Tortoise Shell Pyramiding Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What Does Pyramiding Mean for Tortoises?

Pyramiding, further known as pyramidal growth syndrome (PGS), is a disease in which the scutes of tortoises rise during periods of active growth. Pyramiding in tortoises is uncommon in the wild, but it is common in tortoises living in captivity.

Tortoise Shell Pyramiding

Tortoise shell pyramiding results in your turtle’s shell warping at the top. It is important to spot symptoms early and treat it quickly.

This article will explore everything you need to know about pyramiding, including its causes, symptoms, and treatments. Continue reading to find out more!

How to Treat Pyramiding in Tortoises

Unfortunately, once pyramiding begins, there is no way to reverse the growth. The shell and the underlying bone structure have permanently formed in a specific way, just as they would permanently form in the correct way.

However, there are many things you can do to prevent the pyramiding from getting worse. Below are the 4 best things you can do.

  • Do not overfeed your turtle and make sure they get enough exercise.
light for tortoise
substrate for tortoise
  • Lastly, you need to maintain the proper humidity for your tortoise. This is only relevant if you have an indoor tortoise enclosure. If you think you need a humidifier, you should check out my article on the best tortoise humidifier.

Below is a summary of some other things you can do to help treat and prevent pyramiding in tortoises.

  • Provide the appropriate temperature gradient for your tortoise.
  • Promote physical activity and exercise.
  • Arrange a diet high in fiber, low in calories, and low in protein.
  • Provide all-day access to food rather than offering set meals.
  • Feed plants and greens with high calcium bioavailability, or supplement with calcium carbonate or calcium citrate.
  • Allow for natural sunlight.

Once the underlying causes of pyramiding are addressed, the problem will not worsen. Your tortoise will enjoy the same life quality as they would with a normally formed shell as long as it isn’t severe enough to interfere with movement or breathing.

Causes of Pyramiding in Tortoises

The main causes of pyramiding in tortoises is dry environment, small enclosure, inactivity, poor diet, lack of sunlight, and dehydrations.

Dry Environment

A dry environment is the main cause of pyramiding in tortoises. Maintaining optimal humidity levels can be difficult, especially since most tortoises are housed outside.

Tortoises may pyramid as they grow if they are not properly hydrated and humidified. For baby tortoises, humidity is critical. The humidity level should be around 80%. In the wild, most tortoises eggs hatch during the rainy season.

They may come out of the nest to graze and sunbathe, but they will retreat to a very humid burrow to stay safe. It is critical to keep your baby tortoise in a humid enclosure, especially while it is inside, to avoid pyramiding.

To maintain the proper humidity, you should check out the best tortoise humidifiers.

Small Enclosure

A tortoise may start pyramiding if the enclosure is too small. This is because it will not have enough room to move and walk around. Old age can also weaken a tortoise’s muscles and bones, predisposing the tortoise to abnormalities. Because the tortoiseshell is a skeleton component, it can deteriorate alongside weak bones.


Inactivity is another possible cause of shell pyramiding. This is common in tortoises kept indoors. Many have small enclosures that discourage exercise.

For this reason, it is important that your tortoises exercises everyday. If you want to encourage your tortoise to exercise more, you should look into tortoise toys.

Poor Diet

Poor diet was thought to be the sole cause of pyramiding in a tortoises. Overfeeding, too much protein, too much fat, and a calcium-phosphorus imbalance can all lead to pyramiding.

A variety of grasses and weeds are the key to a healthy diet. Tortoises require a diet high in fiber. Except for grass and hay, avoid feeding too much of any one item at a time. A tortoise should have a wide range of vegetables fed to them on a weekly basis.

A good option for a vegetable to feed your tortoise is brussel sprouts. If you want to give your tortoise a fruit, you can give them kiwi.

Lack of Sunlight

A healthy tortoise requires a lot of sunlight. Tortoises require direct sunlight and UVB rays to synthesize vitamin D3 for proper calcium absorption. Their shell can be damaged if they do not get enough vitamin D3.

If your tortoise cannot go outside for whatever reason, you must provide an indoor calcium supplement that includes vitamin D3.

Lack of sunlight is one of the main causes of Sulcata Tortoise Pyramiding. If you have a sulcata tortoise, I recommend that you keep them in an outdoor enclosure.


Most tortoises must be soaked in warm water to ensure adequate water intake. Water is essential for keeping a tortoise happy and healthy.

In addition to soaking, ensure there is always water available in the enclosure. You can learn more in my guide on how much water do tortoises need?

Symptoms of Pyramiding in Tortoises

Pyramiding deforms the shell and causes excessive upward growth of individual scutes. The excessive growth looks like a pyramid on the tortoise’s shell. Pyramiding isn’t always harmful; however, it appears unnatural and raises several health concerns.

A healthy tortoise shell should develop horizontally. When a tortoise lacks access to a proper diet or adequate housing, its natural shell growth shifts from horizontal to mostly vertical, resulting in a bumpy and unappealing tortoises shell. Vertical and rigid shell growth are early signs of pyramiding in tortoises.

The obvious pyramid-like deformation of the shell makes this problem easy to identify and diagnose.

The issue may sometimes be more serious than a lumpy shell. Shell deformities can impair normal lung function and make female tortoises unable to lay eggs. It can also cause the legs to become weak and move in unnatural ways, which can result in overgrown toenails and arthritis.

Because of changes around the spinal cord, pyramiding can sometimes cause paralysis. Pyramiding may also result in death at a young age.

Pyramiding symptoms can range from mild to severely disfiguring. The worse the pyramiding, the worse the tortoise’s mobility and overall health.


Tortoise pyramiding is not an easy problem to solve. It is a serious health issue that necessitates your prompt attention and care. It is recommended that owners address this issue as soon as they notice the first signs of pyramiding in their tortoises.

Hopefully, our advice will aid you in maintaining the overall health of your tortoise.  We encourage you to follow these tips so that your tortoise has a good chance of living a long and healthy life.