Guide to Owning a Pet Tortoise

A tortoise makes for an extremely interesting pet. Not only are they affectionate and full of character but looking after a tortoise is far more straight forward than more common pets such as dogs – no walks or grooming required!

If you are still deciding on if a tortoise is the right pet for you, it can be helpful to explore how to care for a tortoise and the impact such a pet would have on your life. There is one huge consideration which must not be overlooked – a tortoise is likely to outlive you! The average lifespan of a tortoise is between 50 to 100 years, this means you are essentially signing up to a lifetime of care and would need to put plans in place if you pass away before your pet does.

Pet Tortoise Types

There are many breeds of captive bred pet tortoise and it is important to choose the right species based on how you can meet their specific needs.

Different species can vary considerably in size, nutritional requirements, environmental conditions such as light and temperature and some tortoise species hibernate.

Popular tortoise breeds kept as pets in the UK include – red-footed tortoise, yellow-footed tortoise, spur-thighed tortoise, Hermann’s tortoise, Indian Star tortoise and Leopard tortoise.

Be sure to do thorough research and establish the adult size, as it is not uncommon for people to unknowingly purchase a baby tortoise which they think will remain that size.

Tortoise as Pets

Generally, tortoise have docile characters and are happy to roam and investigate with curiosity. They aren’t the type of pet that you will handle as its just not practical or an enjoyable experience for this shy creature.

Tortoise are easily stressed when their environmental needs are not being met – although, this is the case for most, if not all, pets! Therefore, its imperative to choose the breed which best suits your lifestyle. If you’d like an outside tortoise, you will have to choose a breed which can withstand colder temperatures. Some species have to be kept in very specific conditions – large indoor enclosures with heat and high humidity.

Housing Requirements

In order to keep your pet tortoise health and happy, you will need to meet their specific environmental needs. Each species originates from a particular climate and environment which will need to be mimicked in the enclosure you provide – heat, humidity, substrate, accessories etc.

Some breeds come from warm and dry environments, whereas others originate from tropical, humid regions. As such, you will need to research the needs of your chosen breed and try to match it as closely as possible. You will also need to provide the recommended size enclosure based on the breed requirements and allow them to time out for additional regular exercise and stimulation.

Although tortoise don’t swim, they do enjoy a bathing and a little paddle from time to time, so be sure to provide a shallow tray of water for them to exhibit this natural behaviour. However, if they require a more arid environmental, avoid putting water sources near heaters to keep humidity levels down. Alternatively, you can provide a regular bathing opportunity, outside of the enclosure.

All tortoise love to bask and this can be achieved with a heat lamp or letting them outside in the summer months. All tortoise kept indoors will need a least 5% UVA/UVB lighting.

Enclosures should include suitable bedding such as hay and a shelter or hide at the cool end of the enclosure. Provide suitable enrichment such as logs, mounds, plants and anything else which will make the environment similar to what their wild cousins would live in to enable them to exhibit their instinctual behaviours.

Tortoise Nutrition

What you feed your tortoise will depend on which breed you have chosen. Some species are omnivorous whereas others are herbivorous.

Breeds which require an herbivorous diet should be fed daily with leafy greens, vegetables and hay with the occasional amount of fruit. Omnivorous tortoise species include red-footed and yellow-footed tortoises and they require a mix of greens, other vegetables and small amounts of protein.

It is important to provide variety and most breeder and experts will recommend dusting with nutritional supplements to ensure the tortoise’s nutrition are being met.

Young and growing tortoises require specific dietary needs as insufficient nutrients can cause their shells to not develop properly, leading to deformities in the shell and other health problems. Therefore, you should always fully research and follow the dietary guidelines for the specific age and species you have chosen as your pet.

Additionally, as with all animals, you will need to supply fresh water daily in a shallow bowl.