A family member of mine has a yellowfoot tortoise that has been kept in very inadequate conditions. Its limbs seem to be feeble and it walks with a sluggish motion primarily using its front legs with its plastron and hind legs dragging on the ground. Its shell is also somewhat humped in the front.

I'm pretty sure these are indications of metabolic bone disease, probably due to inadequate UV lighting and humidity. Its living conditions have been somewhat improved, but I was wondering whether there is anything that can be done to improve its condition, or whether the deformities are likely to be permanent.


The shell will always look deformed, but it can in time and with proper care look better. You need to increase the tortoises calcium intake. You should take the tortoise to a vet if you can, as they can inject it with enough calcium, and point out other problems too.

Here are some ways you can administer calcium:

  • Feed the tortoise a variety of calcium rich greens. Never feed the tortoise any meat, the only treats should be fruit. Grape leaves, dandelion greens, collard greens and other calcium rich, oxalic acid low greens should be the main part of the diet.

  • Offer commercial calcium blocks. Such as cuttlebone or a mixture of cacti and cuttlebone.

  • Dust the food with a reptile calcium supplement. You can also dust it with some crushed cuttlebone or egg shells. But you can expect the reptile calcium supplement to be the most effective, especially if it has added vitamin D3.

  • Make sure the tortoise is getting enough UV-B. uv-b is essential to the health of most reptiles (and other animals for that matter), make sure you have a working and powerful UV lamp at this stage. And you should consider taking the tortoise out for some time when the weather is warm.

  • Provide a spacious enclosure with an "exercise area". Make sure the tortoise has a naturalistic and capacious enclosure. And make an area inside where the ground isn't level all around and the tortoise will put more effort into walking. Tortoises (especially the larger ones) need strong legs to hold their weight up and protect them from predators. The limbs need to be exercised and calcium should be provided. Also make sure you have a hiding spot, and ample humidity in the enclosure.

  • Reconsider the diet. Tortoises need a high calcium and fibre, low protein diet. Make sure you sparingly use greens high in oxalic acid, and preferably not use them at all at this stage. Spineless cactus, globe mallow, dandelion greens, hibiscus, collard greens and such fibre and calcium rich greens should form the main part of the diet.

    Hope your tortoise does well, people usually think the relatively low price tag that comes along with a tortoise means it's cheap to maintain, and the advice they get doesn't help. Please tell me how the tortoise does in the future.

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