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How Do I Care for a Pet Tortoise?

Caring for a pet tortoise involves creating a habitat that mimics their natural environment, with proper heat, light, and humidity. A balanced diet is crucial, typically consisting of leafy greens and specialized pellets. Regular veterinary check-ups ensure their health. Remember, these creatures can live for decades with the right care. What unique needs does your shelled companion have? Let's find out together.
T. Carrier
T. Carrier

Tortoises are one of the most popular reptile pets. They require proper and attentive care. Proper diet and provided water are perhaps the most important considerations. Food needs usually include leafy green products and nutritional supplements. Choice of habitats will be largely dependent on the individual pet tortoise.

Food and water are of course key to proper pet tortoise care. Specific food needs differ by species, but most tortoises benefit from leafy greens. Nutritional supplements, particularly calcium, may also need to be added to a diet. Further, providing a shallow water bowl not only gives the pet tortoise needed drinking water, but it also may help the pet keep cool.

A tortoise.
A tortoise.

A pet tortoise may be sluggish and refuse to eat at times, especially if it is adapting to a new habitat. Warm water may alleviate these reactions. A habitat with a few amusement items like rocks or tunnels will help keep the tortoise stimulated as well. In addition, structures known as hide boxes are recommended, as they give the tortoise additional shelter and space. Gentle and infrequent handling are perhaps the best approaches in dealing with an apprehensive tortoise.

A desert-dwelling tortoise species will prefer to move about and sleep on a dry surface.
A desert-dwelling tortoise species will prefer to move about and sleep on a dry surface.

Habitat is the other main concern in caring for a pet tortoise, and one important consideration is whether the tortoise will primarily reside indoors or outdoors. It is not unusual for certain species to span well over 12 inches (about 30.5 centimeters), and in some species the overall length may reach 24 inches (about 61 centimeters). If an individual owns a larger species — such as sulcata and leopard tortoises — an outdoor living habitat is advisable. Climate is also a consideration, as some tortoises do not respond well to overly cold or overly hot weather.

An outdoor habitat should be constructed with the size and the adaptability of the tortoise in mind. If an owner lives in a hot climate and owns a tortoise that is not acclimated to such weather — redfoot or yellowfoot types, for example — shading or water or mud holes should be provided as a means of cooling. Heating sources can be purchased for colder climates, or owners may wish to move tortoises temporarily into a garage or other shelter for extremely cold weather.

Maintaining a tortoise habitat indoors should also be implemented with certain factors in mind. For one, tortoise size remains important. Smaller tortoises may comfortably live in a glass aquarium or tank. Larger varieties, however, will necessitate a larger enclosure such as those provided by mixing tubs. Ideally, a habitat should have slightly colored barriers so that the tortoise will not attempt to break through the structure.

In addition, tortoises need lighting and heating to remain healthy. While an outdoor tortoise achieves this naturally, owners of a house tortoise will need to provide these features. Individual heating and lighting bulbs may be used, or a combination bulb could also provide necessities. Some popular options include fluorescent lights, heat bulbs, and mercury vapor bulbs. In general, this light-heat fixture should mimic a typical day span, and thus should be run for around 11 to 14 hours.

An indoor tortoise habitat will need lining as well. This lining will often depend on tortoise preferences. For example, desert-dwelling tortoise species will likely prefer to move about and sleep on a dry surface. Hay, grass, or even paper could serve this purpose. Other types are native to wetter climates, and thus might be more comfortable with a lining of moss or a similar substance. A barrier lining — such as cement blocks — should be provided around the structure in outdoor habitats in order to prevent burrowing and escape.

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    • A tortoise.
      A tortoise.
    • A desert-dwelling tortoise species will prefer to move about and sleep on a dry surface.
      By: surasaki
      A desert-dwelling tortoise species will prefer to move about and sleep on a dry surface.