Problems Laying Eggs (Dystocia) in Box Turtles


Eastern Box Turtle covering eggs she laid in a hole

Make sure your female box turtle has some place to dig a hole and deposit eggs. This can help avoid egg binding (dystocia).
Photo “Eastern Box Turtle 8681” by Jarek TuszynskiLicensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In nature, female box turtles usually lay eggs in late Spring or early Summer, between May and July.

Pet turtles don’t necessarily lay eggs every year, or at all. But if you have a female boxie, don’t assume she isn’t carrying eggs just because she hasn’t laid any.

And don’t assume she can’t have eggs just because she hasn’t been near a male. They can store sperm and lay fertile eggs for up to four years. They can also lay infertile eggs at any time.

If your female box turtle is acting strangely, she could be having trouble laying her eggs. This is called egg binding or, more formally, dystocia.

Dystocia is fairly common in reptiles and there are many reasons it can happen. Causes range from a poor habitat environment to a physical problem with her reproductive tract.

Dystocia is life-threatening and must be treated!

Causes of Dystocia

A common cause of egg binding in pet box turtles is not having a good spot to lay the eggs. She may simply try to hold onto the eggs until she can find a suitable spot.

But she obviously won’t find a good spot if you don’t give her one. So if you have a female, it’s important to make sure she has several inches (at least 8) of a soft, loose substrate she can dig into and lay her eggs if she develops any.

Other reasons for egg binding can include:

  • She’s sick or weak (she may not be strong enough to lay the eggs—it’s a lot of work!)
  • Dehydration (this can make it hard to pass the eggs)
  • Hormone deficiencies
  • Eggs are too big to pass through the cloaca
  • One or more eggs are deformed
  • Cloaca is injured or blocked
  • Oviduct is blocked (often by a kink or twist)

If you notice any of these or other abnormal behaviors that continue for a week, bring your pet to a vet.

Treating Egg Binding

Egg binding is serious and potentially fatal. For the most part, you can’t treat it at home.

One exception may be if the problem is a lack of nesting site. In this case providing one might prompt her to lay. But don’t wait too long. It’s best to have a vet evaluate her in case there’s something else wrong.

The first thing your vet may do is take x-rays to see if she does have eggs, how many and their position.

If there are no obvious defects, the vet may recommend waiting up to 48 hours or so to see if she’ll lay on her own. If it’s clear she can’t, there are a few things the vet may try, depending on the situation:

  • Use a needle to remove the contents of the egg, making it smaller and easier to pass
  • Cut through the plastron and remove the eggs
  • Use injections of oxytocin (or sometimes other hormones) to cause contractions to push the eggs out. This is similar to inducing labor in a woman. But you have to be careful that the contractions don’t crush the eggs instead. Deformed eggs may not be able to be removed this way.

Box turtle eating strawberryIf an egg breaks inside her, it can cause an infection. If this infection is not treated quickly, it can be fatal.

So remember, dystocia is a serious health issue and is not a fix-it-yourself kind of problem. It needs a vet’s attention.


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