When you get your first tortoise there, quirky caricatures can become infectious and make you want more than one. While there is nothing wrong with owning more than one tortoise, we need to be careful of there are pitfalls.
One of the most common questions I am asked and see throughout the tortoise community is, “can different species of a tortoise being kept together.” While two of the same species can be kept together, there are some caveats to that other species being kept together is a whole new ball game.
No, you should not keep two different species of tortoise together. Tortoise dispute their gentle nature are territorial and will fight fiercely with other species. The next problem you would have with keeping different species is cross-contamination of disease that could kill the other species.
That is a quick and short answer, and I feel that something so crucial needs a lot more explaining. We jump right into why it’s such a bad idea and why you shouldn’t be keeping different species together. However, it is not all doom and gloom as we offer you ways so you can house other species safely.
Can Different Species of Tortoise be Kept Together?
Tortoises are cute animals with a lot of followers. Anyone looking to get into tortoise keeping might get the idea that it would be fun to keep many different tortoise species together in the same habitat. No matter how fun that might sound, it might not be a great idea to keep other tortoise species together.
The answer as to whether different tortoise species should be kept together is: no. But there are ways to keep multiple tortoise species together safely; you just have to do it the right way. In this guide, we will briefly discuss why it is a bad idea to mix tortoise species and what you can do to safely keep multiple tortoise populations in your home at the same time.
Reasons why you should Not Keep Different Species Together
The most significant danger to keeping multiple species of tortoise together in the same enclosure is cross-contamination.
Reptiles carry many different kinds of pathogens, including parasites, which can be extremely dangerous to other reptiles that are not immune.
By mixing different tortoise species together in the same enclosure, you run the risk of spreading a parasite from one species to the other. While one species might tolerate a particular parasite just fine, the other might get sick from the exposure and even die.
One of the most dangerous parasites that can put your tortoises at risk is coccidia. Coccidia is found in many animal species and even in many tortoise species, but some tortoise species will have a severe reaction to contracting coccidia. The risk of infecting a new population with the parasite is one good reason not to keep different tortoise species together in the same habitat.
Keeping Multiple Tortoises of the Same Species
That is not to say you cannot own more than one species of a tortoise at the same time, only that they should not be kept together in the same environment.
You can easily keep multiple species of tortoise and other reptiles as well, as long as you have them adequately separated.
Setting up proper habitats that can keep multiple families of tortoises in the same household is possible as long as you follow some simple steps to ensure that cross-contamination is unlikely.
How to Safely Keep Different Species of Tortoise
First, keep each tortoise population in their own separate enclosure. Do not keep them in the same enclosure, even if you have a barrier between them.
Disease like to spread through respiratory droplets and animal waste, which will sink into the sand or soil. Ensure that each tortoise population has its own food, water, and soil that the other tortoises do not touch in the home.
Keeping different species of tortoise involves a little more planning but can be done. The best tip I can offer is to set up a rotor system to prevent cross contamination.
The easiest way to prevent cross-contamination is to keep the tortoise populations utterly separate at all times. However, common sense will be your biggest tool that you have to hand on stopping cross-contamination.
Airborne cross-contamination is not the most significant issue you will face; however, keeping your tortoise in a well-ventilated area is a best practice, even more so if you are maintaining multiply species in the same place.
Do not let them share food, water, or soil. That is the easiest way to spread issues from one population to another. Enclosures can be kept near one another as long as there is no way for the tortoises to somehow come in contact.
Do not take old soil or food, or water from one enclosure and use it in another. If you handle on tortoise population with your bare hands, make sure to wash your hands before handling another population thoroughly.
If you need to have the tortoises share a common area for whatever reason, or if a tortoise escapes, clean the affected area thoroughly with a powerful cleaner or bleach to try and kill any contaminants that could have been left behind.
Signs of Cross Contamination
If you are worried that cross-contamination might have already happened in your tortoise population, do not panic. There are signs to look out for to see if your animals are sick or not and if they need veterinary care. The two most common types of contamination in tortoises, especially cross-contamination, are respiratory infection and parasitic infection.
We already briefly touched on the dangers of spreading coccidia between reptile populations, but other similar parasites will have similar risks. Also, respiratory illnesses are highly contagious and can run through an unprepared population very quickly.
You might be surprised to learn that most animals display signs of respiratory infection in a similar manner.
Sneezing, coughing, and runny eyes and noses are common signs that your tortoise might have a respiratory infection. You can also keep an eye out for signs of lethargy, changes in diet or mood, as well as trouble breathing.
If you see any of these signs that persist for more than a day, it might be time to consult your veterinarian about the health of your tortoise.
Respiratory infections can either be viral or bacterial. Viral infections generally go away on their own with little treatment, but bacterial infections can linger longer if left untreated. A bacterial infection will be treated with antibiotics that you will receive from the veterinarian.
Signs of a parasitic infection, including coccidia, include diarrhea and loss of appetite. Diarrhea can be very dangerous for any animal but especially tortoises.
If you see signs of diarrhea, you should contact your veterinarian right away. There is a massive list of possible parasites out there, and not every parasite is going to have similar symptoms or even show symptoms at all.
A loss of appetite can also be a sign of parasitic infections along with a loss of weight, and the reason I advise you to keep an eye on your tortoise weight. I have a full guide on How Much Should My Tortoise Weigh? To help monitor this situation.
Still, the most telling sign of a dangerous parasitic infection is diarrhea.
Now that we know the dangers of keeping tortoises together if they are not of the same species, you can work to creating a safer environment for your potential tortoise populations going forward.
When in doubt, remember, never mix tortoise populations, be diligent, always wash your hands and clean any shared spaces that the animals might come in contact with.
Do not allow different populations to share soil, sand, water, or food. If you follow these things, then the risk of a cross-contamination event is very small.
While it is possible for many home tortoise keepers, it will be hard to stop cross-contamination. So avoiding having multiple species would be a best practice unless you have ample space to keep them separated.