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Shell Pyramiding In Tortoises

Pyramiding is thought to be a form of metabolic bone disease (MBD). It is characterized by a build up or stacking of keratin in the scutes. In advanced cases of MBD the shell becomes soft and flattens out.

Pyramiding is one of the biggest problems handlers have with captive tortoises and is rarely seen among wild caught specimens. There are a few contributing factor to pyramiding which is diet, humidity, sunlight and exercise.

In captivity tortoises are usually fed one or two different food choices such as lawn grass and hay or store bought vegetables and fruits. The problem with captive tortoise diets like this is that they are being fed the same nutrients everyday with no variation, so what nutrients that are being fed are building up to unhealthy levels. Too much protein and not enough calcium causes metabolic bone disease. Simply eliminating high protein foods isnít the answer. A tortoise can be fed too much protein by feeding large quantities of low protein foods. This is the problem with feeding only hay. Even though itís great part of a well-balanced diet it has a high level of vegetable protein. Over time feeding only hay will give your tortoise too much protein in their diet. They can also get too much by being fed a normal amount of "good" food if they are confined in a small pen with limited exercise. In the wild tortoises typically walk miles while foraging. The more exercise they get, the more protein is needed.

Many captive tortoises share a yard with the family dog(s). Dog food and feces have extremely high levels of protein as well as the possibility of parasites and it is easy to find for a tortoise. It is very important you limit the tortoises access to such things.

Here is a partial list of problems that can contribute to pyramiding.

  • Too much protein
  • Too little calcium
  • Too many oxalates in diet
  • Not enough D3
  • Lack of sunlight (UVA+UVB)
  • Too much food/ Lack of exercise
  • Hydration Status (available water)
  • Not enough humidity
  • Lack of fiber

The best game plan is to allow your tortoises plenty of sunlight and space to roam and graze. Plant as many edible grasses, flowers, and weeds in their pen as possible. Always provide a wading pool for your tortoise to soak in as well as drink from. Keep this cleaned daily! Always provide your tortoise with cuttle fish bone for extra calcium. The best substrate or ground cover to use is grass or cypress mulch. Grass and cypress mulch both retain humidity well. Grass will collect dew in the mornings and will evaporate off during the day. Since your outdoor pen will be heavily planted you will need to water them a lot. Donít be afraid to hose down your tortoises during this time. Spray bottles work great for indoor enclosures.

Finally, remember tortoises live for 50+ years. They accomplish this by doing things at a slow pace. Over feeding is easy to do and can shorten their life span. Feed them a good mixture of grasses, weeds, flowers, cactus, Feeding Mazuri, fruits and store bought greens are good treats but should be fed sparingly.