I'm not asking for health-related advice, as I've had the vet following this for many years to make sure it's not respiratory-related, but this is more of a "does it fit the animal's natural history" question.

I have a Redfoot tortoise that tends to make a peeping or whistling sound when she's breathing, particularly when she's "happy" (I perceive her to enjoy when people are around, as she wants to be fed). Is this a common behavior for tortoises in general to exhibit? Is it some sort of call used to signal contentment or even alarm?


Consolidated analysis of responses to a similar question on Tortoise Forum and Hermann Tortoise:


For a question such as this, you should supply your habitat.

  • diet
  • substrate
  • measured temperature
  • measured humidity

Substrate Issues

  • The tortoise could be allergic to your substrate
    • changing to kitchen towels or newspapers can single out this issue.
  • The substrate could be too dry and might require additional humidity.
  • loose substrate could have become lodged in the tortoise's nasal cavity

Poor Humidity

Wheezing and clicking can occur with Redfoot tortoises when they lack proper humidity or are kept too dry.

  • ensure he doesn't feel light or have dry, flaky skin; this can indicate dryness.
  • if the eyes of the tortoise are slightly watery; this can indicate dryness.
  • increase the humidity; try for 80%. You can use a digital hygrometer.
  • provide access to a warm, fresh, water bath at least once daily

If you are concerned about shell rot due to increasing humidity, ensure the enclosure is kept clean and periodically clean your tortoise lightly with a soft toothbrush.

General Dehydration

  • ensure the water content of foods is sufficient
  • ensure water is available

Illness / Disease

  • whistling when breathing may indicate a respiratory infection or pneumonia.
  • Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) causes shell deformity, which could create breathing irregularities.
  • if you suspect either of these, consult a professional veterinarian, as medications may be needed

Normal Whistling

Some red-footed tortoises just whistle regardless of humidity and health.


In your particular case, I suspect this is due to humidity, but we would need more data and an implementation of a humidity plan to conclude this.

  • Regarding the humidity levels, are you keeping them consistent?
    – JoshDM
    Nov 18 '13 at 13:26
  • Yes, I keep the substrate as moist as possible without it being soaked. I've talked with vets and none ever thought the 80% was a good idea.
    – jonsca
    Nov 18 '13 at 13:31
  • What sort of substrate do you use? Additional online checking reveals the type of substrate (regardless of moisture content) can potentially cause wheezing.
    – JoshDM
    Nov 18 '13 at 15:41
  • I use sphagnum moss. She has been checked out multiple times over the years (I've had her for over 10) and there's no wheezing in the lungs.
    – jonsca
    Nov 18 '13 at 15:45
  • Eyes seem OK; not watery? No indications of any dryness?
    – JoshDM
    Nov 18 '13 at 15:48

I have a big adult leopard tortoise in the garden. She only makes a sound when I call her. She then comes walking to me at the same time (hoping to be fed or petted). I am pretty sure the way you explain it as well, it is communication.

It would be nice to hear from somebody if wild tortoises also make sounds to each other.


I have recently obtained a red footed tortoise that whistles with every breath. I am confident my enclosure and environment is suitable for the tortoise and the Tortoise received proper care before I bought him. I am not a professional but in my opinion this kind of whistling may be normal. Even though I am not an expert I am just chiming in because I thought it would be helpful to hear from someone else's situation. Hope this helps!

  • This is likely to be the correct answer. She has had many excellent checkups since then. Enjoy your new pet!
    – jonsca
    Jul 24 '16 at 23:00

My baby whistles he’s perfectly healthy I keep an eye on everything he’s just Leslie little boy I love these animals they are so personable

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