We are open and COVID-19 SECURE. Click here to find out more

Chelonians

Expert advice on how to take care of your tortoise

Chelonians

Tortoises make very interesting and rewarding pets to keep, but having them as pets should not be undertaken lightly, and you should carry out lots of research before getting one.

The majority of the problems that we see with tortoises are due to misinformation or incorrect husbandry. These generally could have been avoided if the owner had been better equipped or informed. The following notes are some basic information that mainly applies to the Horsefields tortoise and the Mediterranean species.

Tortoises can make very interesting pets, but special attention needs to be made to their environment and diet to ensure that they are kept happy and healthy. We recommend before giving a home to a tortoise that you research the care needed. This will help you decide if this is correct pet for your lifestyle.

Housing

It is important to ensure that your tortoise has adequate housing and space to move around and exercise.

Outdoor housing

Outdoor housing needs to protect your tortoise from predators such as rats, foxes and dogs. Your garden also needs to be secure so that they cannot escape, and to prevent your tortoise from burrowing or climbing out of their enclosure.

They need to be kept on dry, well drained substrate as this will help to prevent shell problems and respiratory infections.

They will require shelter from the rain and extremes of weather.

Their enclosure should be of a sufficient size to permit normal behaviour and will also require a range "micro" habitats such as rocks, plants to provide shade and a good selection of edible vegetation (make sure that any toxic plants are kept from the enclosure).

Tortoises like to create burrows and scrapes, preferring a "contoured" surface than a flat surface, as they use this for thermoregulation when basking. 

Enclosures can be constructed of a variety of materials such as brick, stone or treated timbers.

Indoor housing

It is important to ensure that your tortoise has adequate housing and space to move around and exercise.

Vivarium

It has been shown that tortoises kept in glass vivarium type housing often display high levels of stress, are frequently lethargic and are likely to have higher rates of respiratory, and developmental problems, especially in juveniles, than those housed in well ventilated and spacious accommodation.

A tortoise table is recommended rather than a glass vivarium as they require much more space than most reptiles, allowing them to exercise, reducing the risk of respiratory problems and poor bone development.

Tortoises do not respond well to inadequate housing with poor ventilation and temperature control will result in health problems for your tortoise.

Tortoise Table

Some people have used old wardrobes laid on their backs as successful tortoise habitats. 

Artificial light and heat

All tortoise are dependent on UV-B to make their own vitamin D3. When housed out of doors they will get UV-B rays from basking in the sun, but if your tortoise is housed indoors then you will need to ensure that they have an adequate source of heat and light.

In recent years a new type of lamp has been introduced. This is a self-ballasted UV heat lamp. They have the major advantage of offering high outputs for extended periods and provide a high quality of visible spectrum light, UV-A , UV-B and basking heat all in one source. This kind of lamp will meet all of their needs for illumination and for basking heat.

It is important that a temperature gradient is provided in the enclosure providing a "hot spot" where the tortoise can bask and a cooler area. Tortoises are not active all the time and will often move to a cooler area after feeding.

Make sure that the tortoise cannot fall onto their backs directly under the lamp as this can lead to fatal overheating especially in juveniles.

Diet

Tortoises should be fed as naturally as possible and young tortoises only to be fed every other day.

Tortoises in the wild roam over a large area, picking at bits of food along the way. In captivity they are often given large amounts of lush food which they do not have to go far to eat. This can result in them growing too fast and the shell becoming "pyramided". Tortoises should be fed as naturally as possible and young tortoises only to be fed every other day so that they grow slowly so that the shell does not become deformed.

Diets based on lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber is not ideal and feeding of dry concentrated diets can be disastrous resulting in shell deformities.

The ideal diet would be a good variety of leafy vegetation and flowers with a calcium supplement but be careful that you avoid plants that are poisonous to them.

Hibernation

Too long a period of hibernation can result in kidney or liver damage. Only tortoises that are fully fit and well should be hibernated. If they are underweight or have any health problems they should be kept awake and fed all winter.

We recommend that you seek advice from the Tortoise Trust or other reputable organisations which have extensive information on tortoise care, diet and hibernation before you take on the responsibility for caring for a tortoise.