Tortoise Get COVID? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

By Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Hermann's tortoise walking

Vet approved

Dr. Lauren Demos  Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lauren Demos

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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You have probably heard about dogs and cats catching COVID-19, but there is not much talk about whether reptiles like tortoises can catch the disease. The reason is that tortoises are not nearly as common as cats and dogs regarding domesticated pets. However, as a tortoise owner, you have every right to explore the question of whether your pet can contract COVID.

So, we set out to give you the peace of mind that you need to feel confident as a tortoise caretaker. According to the CDC,1 there is no evidence at present that a tortoise—or any other reptile, for that matter—can catch or spread the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2). Here is everything else that you should know about the topic.

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Tortoises Can Get Respiratory Illnesses, But Not COVID-19

Like any human or animal, the tortoise can contract respiratory illnesses that affect their breathing. If left to linger, a respiratory illness can become extremely dangerous, even deadly. So, while your tortoise cannot contract COVID-19, they can still contract a respiratory illness with similar clinical signs. If any signs of a respiratory illness are noticed in your tortoise, treat it as seriously as COVID, and schedule a checkup with your preferred reptilian veterinarian. The signs include:

  • Watery nasal discharge
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Noisy breathing

Upper respiratory disease is common in tortoises and can quickly turn into pneumonia. This is why it’s so important to contact a veterinarian quickly if the clinical signs are noticed.

Why Can’t Tortoise Catch COVID-19?

eastern hermann's tortoise in terrarium
Image By: Ketta, Shutterstock

The truth is that nobody really knows why tortoises don’t seem susceptible to contracting COVID, but it seems that this is a mammalian disease. This means only mammals, including dogs, cats, bears, lions, and tigers, have been known to catch the disease. However, it is important to keep in mind that with so many variants of the disease developing, there might come a time when a variant can be contracted by reptiles. Stay up to date on the latest variants so you can contact the CDC or your veterinarian to find out if any evidence points to a variant being dangerous to tortoises.

What to Do If You Want to Be Careful

If you’re still worried about passing COVID or any other respiratory illness to your tortoise after interacting with the outside world, there are a few things that you can do just to be safe. First, it’s important to wash your hands before handling your tortoise (which you should be doing, anyway). Use soap, the hottest water that you can handle, and your counting skills to ensure that you scrub for at least 20 seconds. Here are other tips to consider:

  • Disinfect any surfaces that your tortoise has access to (again, this is always important to do).
  • Avoid handling your tortoise if you have been exposed to anyone who is ill.
  • If you must handle your tortoise after exposure to illness or if you feel ill yourself, wear a mask.


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A Quick Recap

It seems that tortoises cannot contract COVID-19, even if they are directly exposed to the disease. However, it’s always a good idea to be safe rather than sorry. Our tips for being safe should provide you with peace of mind as time goes on. Even without having to worry about COVID, you should still keep an eye out for signs of respiratory illness, so you can address the illness before it becomes too serious.

Featured Image: Alexander Varbenov, Shutterstock

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Authored by

Rachael has been a freelance writer since 2000, in which time she has had an opportunity to research and write about many different topics while working to master the art of fusing high-quality content with effective content marketing strategies. She lives off the grid in Hawaii with her husband, her garden, and her rescue animals including 5 dogs, a cat, a goat, and dozens of chickens. She is an artist at heart and loves...Read more

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