Tortoise Shell Pyramiding: Early Signs, Causes, and Treatment

Tortoise Shell Pyramiding

Pyramiding is one of the most common tortoise health problems that can occur due to a number of factors, including poor diet and lack of sunlight. If left untreated, shell pyramiding can cause serious health problems for your tortoise. In this article, we will explore the causes and symptoms of tortoise shell pyramiding, as well as ways to treat and prevent it. So if you have a tortoise at home, be sure to keep reading!

Related Article: Why Tortoises Can’t Swim But Turtles Can?

What is shell pyramiding in tortoise?

Shell pyramiding is a tortoise shell disease that causes the scutes (the large, horny plates that make up the tortoise shell) to grow abnormally in an upward direction. This condition is also known as pyramidal growth syndrome (PGS). Pyramiding is often caused by poor husbandry and tortoises that do not receive proper food and sunlight are much more vulnerable to this condition.

While shell pyramiding is not necessarily fatal to tortoises, it can cause serious health problems like organ failure or paralysis if left untreated. Treatment for tortoise shell pyramiding typically involves correcting the husbandry practices that led to the condition in the first place and providing the tortoise with a nutritious diet and plenty of sunlight.

What causes pyramiding in tortoises?

There could be several reasons for pyramiding in tortoises. The most common reasons are:

  1. Low humidity or dry environment
  2. Poor diet
  3. Small enclosure
  4. Lack of exercise
  5. Lack of Sunlight/UVB light
  6. Dehydration
  7. Overfeeding

Let’s understand all of the above causes in detail.

Low humidity or dry environment

Low humidity or dry environment is one the main cause for shell pyramiding, especially for tortoises living outside the house. Tortoise needs a moist environment and if they are in a dry environment they will dehydrate quickly which could lead to shell pyramiding.

A dry environment leads to pyramiding as tortoises try to protect themselves from dehydration by withdrawing into their shells. When tortoises retract into their shells, the scutes on the outer edge of the shell are exposed to the dry air and begin to harden and deform.

Different tortoise species have different humidity requirements. For most of the species, a humidity level of 50-60% is ideal. For baby tortoises, it is even higher, about 70-80%. You can maintain the humidity level by using a humidifier or by misting the tortoise enclosure with water.

Poor diet

A tortoise’s diet is very important for its growth. If a tortoise does not get the right nutrients, it can lead to problems like pyramiding. A tortoise needs a diet that is high in fiber and calcium and low in fat and protein. The tortoise diet should also include a good amount of vitamins and minerals.

One of the main causes of pyramiding is the lack of calcium in the tortoise diet. Calcium is very important for tortoise growth and development. A tortoise needs about twice as much calcium as phosphorus. If a tortoise does not get enough calcium, it will start to draw calcium from its shell. This will make the shell thin and weak and eventually lead to pyramiding.

Another reason for pyramiding could be too much phosphorous in the tortoise diet. Phosphorous can interfere with the absorption of calcium by the tortoise body. This can lead to a deficiency of calcium and eventually pyramiding.

Grain-based foods are not suitable for tortoises. These contain a high amount of phytates which can bind with calcium and other minerals and make them unavailable for tortoises. Some of the common grain-based foods that should be avoided are corn, wheat, oats, rice, etc.

We suggest giving your tortoise commercial food pellets as they contain all the necessary nutrients that tortoises need for their growth. Below are our recommended products which you can try.

Image Product Price Purchase Link
Flukers Buffet Blend Tortoise Food $12.99 Buy on Amazon
Fluker’s Tortoise Diet Small Pellet Food $4.74 Buy on Amazon

Small enclosure

Tortoises need a large enclosure to roam around and exercise. A tortoise that is confined to a small space is more likely to develop pyramiding. This is because a tortoise in a small enclosure does not get enough exercise and sunlight. Lack of exercise and sunlight can lead to shell deformities like pyramiding.

Lack of exercise

Lack of exercise can also lead to obesity in tortoises which is one of the main risk factors for shell pyramiding. Tortoises need exercise to maintain a healthy weight. A tortoise that is overweight is more likely to develop pyramiding.

Lack of Sunlight/UVB light

Tortoises need sunlight or UVB light to synthesize vitamin D in their body. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium. If a tortoise does not get enough vitamin D, it will start to draw calcium from its shell and eventually lead to pyramiding.

To prevent tortoise shell pyramiding, it is important to provide tortoises with a proper diet, exercise, and sunlight. If you are keeping your tortoise inside your home then giving them UVB light in their enclosure would be helpful. A tortoise that is well-nourished and gets enough exercise and sunlight is less likely to develop shell deformities like pyramiding.


Dehydration is another common cause of tortoise shell pyramiding. Tortoises need to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. If they do not get enough water, it will expose them to a higher risk of shell pyramiding. Dehydration can also lead to other health problems like kidney failure, respiratory problems, etc.

To prevent tortoise shell pyramiding, it is important to provide tortoises with plenty of water. A tortoise that is well-hydrated is less likely to develop shell deformities like pyramiding.


Overfeeding is another common cause of tortoise shell pyramiding. If you are giving your tortoise the right food but in excess then this will encourage shell growth deformities such as pyramiding conditions. So, it is important to feed tortoises the right amount of food.

Early signs of pyramiding in tortoises

One of the early signs that your tortoise may have shell pyramiding is if you notice that their scutes are beginning to grow abnormally. This condition is often called pyramidal growth syndrome (PGS), and it’s characterized by tortoise scutes rising in an upward direction. If you notice this happening with your tortoise, it’s important to take them to a vet as soon as possible.

Left untreated, tortoise shell pyramiding can cause serious health issues like organ failure or paralysis due to changes around the spinal cord. In some cases, tortoises may even stop eating altogether because of the pain caused by their condition.

Pyramiding, as it affects the spin of the tortoise, can also cause problems with their ability to move around or may even cause paralysis.

If you think your tortoise may have shell pyramiding, the best course of action is to take them to a vet as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing serious health complications down the road.

Is tortoise shell pyramiding curable?

The good news is that tortoise shell pyramiding is not a death sentence for your tortoise. With proper care, most tortoises can recover from this condition. However, it is important to catch the early signs of tortoise shell pyramiding so that you can take action to treat it before it gets worse. There is no way to reverse shell pyramiding (abnormal scute growth that has been done already) but with proper treatment, it can be prevented before doing any more harm to your tortoise.

How to prevent pyramiding in tortoises?

The best way to prevent tortoise shell pyramiding is by providing them with proper food and sunlight. A diet rich in fiber, calcium, and vitamin D is necessary for tortoises to maintain a healthy shell.

If you live in an area with limited sunlight, you can provide your tortoise with a UVB light source to help them absorb the necessary vitamins. Additionally, proper hydration is important for tortoises as it helps with their shell growth. Offer your tortoise a shallow dish of water daily and mist their enclosure regularly to create a humid environment. You can also give them a substrate that retains moisture like coco fiber substrate to help with hydration.

Below is our recommended substrates that you can buy for your tortoise:

Image Product Price Purchase Link
Zoo Med Eco Earth Coconut Fiber Substrate $30.99 Buy on Amazon
Reptile Bark Fir Bedding $26.59 Buy on Amazon

By following these simple husbandry tips, you can help prevent tortoise shell pyramiding and other health issues.


Poor husbandry is the main cause behind shell pyramiding in tortoises. Pyramiding is not necessarily fatal to the tortoise, but it can cause changes around the spinal cord that may lead to organ failure or paralysis. If you suspect your tortoise has shell pyramiding, take it to a veterinarian for treatment as soon as possible.