Having a pet tortoise is a good idea for those who want to have a low-maintenance pet. Tortoises don’t need to be walked like dogs, won’t ruin your furniture like cats, and won’t scare children as much as exotic pets as snakes do. However, it is still important to know how to take care of a tortoise to keep them healthy and happy.
Though you can easily find a tortoise in a pet store, this animal has roamed the planet for over 55 million years! Aside from that, tortoises have some of the longest lifespans in the world. With proper tortoise care, you can keep this little friend forever!
8 Pro Tips on How to Take Care of a Tortoise
Wild tortoises thrive naturally in their own habitat because they have to. On the other hand, a pet tortoise should be taken care of so that it can live a long and healthy life despite the restrictions of living in an enclosed space.
Here are some important tips on how to take care of a tortoise. These guidelines will help you understand your pet’s needs and give the right tortoise care.
Tortoises prefer when they are grouped together according to gender. Male tortoises should be together, and a female should be with other female tortoises.
The size of the enclosure depends on the age and size of the pet tortoise you have. A reptile tank is okay for a small tortoise. A baby tortoise can live in a 10–20-gallon tank pleasantly. Adult and large tortoise species need ample space to move around. This space must be at least 50 gallons in volume. An indoor tortoise enclosure must be kept well-ventilated with proper lighting. A lid with a screen should also be installed to prevent the tortoise from getting out.
The main consideration when setting up an outdoor enclosure is protection from predators and other animals. The size of an external enclosure must be at least three times the length of a tortoise shell and 4 times the width. The size also matters depending on the tortoise species you have.
Some large species need additional space for enclosure size. A 10 x 10 ft outdoor enclosure works best for a sulcate tortoise. A 6 x 3 ft enclosure for a desert tortoise, 8 x 4 ft for a red foot tortoise, and a 10 x 8 ft for a leopard tortoise, for example.
Captive tortoises living indoors must be exposed to a lot of light since they love natural sun. They are also most active during the day when they can bask themselves in sunlight. If possible, put the indoor enclosure in an area where it can get natural sunlight so that the tortoise can get enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D is helpful in calcium absorption. Calcium is required to maintain bone and muscle health. It is also beneficial to promote a stronger shell. Calcium and other vitamins and minerals give you a healthy tortoise.
If natural sun is not achievable, install a lamp that mimics UV light and keep it on for about 12 hours a day. The UV light must cover most of the enclosure space, as opposed to heat that should only focus on one spot.
A pet tortoise thrives best in a climate similar to its natural habitat in warm countries. It is recommended you keep the habitat toasty and damp.
The climate conditions also depend on the species you have since all tortoise species have varying preferences. A Russian tortoise, for example, prefers about 50% humidity with warmer and drier surroundings. Meanwhile, a Greek tortoise prefers a slightly cooler and wetter area with around 80% humidity.
A good terrarium provides the tortoise with different climates. Maintain a warm temperature on one side with a heat bulb while keeping the other side cool. Keep track of the temperatures for both sides by placing a thermometer at each end of the enclosure.
Generally, the optimal range ideal for an enclosure is 70⁰F to 90⁰F (21⁰C to 32⁰C). However, each tortoise specie has its own preferred temperature range. Temperature preferences also differ during the day and at night.
Identifying the specie of your pet tortoise is the first step in giving it the proper care it needs. You must know your tortoise to give it the appropriate living habitat and suitable care intended for its specific specie.
Tropical tortoises such as red foot tortoises and Indian star tortoises, for example, do not hibernate. Thus, they need more care during the winter season. A red foot tortoise can still adapt to slightly lower temperatures. But an Indian star tortoise may become sick after exposure to low temperature and high humidity.
Diet and Hydration
The kind of diet your pet tortoise eats largely depends on its species. Again, all tortoise species have varying requirements. Knowing how to care for a tortoise must be based on its species.
Before purchasing a tortoise from a pet store, ask where the tortoise came from. Though most tortoises eat a mixture of leafy greens, it is better to inquire about their diet and what foods you can give them.
Baby tortoises have tiny jaws. They might find it hard to break down hard foods. That is why it is better to give them soft and crisp foods. Since the diet is one of the main sources of nutrients, go for foods that give them ample amounts of calcium and Vitamins A and D3. If not, provide these nutrients from supplements instead.
Hydration is very important in tortoise care too. The water should be accessible to the tortoise. Putting water in a shallow tray is ideal because it’ll be easy for the tortoise to stand in it and drink without fully submerging its body.
You must ensure the water tray is secured to the floor and won’t flip over. Replace the water daily and clean the tray regularly to prevent algae and waste from building up.
Accessories and Decorations
What’s a terrarium without decorations? When decorating, go for practicality and mimic the tortoise’s natural habitat as much as possible. For example, placing a fine flat rock for basking in the warm area and a big branch for shelter in the cool area is a good idea.
If you want to decorate the tank with plants and sticks, you may do so. Just keep in mind to have edible vegetation rather than faux ones. Do not place anything steep to prevent any slip and fall accidents.
Getting the ideal substrate is also a must. It should be absorbent but not overly moist. As a tortoise owner, you must get a substrate that works well for your specific tortoise species.
Handling the pet tortoise requires gentle care. Tortoises do not like to be carried around. Only move them from one place to another if it is truly necessary. Otherwise, leave them in their terrarium.
Dropping a tortoise can cause a lot of stress for the creature. It may also result in shell breakage, which is a cause of concern and may result in death. Keep little children from touching a tortoise, and explain how fragile the pet is.
Tortoises like to be pet. Give them scratches during feeding time or whenever you can. This will help establish rapport with your pet tortoise and develop trust.
Shell Care and Grooming
Caring for a tortoise shell mainly revolves around the diet you give to it. Adequate calcium is a must to ensure that the shell is healthy and strong. You must also perform regular checks for cracks and other injuries. If you see a shell problem, always seek veterinary help for proper assessment and treatment.
Tortoises do not necessarily need baths unless they have become really dirty. Tortoises cannot swim like most turtles. Do not submerge them in the water. Do not fill the tub with water close to the head level. When giving a tortoise bath, ensure the water temperature is ideal for them, usually between 85⁰F to 95⁰F.
Preventive Care For Tortoises
Understanding how to take care of a tortoise will ensure the longevity of your pet. Some common medical conditions warrant veterinary interventions, such as upper respiratory tract diseases, pneumonia, parasites, burns from heat lamps, and even trauma from poor handling or predators.
To ensure that your pet tortoise remains as healthy as possible, doing preventive care helps.
- Doing blood tests as per the veterinarian’s recommendation
- Yearly annual fecal exam
- Regular physical examination once or twice a year
- Vet consultation with someone who has experience in tortoise’s health and condition
- Providing proper habitat and care
- Gentle and safe handling