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Tortoises are long-lived, hearty, and reasonably easy to care for. They are not an ideal pet to keep indoors, and not a pet that is played with, cuddled, or handled very often. Tortoises thrive best where they get sunshine and fresh air. Some tortoises are shy and reclusive, while others are charismatic, inquisitive, and have personality. All tortoises are quiet, attractive and exhibit interesting behavior. The key to keeping your tortoise healthy is to follow these simple rules.
- There are numerous species of tortoise kept as pets. The tortoises most commonly seen in the pet trade are generally those that are the easiest to breed and care for. These include:
- Red-footed Tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria)
- Yellow-footed Tortoise (Geochelone denticulata)
- Sulcata Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata)
- Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone pardalis)
- Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca)
- Russian Tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii)
- Each species of tortoise has its own special requirements. What follows are very general guidelines. Readers are strongly encouraged to seek more detailed information on the particular type of tortoise they own.
- The gender of a mature tortoise can usually be determined by external characteristics. Male tortoises generally have a concavity on the plastron (lower shell). The male’s tail is longer than the female’s, and his vent is located down towards the tip of his tail.
- Long lived: 50 to 100+ years
- Lay 3-30 eggs (varies by species) which incubate 90-150 days before hatching
- Red-footed and Yellow-footed tortoises are omnivores requiring a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, and quality tortoise chow (Marzuri tortoise chow). Animal protein may be fed in small amounts.
- Sulcata and Leopard tortoises are fed a high-fiber diet of grass hay, leafy greens, vegetables, and tortoise chow. Fruits are fed sparingly or not at all, and no animal protein is provided.
- Greek and Russian tortoises should be fed a high-fiber, low-protein diet of leafy greens, grass hay and vegetables. Fruits are fed sparingly or not at all. Tortoise chow may be added to the diet of the Russian tortoise, but should limited in the diet of the Greek tortoise or not offered at all.
- All tortoises seem to enjoy brightly colored fruits and vegetables and diversity in their diet.
- Dark, leafy greens are best: kale, collards, dandelion, mustard greens, and romaine
- Some experts recommend dusting the diet with a veterinary powdered calcium supplement several times a week. The Greek tortoise may require a higher calcium intake than other tortoises, and free-choice cuttlebone is recommended by some.
- Provide fresh food and water daily. Adult tortoises may be fed every other day.
- May be territorial and fend off other turtles from their food.
- Enclosures should mimic the natural environment of your tortoise. Adjust the type of enclosure to fit the type tortoise you have. Sulcata, Leopard, Greek, and Russian tortoises generally require a warm, dry habitat, whereas, Red-footed and Yellow-footed tortoises prefer a tropical, humid environment.
- Overly moist environments will promote fungal growth and affect tortoise health.
- Provide all tortoises with access to shallow water for soaking and drinking.
- Timothy hay pellets (rabbit food) make suitable bedding for most species.
- Optimal temperature range for the enclosure is 70-90°F (21-32°C).
- Require basking area and shade to allow regulation of body temperature.
- Provide a shelter or hide-box at the cool end of the enclosure.
- Supervise any other pets when around your turtle.
- Russian and Greek tortoises may hibernate in the winter. Only healthy tortoises should be hibernated. Information on hibernation should be sought in other literature.
- Leopard, Sulcata, Red-footed and Yellow-footed tortoises do not hibernate
- Indoor tortoises need at least 5% UVA/UVB lighting. Light bulbs should be changed every 6-9 months, as UV output will decrease long before the light bulb burns out.
- Male tortoises may be aggressive and territorial towards other males.
- Routine physical examination every 6 to 12 months.
- Consult a veterinarian with experience treating exotic pets if you have any questions or concerns about your box turtle’s health.
- Annual fecal examination for parasites.
- Blood tests as recommended by your veterinarian.
Common Medical Conditions
- Upper respiratory tract disease
- Swollen eyelids
- Metabolic Bone disease
- Retained eggs
- Burns (heat lamps)
- Trauma (vehicle, predator)