Keeping a Tortoise in a Small Apartment

Keeping a Tortoise in a Small Apartment: Is It Practical?

As a tortoise owner, I can vouch for just how great of a pet they can be, and with the correct setup, they are little trouble. One area of concern for most when thinking of getting a pet tortoise is giving them the right environment for them to thrive. Living in an apartment block without access to a yard to allow your tortoise to roam free can make things a little more challenging but not impossible to overcome. 

You want to offer your tortoise as much space as possible, so living in an apartment will make it impractical to keep larger tortoises species. Hermann’s and Russian tortoises are best for apartment living as they stay small, but you will need to offer them as much space as possible. 

Apartments are becoming more commonplace for us to live in mainly to be closer to schooling or work. If you want to keep pets in an apartment, the challenges you need to overcome are more significant than someone living with a large yard. 

Tortoises need to be kept warm as they are cold-blooded reptiles, so it is not a case of taking them on a walk as you would with a dog. 

However, if you are adamant that you want a tortoise, there is no reason that it cant work. It will just mean a little more planning and thought will need to go into the decision. I want to help you make it work correctly for you and your new tortoise with this article. 

What are the best tortoise species to keep in an apartment?

You will want a small tortoise for your apartment, and Hermann’s tortoises or the Russian tortoise are two small species. 

Both species are commonly kept as indoor pets, even for people who don’t live in apartments. The reason for this is that they stay small; the largest ether will get around 30cm. 

Making both the perfect choice if you live in an apartment as you don’t have to offer them as much space as other larger tortoises. 

For the first 4 to 5 years of the tortoise’s life, the enclosure you can keep them in can be relatively small with any issues. 

When your tortoise starts to reach its fully grown size, space will become more of an issue you will have to overcome. 

You will need to expand their enclosure to cater to all their needs; some will house them outside, but this is not possible with an apartment. 

Apartments, in most cases, don’t only have one room; if you are lucky to have a spare room, this will be the ideal place to home your tortoise. 

You need to offer all the space you can but never forget the essential lighting and heating requirements. 

Do the best with the space you have

With tortoises being considered a low maintenance pet which is valid to some extent, the problems come with preparing their homes. The key to giving your tortoise the best life is getting the setup correct from the get-go; this applies no matter where you live. 

Getting off on the best footing will make the whole process of caring for your tortoise so much easier. You will then have to follow the proper care and maintenance recommendations routinely to keep a healthy tortoise. 

So let’s take a look at what is a “correct tortoise setup” and be assured that this applies to not just apartments. 

The perfect tortoise setup complies of: 

  • A large enclosure 4 meters x 2 meters and bigger is best for Hermann’s tortoises and Russian tortoise. However, if you can offer much bigger, then do so your tortoise will appreciate it.
  • Access to a heat source as tortoises are cold-blooded and need heat to function correctly.
  • Access to UV lighting as tortoises take in vital vitamins through their shell, which are needed to be healthy. 
  • A well-ventilated enclosure to keep parasites away and stop any respiratory infections. 
  • A quiet area where they will not be regularly disturbed by other pets and people. A tortoise can be social, but they prefer to do it on their terms. 

Tortoise requirements overview

A tortoise’s needs are not all that challenging to provide when compared to many other animals. However, when looking at the list above, apartment living may make things a little more challenging. 

The most apparent hurdle you will need to overcome is going to be space. With space being a premium in apartments, you will want to offer your tortoise the largest possible area without impacting your living standards. 

Housing your tortoise outside would be the ultimate goal even if you live in an apartment, but if this is not possible, offer as much space as you can. 

Other items on the list can’t be missed, the first being the UV light. Keeping your tortoise near a window is great, but it is simply not adequate in allowing your tortoise to take on the necessary vitamins. The glass filters out the UV from the sun, so the effect will be minimalized. 

You need a UV bulb if you have a tortoise that is going to be living indoors. Shell rot and other problems will happen without supplying an adequate amount of UV. I have seen people skip the UV, and the results are unpleasant and very upsetting. 

Heat is the next part of keeping a happy and healthy tortoise. Tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles, and they need heat to warm their blood to function correctly. 

A tortoise will be very sluggish with cold blood and prone to illness. If a tortoise gets too cold, it can fall into hibernation, which is not disastrous when done correctly but can be if it doesn’t happen at the right time. 

Ventilation, when not being the main priority it still needs to be considered.  Having fresh air in your apartment helps keep respiratory infections to a minimum. 

Opening a window occasionally should do the trick if you have an open-top enclosure. You may face more problems if you have an enclosure with a lid on the enclosure; you can become stuffy and damp, not ideal for tortoises.

Tortoises can’t tell us when they are stressed and don’t like something because tortoises don’t like overly noisy environments. Within the wild tortoise seeks out quiet areas to spend their time. 

Whether you live in an apartment or not, noise is often overlooked by many tortoise owners. Finding the quietest area of your home should be a priority as stress in a tortoise can bring on many illnesses, including respiratory infections.

Living in an apartment can be quite noisy, especially if you live in a city. Keeping the noise to a minimum can be challenging; however, maintaining windows and doors closed during busy periods can dramatically reduce noise.

Outside space

Offering your tortoise as much outdoor time as possible is always considered the best practice when keeping a tortoise as a pet. However, apartment living is not compatible with this; what is there a solution to the problem.

Taking your tortoise to a local park or green area can be great for your tortoise’s health and wellbeing. A local park, while maybe great, will have other animals there, and a dog can easily pick up a small tortoise. So caution should be taken with parks because of other animals.

A local friend who has a yard would be best practice tortoises love outdoor play, and if you can offer them, this will be great. 

Don’t forget the landlord’s contract

If if you are living in an apartment, the chances are you could be a renter. And I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your landlord will have given you a contract when you first moved into your apartment. 

No pet policies are often within renter’s contracts as it is believed animals cause extra damage. We are not talking about dogs here, so it’s maybe best practice to contact your landlord and ask is it possible to keep a  tortoise.

If you have the no-pets clause in your contract, it would be such a shame to go through all the trouble of getting the perfect setup. Then, find out your landlord doesn’t allow pets and ask you to remove them from your apartment.

Despite the temptation to not ask your landlord’s permission, you may be pleasantly surprised by how understanding they are when you say you want a tortoise. 

As I over the years of discovered, this clause is put in for dogs and cats. These animals are seen as destructive and can cause significant property damage. Now I love dogs and cats, but I’m certainly not going to put a tortoise in the same category.

If you’ve been an excellent tenant to your landlord, it’s just not worth the risk of losing your home. A landlord will be much more understanding if you’ve been an excellent tenant so please seek their permission.


keeping tortoises in an apartment, it’s going to be challenging but not impossible. Offering your tortoise as much space as possible will be your priority. 

Then you move on to the lighting and heating, which is a must. 

If you get these three principles correct, you are on to a winning situation, and you would happily be able to keep a tortoise in your apartment.

So if you follow what we recommend a tortoise needs and seek your landlord’s permission, you should have no problems.