Caring for a pet requires a lot of research to give them the care they need, whether that’s a dog or tortoise in this case. However, one thing I often see people overlook is the cost of keeping a tortoise. You can learn all you want about a tortoise’s needs, but if you can’t afford a tortoise’s upkeep, then I’m afraid you should not own one.
The average setup cost, including buying a tortoise, will be between $275 and $545. And the ongoing monthly costs of keeping a tortoise will be between $40 and $60. Food, substrate, and lighting will be your highest ongoing cost when keeping a tortoise.
There are many costs involved in keeping a tortoise ongoing, and there are one-off costs. Below we break each one down with some tips on cutting costs to access the buying decision better.
One-off Tortoise Costs
Keeping a tortoise just like any other animal will require you to have a higher one-off cost than ongoing costs. Below we take a look at all the one-off costs you are likely to have when you buy your tortoise.
There are extras along the way that you can purchase that are not necessary but just treats. However, below we have put together all the items you must buy to give your tortoise the best life.
Buying a Tortoise
For instance, a tortoise is relatively cheap compared to a dog and can cost you as little as $50. The general rule for pricing tortoises is the older they are, the more expensive they will be. Not forgetting the more exotic the tortoise is, the more you will likely pay something common like the Russian tortoise will be much cheaper than a cherry head.
Most will likely buy a tortoise when they are young, but you want it to be over six months to make sure it is healthy. Purchasing before the 6-month mark and you may face problems as any illness will not have yet manifested.
In most instances, you are looking at around $50-$150 outlay on your tortoise.
Tortoise Enclosure Costs
After choosing your tortoise, you will want to offer your tortoise the best enclosure possible. You can get specifically designed tortoise tables from many places online and in pet stores. The price will vary based on the size of the enclosure ranging from $50 to $200.
Suppose you are someone who is pretty handy with tools; you can find many places showing you how to DIY your own tortoise table. The extra benefit of making your own table would be that you can customize the size to better suit your home. Not forgetting, doing a DIY tortoise table will be significantly cheaper than a store-bought table.
Don’t forget that you should base the size on your tortoise needs and don’t make it smaller to fit your home better. A tortoise table that is too small can have a dramatic effect on your tortoise’s health.
If you plan on letting your tortoise have outside time, you will want an outdoor enclosure. Some will only provide a hide as their weather doesn’t require a big enclosure. So the price you will spend on the outside enclosure will vary widely.
$50 to £100 should cover you for an outside enclosure, and this will come later in your tortoise life as hatchling should be kept indoors.
Thinking ahead will save you money regarding tortoise tables, so many will buy a small table for hatchling tortoises. However, your tortoise is going to grow and outgrow small tables. Getting a tortoise table that will suit a full-grown tortoise will save you money as you will only have to buy one table, not two.
With outdoor enclosures, you would need to put aside $100-$300 for enclosures.
Tortoise Heating & Lighting
Tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles which means they can’t produce their own body heat and need to bask to get warm and take on UV from the Sun. We often keep tortoise inside, and our climate outside doesn’t always match the tortoise needs as they can be vastly different from the natural tortoise habitat.
All this means we need to provide our tortoise with heating and UV lighting to replace what they would naturally get from the Sun. Without giving our tortoise the heat and UV from bulbs, your tortoise will slowly fall ill.
There are different ways to set up a tortoise lighting system which can lead to confusion. As this is about cost, we have a complete guide on tortoise lighting setup separately to break down the confusion.
Lighting setup one – A different bulb to offer your tortoise heat and a bulb to give the needed UV. Some prefer this setup as you can control your tortoise needs much better.
Housing $40, Heat lamp $15, UV light $30, so a total of around $85 for a separate lighting system.
Lighting setup two – Now, it was once believed that there was only one way to setup tortoise lighting until Mercury Vapour Bulbs became a thing. A Mercury Vapour bulb offers both the heat and needed UV lighting that a tortoise need. You will have less control, but many are choosing this route down the ease of setup.
Housing $35, Mercury Vapour Bulbs $40, so around $75 for a single tortoise lighting setup.
The larger the enclosure, the larger the basking area you will need to offer your tortoise. If you have more than one tortoise again, the basking area will need to be bigger, so the cost will increase.
Each setup has its merits and downfalls, and I suggest you read our getting tortoise lighting setup correctly to pinpoint the perfect arrangement for you.
Things inside Tortoise enclosure
Your tortoise enclosure is not finished with just the substrate. A tortoise needs a little more than just that in their enclosure to keep them happy and content with their new home.
Tortoise hide – your tortoise, will want somewhere to hide away, and no enclosure will be complete without a hide. Some will skip a hide as some tortoise table come with a built-in hide, but you want a separate one within the enclosure.
A tortoise hide will cost around $10-$15; however, I have seen people make hides out of old ice cream cartons by cutting out one end to allow your tortoise in and out.
Your tortoise will need fresh water in their enclosure all the time for a drink and somewhere to cool down. You want a shallow dish. I have seen people use plates. These are easy to tip up and just not worth using if you wish to know my option.
One designed for a tortoise would be best, and at around £10-$15, they are not going to break the bank.
You will also want other objects in the enclosure to keep your tortoise entertained within their enclosure. Things like logs and small rocks for your tortoise to climb and small grasses for hiding can come free.
If you get your rocks and logs free, then around $20-$30 will be plenty to fill our tortoise enclosure with the items needed.
Offering your tortoise as much outside time is always recommended, but not everyone’s yard is ideal. Tortoises are excellent escape artists and love to dig, and finding a tortoise once it escapes is not easy.
If you have an insecure perimeter, you will want a tortoise run that will keep your tortoise inside and unable to escape. Also, baby tortoises are easy picking for large birds, so if you’re going to keep them safe, a tortoise run is a must.
You can build your own tortoise run out of some chicken wire and timber frame to save money.
The cost of a tortoise run from retailers will cost around $30.
Ongoing Tortoise Costs
Tortoises are like any other animal in that they require ongoing costs to keep them healthy. Below we cover all the ongoing costs you will have with a tortoise with some little tips on saving you money along the way.
When you come to buy a tortoise, I feel one-off costs are easy to calculate and work out. However, it can be a little to know what to expect when it comes to ongoing costs. Some of the things below may come as a surprise, and others will be obvious.
Tortoise Heating & Lighting Again?
Right, I know what you are thinking; we have already covered lighting. Well, yes, you are right. However, I come to discover that your lighting is not going to last.
You will not need to buy new housing; this will be good for years, but your bulbs will not last you for years.
I first discovered that you need to renew the lighting when I struggled to keep my enclosures temperature at the correct temperature. Talking to friends within the tortoise community, I discovered bulbs don’t last all that long.
Once I renewed my bulb, I had no problem getting the correct temperature within the enclosure.
On average, I need to buy a new bulb every six months; your bulb will blow at times. You are using these bulbs for around 12 hours a day every day, so it’s to be expected. However, it is not something I was aware of when I first got my tortoise.
The cost will depend on the lighting system you choose but around $80-$90 per year on lighting. Going the single bulb route will often have you buying a ceramic heat bulb. This can last a little longer, but work on a 6-month basis can better prepare you for the costs.
How Much Electricity Does a Tortoise Use?
Often overlooked is the power we will need lighting to keep our tortoise healthy, and you will need to have the lighting on for around 12 hours per day.
As with everything with tortoise lighting, it all depends on the type of lighting you choose. With most people choosing the easy option of a Mercury Vapour bulb, we will use this for our example.
I will assume you have a 60 watt Mercury Vapour bulb on for 12 hours per day.
To calculate the electricity used, you will use the following calculations; it seems a little more complicated than it is.
Part 1 Calculation
The first part is to work out the watt-hours used with the following calculation.
Power used X Time = Watt hours (WHrs)
So, for our 60 watt Mercury Vapour bulb, 60 x 12 = 720WHrs
Part 2 Calculation
On our electricity bill, we are charged kilowatt-hours and to turn our WHrs into kWh is simple with the following calculation:
WHrs / 1000 = kWh
Our 60 watts Mercury Vapour bulb using 720WHrs would be as followed 720WHrs / 1000 = 0.72 per day.
Part 3 Calculation
Calculating the kWh that you use over the year will allow us to work out the overall yearly cost finally.
kWh x 365 = kWh per year
So, for our example 0.72 x 365 = 262.80kWh per year
Part 4 Calculation
I know more calculations, but this one will finally give us the total cost of using a Mercury Vapour bulb over a year.
The average cost of electricity is 13.19 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in the USA. so the calculation will be as followed:
kWh per year x 13.19 cents = Yearly cost
So our calculation would be 262.80 x 0.1319 = $34.66
A 60watts Mercury Vapour bulb will cost $34.66 per year to run using the USA’s average electricity cost or $2.89 a month.
Tortoise Food Cost
One of the most significant ongoing expenses with tortoises will be their food, but a tortoise food bill will be cheaper than other animals.
The food cost will slowly creep up as your tortoise grows, but the food cost will be consistent once fully developed. If you can keep your tortoise outside within an area that offers plenty of natural food, your food bill will be much cheaper. You can even grow weeds and other types of foods for your tortoise in pots to lower the food bill.
The type of food that you give your tortoise will differ on the species you are keeping. Also, if you are offering your tortoise artificial food, the bill will be much more expensive. Adding supplements to your tortoise’s diet is standard practice, and this will add more expense.
The monthly tortoise food cost will be on average $25 to $35.
Tortoise substrate will be one item after food that you will buy more often than most other things. The substrate is an essential element of your tortoise’s enclosure and can vary widely from sterilized topsoil to straw or hay.
Choosing substrate is a considerable debate within the tortoise communities, and this section is not to debate it, just to estimate the cost.
Tortoise substrate will also be dictated by your tortoise’s needs, as getting the right one for your tortoise can dramatically help your setup. If your tortoise requires an environment with higher humidity, then a soil base substrate can help active the correct conditions.
A significant impact on how much you pay for substrate will be based on your choice. Some people make their own soil substrate or get straw from a local farm, making it free or very cheap.
$5 to $15 per month should easily cover your tortoise’s substrate. So a yearly cost of around $60-$10.
Veterinary Tortoise Clinic Fees
Tortoises are well known for being hardy reptiles; however, that doesn’t mean they never need to visit a vet. Getting your tortoise checked out once per year is good practice, and your vet should be able to see any early warning signs of illness.
I take my tortoise once per year as a yearly checkup, which cost me $120 and asking.
Tortoise Pet Insurance
I don’t take out tortoise pet insurance, and I know some will say this is unreasonable due to how high the fees can be if your tortoise ever does become ill.
I have owned my tortoise for nearly 15 years and have never had to pay anything significant out. However, this is a personal judgment you will need to make. Some vet bills can run into the thousands of dollars, so it is worth thinking about.
I conclude that tortoises are hardy. I will offer my tortoise the best possible care. Touching wood, he will only ever need minor vet care that will not cost much, so I skipped the insurance. Maybe I need to do a whole post looking if I should get pet insurance or not.
After researching pet insurance, the price ranges around $200 per year.
While tortoises seem like a good bet from the outside, there are many hidden costs that you may not have given much thought to.
I hope my article helps you see the actual costs of owning a tortoise and the little hidden expenses you may not have even known about.
Keeping a tortoise is so much fun; they are intelligent little caricatures. Learning how to correctly care for them and know how much they will cost go hand in hand for keeping them healthy.