Should Tortoises Have a Heat Mat

Should Tortoises Have a Heat Mat? – We Debate the Pros & Cons

You may or may not be surprised that heat mats are one of the hottest debated subjects between tortoise owners, no pun intended. However, if you are worried about your tortoise being cold, you will be on the lookout for solutions most people will stumble upon the idea of a heat mat.

You should avoid using a heat mat or heat pad most of the time as they don’t promote basking, which is an essential part of keeping a tortoise healthy. However, using a heat mat when you are struggling to maintain an encloser warm can help but should be kept minimal.

So we can see that heat mats should be kept to a minimum, but there are cases where they can be used and help you out. A sick tortoise or when you are struggling to keep their enclosure warm, to name two. This article will look at why tortoises need external heat and how to supply them with it best.

Tortoises Are Cold-Blooded

We need to keep our tortoises warm as they are cold-blooded reptiles. What this means is that they have no thermoregulatory system. Taking away the fancy words and putting it simply, they cannot control their inner temperature like us humans. Tortoises are fortunate that they live in warmer climates in the wild to keep them warm.

So, for this reason, the tortoise can be significantly affected by the temperature, and if the conditions lend themselves could freeze to death. With this, one of the biggest concerns tortoise owners rightly have is giving their tortoise a helping hand when it comes to heating. As pet owners, we want the best for our animals, and finding an effective way of offering more heat when it is cold is essential for tortoise owners.

So do tortoises need an external heat source?

In most cases, a tortoise will require an external heat source unless you live in a country that fits perfectly to your tortoise’s needs. A tortoise will need to bask to live a happy and healthy life. Tortoises require UVA and UVB light given off by the sun, and tortoises can use this to bring up their body temperature to function correctly.

If you live in a hot part of the world, a tortoise can happily live outside without the need for an external heat source. The natural sunlight will be perfect for your tortoise, and they will function without any problems.

However, if you are in a part of the world that doesn’t offer perfect weather conditions, the situation will differ. In most instances, you will keep your tortoise in an indoor enclosure; they will have little chance of getting the UV light they require. So in this instance, you would need to offer an external heat source for your tortoise.

Tortoises, on average, need a basking area temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If the sunlight is not cutting it, you will need to offer an external heat source.

Heat Lamp or Heat Pad?

So we know that tortoise, in some situations, will need an external heat source and in some parts of the world more often than others. The debate then comes on how to offer your tortoise the heat source. Is it going to be a heat lamp or a heating pad?

Heat Pads

Heat pads can be dangerous to an adult male tortoise, and this needs saying from the beginning. So there is no debate don’t use heat pads. Right? Well, not really, as there are situations where are heat pad can help a tortoise owner out.

Heat Pad Negatives

  • A heat mat offers very little radiant heat, not allowing your tortoise to control its thermoregulatory system correctly.
  • Discourage basking – When tortoises bask, they are naturally taking on vitamins and minerals. A tortoise may be at the correct temperature, so it will feel it doesn’t need to bask. Unduly damaging its health due to lacking the vital vitamins and minerals; UV light offers when basking.

However, heat pads can be used in certain situations and can help tortoise owners.

  • Sick tortoises – need a content heat to recover especially respiratory problems that require medication. The constant heat can be required to make the medication work effectively.
  • Cold Climate – If you live in an exceptionally cold part of the world, overnight temperatures can drop dramatically. An open tortoise table can be hard to keep warm, so that a heat mat can help.

A heat mat should be used sparingly in both instances and only when it is essential to your tortoise’s health.

Are heat mats safe?

Heat mats are one of the safety forms and cost-effective ways of offing animal external heating. Suppose you have purchased it from a reputational supplier that offers all the industry-standard checks. However, a heat mat should only ever used for tortoises in certain situations.

Other external heat sources to avoid

There are other items on the market that people try to pass off as excellent external heat sources when, in fact, they are dangerous.

  • Hot rocks – you should never use or put hot rocks in or around your tortoise. A tortoise can distinguish between real rocks or hot rocks. These hot rocks lead to severe burns to your tortoise and must never be used.
  • Heating panels – are pretty much heat pads; however, you can mount them on the wall. For all the same reasons we listed above about heat pads, these should also be avoided.
  • Ceramic heaters – don’t offer your tortoise any UV light, so it must be avoided. Much worse than this due to the extra heat some offer if your tortoise flips over the heat can cause death.

Heat Lamp

On the other hand, heat lamps are much more widely accepted and, in most instances, the preferred method of offering an additional heat source.

Setting up a tortoise table or vivarium will require a heat source. There are many choices on offer. Most choose to go with an all-in-one solution called a Mercury Vapour Bulbs; this is a bulb that offers light, heat, and UV.

You can get everything separate to offer better control over your tortoise table or vivarium; however, many like the simple nature of the all-in-one bulb.

How Should You Keep A Tortoise Warm?

Ok, so we now know tortoises need external heat and what types to avoid. But now let us see when we should be using different kinds during the day and night.

Day Time Heating

It is our job to actively encourage our tortoise to follow their instinct and bask during the day. Basking enables them to take in the vital UV that they need to live a long healthy life.

If the weather permits, the sun is the best way of allowing your tortoise to soak up all the UV they need. However, this is not always possible, and you will need to keep your tortoise inside.

To allow your tortoise to get heat light and UV, they require a Mercury Vapour Bulbs is the easiest way. Placing the bulb in their enclosure is a must in nearly all cases. I have compiled a complete guide on setting up the lighting in a tortoise table or vivarium that should help you much more.

Do tortoises heat at night?

During the night, all lighting and heating systems should be switched off as during the night. A tortoise does not need heat at night and requires darkness and a drop in temperature. However, temperatures should be monitor, so it doesn’t drop too cold during the night.

Tortoises are built to deal with the drop in temperature during the night. You will be mimicking their natural habitat where the sun rises and sets each day.

Most situations and homes will not require any additional heating during the night. However, there are instances when it could be possible. If your enclosure drops below the recommended for your species of tortoise additional heating will be required. The heating pad, despite there negatives, will be a handy tool to have.

Never allow the heat pad to touch your tortoise as it could cause burning. You could mount it on a wall or under their substrate if applicable with the heat pad.

Which Tortoises Are Most Likely To Need Additional Heat?

Tortoises originate from hot parts of the world, so it could be possible nearly all tortoises require additional heat if you live in a cold part of the world.

There are some tortoises like Hermann’s tortoise that are a little harder to colder weather. However, that doesn’t mean they like the cold and should be given the care required like any other.

Do Horsefield’s Tortoises Need a Heat Mat?

Like other tortoises species, the Horsefield tortoise is not just activated by heat but UV light. Heat mats should be avoided, and heat should be offered in the form of Mercury Vapour Bulbs. A Horsefield tortoise will not require overnight heat unless the temperature drops dramatically.

Do Outdoor Tortoises Need Heat Sources?

Outdoor tortoises do not need heat sources outside and should get all the heat they require from the sun. Outside tortoise will require an outside hide to take shade from the sun; if the temperature drops outside, you will need to bring your tortoise inside to offer them warmth.

If you have an outside tortoise that lives outside all year round, then you possibly may have to offer them some sort of heating if the weather gets too cold.

Should My Tortoise Live Indoors During Winter?

In most places around the world, it will be impossible to keep your tortoise outside, and they will require a home indoors. You only have two options if you live in a cold part of the world. The first is to hibernate your tortoise over winter, or the second would be to offer your tortoise an indoor home during the winter.

What is too hot for a tortoise?

What temperature is too hot is a tough question to answer as there are so many different tortoise species. All tortoises will have their preferred temperature and what is considered too hot. Check your individual tortoise’s species needs to see what is too hot.

It would be irresponsible to give a blanket answer to this question as getting it wrong could be devastating.


So we found out that heat pads in most instances are not recommended as they stop your tortoise basking. With no basking, your tortoise will fail to take on the UV light and lead to ill health. There is some specific instance that a heating pad can come in handy for tortoise owners, like illness and trouble warming a tortoise table or vivarium.

However, we should avoid heat mats and go with other more recommended sauces of heat in most instances.