There’s no denying the fact that spending time outdoors can be very beneficial for pet tortoises.
The ability to bask in natural sunlight, for example, can help to keep your pet fit and healthy on warm summer days. At the same time, having the space to dash around your lawn exploring and looking for food can be tremendously enriching.
Our gardens do, however, pose a distinct number of health risks for tortoises, and sadly many still die or escape each year needlessly. If you’re considering letting your tortoise out to explore in the sunshine this summer then take note of the following tips…
Provide Continual Shade
Tortoises may be heat-loving reptiles who love nothing more than basking in the sunshine, but even they have their limits. A tortoise with no way to escape the hottest part of the day can quickly die of overheating, as their shell provides minimal protection from heat.
Instead, it is critical that your pet tortoise has access to a cool and shady area at all times. In this manner, your tortoise can thermoregulate as they would in nature; seeking out warmer areas or retiring to the cool as they desire.
Shallow Water Dishes
Most reptiles are supremely designed to minimise water loss; it’s one of the key reasons for their tough, leathery skin. However just because tortoises can survive without water doesn’t mean they should have to.
Tortoises should have access to fresh, clean drinking water at all times – whether they’re indoors on a cold day or are sitting out in the August sunshine. Tortoises aren’t known for their swimming ability so aim to keep water dishes shallow to prevent drowning. Dishes that are low yet wide can be best, as they allow your pet to clamber into the water to drink or cool off if they so desire. Under such circumstances, however, be sure to check the water regularly to ensure it hasn’t been soiled.
We live in a world of chemicals. From corrosive cleaning supplies to weed killers, our houses and gardens are full of potentially-harmful substances. Tortoises, like most pets, can suffer if they come into contact with them.
When allowing your tortoise to spend time outdoors, therefore, be mindful of restricting them to areas that are chemical-free. A fresh patch of lawn, not treated with herbicides, can be an ideal base.
Protection from Predators
Tortoises may have shells, but these won’t protect them from all the potential predators to be found in your neighbourhood. Cats can still give your pet a good scratch, while dogs have been known to bite through tortoise shells. In some countries, it’s not impossible that a large bird of prey may try to make off with George.
The key, here, is protection. The old habit of allowing your tortoise to run feral around the garden may not be the safest option. Instead, consider the use of a pen – such as a large rabbit run. The tough wire mesh will allow the sun’s rays through, but keep potential predators safely on the other side.
Secure Your Garden
Tortoises might be slow, but they can be surprisingly adept escape artists. You might be surprised to learn, for example, that some tortoises can climb, while others can burrow under fences.
At the same time, let’s also not forget that tortoises can and do get stolen from people’s gardens each year. Often worth several hundred pounds each, tortoises can make a tempting target for thieves.
The final consideration, therefore, is ensuring that your tortoise can’t get out – while thieves can’t get in. In high risk areas consider only letting your tortoise out while you are at home to keep an eye on things. High fences, walls and hedges can also offer some protection, while lining the base of the run with mesh will stop your tortoise from burrowing out like a character in Escape from Colditz.
As is clear, great thought must be put into keeping your pet tortoise safe before it is allowed out into the garden. These shouldn’t, however, prevent you from doing so. With a little care and consideration your pet will be able to enjoy all the benefits of an outdoor lifestyle, but without you worrying about the potential risks inherent in such an exercise.
Whatever you decide, try to keep an eye on the weather. Tortoises shouldn’t be put outside when it is too cool; nor should they be left out in wet weather (which can give them respiratory problems). Instead, choose a nice day and give your tortoise a limited amount of time in the run, before bringing them indoors safely to rest through the night.