How to Take Care of a Tortoise at Home

How to Take Care of a Tortoise at Home

The tortoise is one of the oldest living reptiles on earth and has done an excellent job in surviving this ever-changing world. Tortoises make excellent pets, and while they are relatively easy to care for, you need the proper setup to make things go smoothly. 

When you get all the equipment you need and then learn about a tortoise’s needs, you will have a smooth ride over years of ownership. We aim to help guide you in getting the correct setup to handle your new tortoise. 

Things You’ll Need to Take Care of a Tortoise

  1. A large enclosure for roaming 
  2. Heat lamp as tortoise are cold-blooded reptiles
  3. UV lamp so the tortoise can absorb vital vitamins
  4. Water dish to keep their enclosure at the correct humidity
  5. Water dish that allows your tortoise to bath and drink
  6. A Hide for your tortoise to take shelter and sleep
  7. Substrate 
  8. Rocks to climb to keep your tortoise entertained
  9. A well-balanced diet
  10. Outdoor enclosure for as much outside time as possible

They are ten things that you will need to make caring for your tortoise go smoothly. Below we will cover these in a little more detail. Also, we look at some things that new owners of a tortoise need to know.

1. A large enclosure for roaming 

While many animals don’t have specific needs to where they live however tortoises are very much different from others, the enclosure you provide your tortoise has an enormous impact on their health and well-being. 

Tortoises have a reputation for being slow and sluggish reptiles, and that has little merit. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t need much room, as they certainly need the space. 

Each tortoise will have different needs in terms of the enclosure’s size, and of course, the larger the species, the larger the enclosure you will need. 

Hermann and Russian tortoises are two popular breeds as they stay relatively small, so your enclosure can be as little as 1150mm (46″) for an adult. 

Despite the reputation tortoises have that they don’t move around, you will want to offer your tortoise as much space as possible. A tortoise with too little room will soon become bored, leading to destructive behavior and even illness. 

2. Heat lamp as tortoise are cold-blooded reptiles

Tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles, and when the weather gets cold, the tortoise slows down and drops into hibernation. In the wild, this would only happen during the winter, but as you may not have the same climate, we need to replicate these conditions. 

A tortoise starts to shut down their system when they get cold in preparation for hibernation. While this is perfectly fine done at the wrong time or in unsuitable conditions, it can be deadly.

Also, when your tortoise starts to shut their system down, its immune system shuts down. If your tortoise keeps getting cold, they are very suspectable to respiratory conditions. 

A heat lamp will replicate the climate in your tortoise’s natural habitat and stop your tortoise system from shutting down. A lower temperature during the night is acceptable as they are built for this, but you need a heat lamp during the day. 

3. UV lamp so the tortoise can absorb vital vitamins

Along with the heat, tortoises need a UV lamp despite seeing so many people new to tortoise skipping. If you fail to offer your tortoise a UV light, you are setting up your tortoise for a short life filled with illness. 

The UV light allows your tortoise to take in vitamins through their skin and shell. The tortoise absorbs because of the UV lamp, and calcium is crucial for shell development and health. 

Not providing a UV lamp will lead to metabolic bone disease that will cause your excellent tortoise pain and eventual death. 

You can now get all-in-one bulbs that offer both heat and UV lighting, but many prefer to go a separate route. We have a complete guide on getting your lighting setup correctly

4. Water dish to keep their enclosure at the correct humidity

A water dish in the tortoise enclosure has more jobs than you may believe. One of the jobs the water dish can achieve for you is getting the humidity in the enclosure up to suitable levels. 

Some tortoises spieces need a high humidity level, and the warmth of lighting and the water dish can help bring that humidity up. 

If you find that you are struggling to get the humidity up with just the water dish, you can use a spray water bottle to help bring up the humidity. However, you will find that the water dish does a perfect job. 

5. Water dish that allows your tortoise to bath and drink

Often overlooked when caring for tortoises is hydration which is vital for the health of your tortoise. The reason I feel many people, whether new or more experienced with tortoises, is the fact we seldom see our tortoise drinking. 

Despite the fact, you may not see your tortoise drink all that much; your tortoise will drink when they feel they need it. However, beyond that, you will need to encourage your tortoise to take on the required water actively. 

You will require to bathe your tortoise at least twice weekly, which will encourage them to take on water. Also, the bathing ritual will allow your tortoise to release their bowels and urinate. 

You will want the water to be luck warm, encouraging the tortoise to empty their bowels and urinate. It is more important to soak juvenile tortoises as they particularly need more water intake. With that said, the older tortoises will benefit from water soaks, but you don’t need to partake in the process as much. 

6. A Hide for your tortoise to take shelter and sleep

Tortoises don’t like loud noises or busy areas, so they will seek shelter as they would in the wild. If your tortoise can not hide, then they will become stressed, which can lead to illness. 

Not only will your tortoise use a hide to get away from the noise, but they will also use it to take shelter from the heat. Also, your tortoise will sleep within their hide in most instances as they like to sleep in the dark. 

Most enclosures will come with a built-in hide which is excellent, but you will also want to add an extra hide within their enclosure. Allowing your tortoise to escape anything they are scared of quickly.

7. Substrate 

The substrate will cover the bottom of your tortoise’s enclosure, and you wouldn’t believe how hotly debated of a subject it is. 

The type of substrate you chose will largely depend on the species of tortoise you choose now; this may sound strange, but it’s all about the moisture content. 

Tortoises that require high moisture will need a substrate like peat that holds water making the humidity in the enclosure much greater. However, if you want to keep the humidity in the enclosure low, then a straw or coconut coir is much drier and holds less moisture. 

8. Rock to climb to keep your tortoise entertained

When you set up your tortoise’s enclosure, you want to add objects like rocks to stimulate your tortoise. If you don’t add anything within the enclosure, your tortoise can become very broad, leading to stress.

Adding glumps of grass and deeper substrate in places will allow your tortoise to carry out their instinct and burrow. 

You should also change the enclosure objects every couple of weeks to keep your tortoise’s mind active. 

9. A well-balanced diet

I always recommend that before you even get your tortoise, learn about the tortoise’s diet.  While a tortoise diet may seem simple, it is easy to get wrong.

There is a common misconception that a tortoise can live on lettuce, which is wrong and can cause your tortoise many problems. While tortoises are vegetarians in captivity, they require a wide variety of leafy greens that contain various minerals.

A big part of a tortoises diet can be purchased from the store; however, they will need other plants that are often found in the wild. Dandelions and clover are some of the wild plant’s tortoise need which can be easily picked in lots of gardens.  

Growing these hard to get tortoise foods would have to be an option if you live in a city or can’t get these easily. Tortoise will also need added supplements like calcium to keep their bones and shell healthy.

The tortoise diet is something you need to learn, and easy species have their own specific needs. 

10. Outdoor enclosure for as much outside time as possible

The tortoise should be offered as much outdoor time as possible it is even said that it is inhumane to keep a tortoise constantly indoors.

Where ever you fall with the above statement, I feel everyone can agree to allow your tortoise to roam free outdoor can only be a good thing. Allowing them to take on all the vital nutrients from the sun and roam freely can only be a good thing.

I have always found that my tortoise seems much happier when they have had time outside. Some will scoff at this statement; however, it is just my observation, and I would love to hear if you have found the same.

Caring for tortoises for beginners

I see questions within tortoise communities all the time with people being scoffed at with that experts see as obvious. However, I see them for what they are beginner questions that are valid and need answering. We weren’t born with a tortoise, and we all had a learning process. I hope some of the following topics help speed that learning along.  

Tortoises Aren’t ‘Cuddly’ Pets Like Other Pets

Ok, when we get a new pet, we get a little obsessed, or is that just me? However, I need to point out that a tortoise is not like caring for a cat or dog that is more common to keep.

You will not have a relationship with your tortoise as you would with a dog or cat. A dog will often seek out the owner for interaction; a tortoise is entirely different. Tortoises don’t like handling too much, and it is not something they will ever get used to over the years.  

When owning a tortoise, your role will be manly a hands-off process. Your main goal will be to supply your tortoise with food and a safe environment for them to live in.

Don’t be put off with this, as tortoises are still remarkable reptiles to keep. You can even interact with your tortoise by talking to them or feeding them by hand; they are fascinating creatures. However, you just need to be aware of the fact before you jump in and buy a tortoise

Protect Your Tortoise From Other Pets

It is often thought that as a tortoise has a large hard shell, they are taught, and while the shell is hard, it is not unbreakable. A tortoise is a timid and defenseless reptile and needs your protection. 

You want to keep your tortoise out of the way of overzealous larger animals, for instance, dogs. You will also want to make sure any outdoor enclosures are secure from other pets and predators. 

Being aware that your tortoise is very sensitive to loud noises is something to be mindful of as it can stress your tortoise. If outside space is secure, you still need to make sure other animals are not harassing your tortoise.

Just like other animals, tortoises are prone to illness and picking up diseases. So keeping your tortoise away from other tortoises and animals will stop them from picking up any infections. 

Cleaning Schedule Is a Must

Again something I see often is that tortoise enclosures don’t need cleaning all that much. However, you will often see people ask why tortoises attract bugs, and that’s because of lack of cleaning. 

Tortoise enclosures are warm damp environments ideal breeding ground for parasites that can lead to respiratory infections. 

Daily cleaning of your tortoise’s soiling and any uneaten food will keep any infestation to a minimum. You should also entirely change the substrate every two weeks, taking the opportunity to disinfect the enclosure while it is empty. 

Whenever I hear people say their tortoise’s smell, I always ask their cleaning schedule, and most will not have one. Tortoises don’t smell; they only ever smell when you don’t clean their enclosure.

Accept the Challenge of Hibernation

One of the most overlooked challenges when it comes to caring for a tortoise is the hibernation process.

The whole hibernation process is a whole article of its own, but it’s something you need to learn. Hibernation requires you to monitor your tortoise’s health and weight closely in the run-up to putting them into hibernation. You also need to provide your tortoise with a constant low temperature for an extended period for a safe hibernation process. 

If you don’t want to deal with hibernation, you want to look at Red Foot Tortoises who don’t require hibernation. With that said, you will need to make sure that you can provide the perfect setup for the Red Foot tortoise. 

Know-How Long Tortoises Live

Looking to care for a tortoise, you will need to know you are getting into something that may last a lifetime. 

Most tortoises have lifespans that are comparable if not longer than that of humans. Some tortoises have lifespans over 100 years. 

So when you are considering a tortoise, you want to check how long a tortoise lives for as some tortoises have vastly different ranges of ages.

Some tortoises you will need to make arrangements for your tortoise when you pass away sounds a little crazy, but it is true.