Reptile owners frequently wonder about the "white powder" that is excreted by their pets. The material is uric acid and its salts (urates). Be assured that it is normal for tortoises to pass it.
Tortoise urine contains uric acid crystals. The uric acid builds up and is eliminated periodically. If it is white or off-white and "cheesy", it is normal. If it is pink or gray and smelly, it could mean a bacterial infection and medical attention is needed. Medication itself can temporarily change the color of the solids in urine to a "yucky" brown.
Uric acid is the end product of protein metabolism. It is cleared from the blood by the kidney into the bladder. Uric acid and urates are relatively insoluble and crystallize into small chunks that are passed with the urine. The amount of urate present in urine varies depending on diet and water intake. Urates are usually white to light yellow in color.
On rare occasions, abnormalities may develop where urate crystals deposit in soft tissues forming the disease known as gout. Another disease is cystic calculi or "bladder stones". These calculi are made up of uric acid salts similar to those that are normally excreted in the urine. In this case the urates build up to form a large solid mass in the bladder. Desert tortoises appear to have a high incidence of calculi. While the exact cause is not known, improper nutrition and limited access to water have both been implicated.
Remember to provide water for them regularly.
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Discussions about land turtles. (Box turtles, etc.)
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