Adopting Sulcata Advice

KGawi

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My sister has finally agreed to release her Sulcata tortoise to me!

Hanu is about eight years old, between 8-10 inches long. Currently, at my sister's house, she lives in a 1ft by 30 inch fish tank, she has no burrow, her substrate is red sand, about two inches deep, and they feed her only romaine lettuce from the store, dandelions when they are in season in the yard.
my sister is always working and never does anything for or with her tortoise, so i finally convinced her to release Hanu to me. She wants me to prove that I can provide better living conditions though......

I am proposing to build a 5 by 4 ft turtle table, 20 square feet. She must stay indoors as we live in Washington and it is getting freezing here already. the enclosure I will provide is more than 7 times larger than what she has, it will include a burrow big enough for her to go in and turn freely, and live grasses (wheatgrass and rice grass are what I have immediately available but I will expand that to more selections soon), I will remove the sand substrate and replace with a mix of organic topsoil and peat moss to retain moisture, Hanu will only eat the lettuce she is given for now so I am proposing to chop her lettuce small and start mixing grasses into her diet until she moves away from the lettuce completely.
Hanu spends way to much time scratching at the glass of her tank, I told my sister that I read this is because she is trying to escape and she needs a home that she can't see through.

My sister thinks I am wrong, that sand is the correct substrate, and that romaine lettuce is the best option next to dandelions. She will give me Hanu because she finally understands she is not caring for her as best she can, i am a gardener so growing food for Hanu will be a pleasure.
I am more than willing to do the research and put in the time to give hanu as happy a life as i can. Please correct me on any of my ideas that are wrong. Also, i want to get Hanu right away out of her small tank so i proposed to put her into a large plastic tote with burrow and non-sand substrate until her turtle table is completed.. thoughts?? Thank you so much for your answers I am new to tortoise owning but I want very much to do the best i can for Hanu.
 

JoesMum

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Hello and welcome to TFO.

Congratulations on the rescue. You are correct that this tort's previous accommodation is way too small.

Unfortunately so is 5'x4'. A Sulcata this size needs at least double that and will rapidly grow into a 100lb+ bulldozer that has to be provided with heated outdoor accommodation.

I recommend you read the TFO care guides if you haven't already

They're written by species experts working hard to correct the outdated information widely available on the internet and from pet stores and, sadly, from some breeders and vets too.

Beginner Mistakes
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/beginner-mistakes.45180/

How to raise a healthy Sulcata
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/how-to-raise-a-healthy-sulcata-or-leopard-version-2-0.79895/
 

KGawi

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Hello and welcome to TFO.

Congratulations on the rescue. You are correct that this tort's previous accommodation is way too small.

Unfortunately so is 5'x4'. A Sulcata this size needs at least double that and will rapidly grow into a 100lb+ bulldozer that has to be provided with heated outdoor accommodation.

I recommend you read the TFO care guides if you haven't already

They're written by species experts working hard to correct the outdated information widely available on the internet and from pet stores and, sadly, from some breeders and vets too.

Beginner Mistakes
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/beginner-mistakes.45180/

How to raise a healthy Sulcata
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/how-to-raise-a-healthy-sulcata-or-leopard-version-2-0.79895/


Thank you! i agree the 5x4 is too small but it is just a temp arrangement until we get through the coldest months here while we plan out what her (i think its a her) living space will be eventually. i will read these, again thanks.
 

Big Charlie

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Thank you! i agree the 5x4 is too small but it is just a temp arrangement until we get through the coldest months here while we plan out what her (i think its a her) living space will be eventually. i will read these, again thanks.
An 8 year old sulcata would normally be living outdoors. Hopefully you have a portion of your yard you can dedicate to her. Then you can build her a heated shed so she can live outside all year.
 

Bee62

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Hello @KGawi,
please think it over: When you have a garden, please build the tort a suitable outdoor heated house with more space. Here are some ideas:
https://tortoiseforum.org/forums/tortoise-enclosures.7/
From what you describe I think the tort is kept to dry, on the wrong substrate and with the wrong food. Poor tort.
Have you pics of Hanu ? It is good that you take her. Her life will be much better with you.:)
 

Tom

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My sister has finally agreed to release her Sulcata tortoise to me!

Hanu is about eight years old, between 8-10 inches long. Currently, at my sister's house, she lives in a 1ft by 30 inch fish tank, she has no burrow, her substrate is red sand, about two inches deep, and they feed her only romaine lettuce from the store, dandelions when they are in season in the yard.
my sister is always working and never does anything for or with her tortoise, so i finally convinced her to release Hanu to me. She wants me to prove that I can provide better living conditions though......

I am proposing to build a 5 by 4 ft turtle table, 20 square feet. She must stay indoors as we live in Washington and it is getting freezing here already. the enclosure I will provide is more than 7 times larger than what she has, it will include a burrow big enough for her to go in and turn freely, and live grasses (wheatgrass and rice grass are what I have immediately available but I will expand that to more selections soon), I will remove the sand substrate and replace with a mix of organic topsoil and peat moss to retain moisture, Hanu will only eat the lettuce she is given for now so I am proposing to chop her lettuce small and start mixing grasses into her diet until she moves away from the lettuce completely.
Hanu spends way to much time scratching at the glass of her tank, I told my sister that I read this is because she is trying to escape and she needs a home that she can't see through.

My sister thinks I am wrong, that sand is the correct substrate, and that romaine lettuce is the best option next to dandelions. She will give me Hanu because she finally understands she is not caring for her as best she can, i am a gardener so growing food for Hanu will be a pleasure.
I am more than willing to do the research and put in the time to give hanu as happy a life as i can. Please correct me on any of my ideas that are wrong. Also, i want to get Hanu right away out of her small tank so i proposed to put her into a large plastic tote with burrow and non-sand substrate until her turtle table is completed.. thoughts?? Thank you so much for your answers I am new to tortoise owning but I want very much to do the best i can for Hanu.

This tortoise needs room to move ASAP. A plastic tub is better than what he was in, but not nearly big enough. Locomotion helps move things along the GI tract and the chances are high that this tortoise has a lot of sand piled up in its gut. You need to soak it in warm water very day for a month, and then cut back to 2 or 3 times a week. This will help keep things moving and hopefully, in combination with the grass you are now feeding, it will push the sand out over time.

You can buy a large kiddie pool at WalMart for about $15.

I wouldn't use peat or topsoil as substrate. Fine grade orchid bark works best. You can find it in a garden center or nursery much cheaper than a pet store.

Read those threads that Joe's Mum posted, and then read this one for food and gardening ideas:
https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/for-those-who-have-a-young-sulcata.76744/

You are going to find it difficult to maintain the correct temperatures and conditions in an open tortoise table. You'd be much better off building a large closed chamber, and so would your tortoise. Like this: https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/closed-chambers.32333/

Please come back and ask any questions. Nobody minds explaining these things in more detail if something doesn't sound right.
 

KGawi

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This tortoise needs room to move ASAP. A plastic tub is better than what he was in, but not nearly big enough. Locomotion helps move things along the GI tract and the chances are high that this tortoise has a lot of sand piled up in its gut. You need to soak it in warm water very day for a month, and then cut back to 2 or 3 times a week. This will help keep things moving and hopefully, in combination with the grass you are now feeding, it will push the sand out over time.

You can buy a large kiddie pool at WalMart for about $15.

I wouldn't use peat or topsoil as substrate. Fine grade orchid bark works best. You can find it in a garden center or nursery much cheaper than a pet store.

Read those threads that Joe's Mum posted, and then read this one for food and gardening ideas:
https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/for-those-who-have-a-young-sulcata.76744/

You are going to find it difficult to maintain the correct temperatures and conditions in an open tortoise table. You'd be much better off building a large closed chamber, and so would your tortoise. Like this: https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/closed-chambers.32333/

Please come back and ask any questions. Nobody minds explaining these things in more detail if something doesn't sound right.


I went and got Hanu the day I wrote this thread, I just could not stand the idea that she was suffering in that little tank anymore. Now she is in a giant-sized tote, eating almost completely grass, and no longer has said as a substrate. I am looking for the orchid bark but so far no luck at lowes or home depot, i will look in the nursery next. Hanu has been bathing every day in warm water and walking around the house to get exercise, this morning she pooped a huge poop in the tub full of sand so I am hoping that means the baths and grass are moving things along for her. It snows up to a foot and a half here so it is way to cold for her out right now. I am following your advice and making her an enclosed house instead of a turtle table in order to better control temperatures, my husband worked out a plan with me, as I am also a hobby carpenter and gardener, and we are building a drain system into her 4x8 enclosure so that I can plant living grasses directly into it that she can munch on at her leisure. I've seeded oat grass, wheat grass, barley grass, clover, and rice grass. I'm also bringing as many dandelions as I can into the greenhouse to keep over the winter for her. Hanu walks around the house every day to get exercise.... i am trying to do everything i can to help her and make her a better life. My husband suggestion when i create the addition to my greenhouse i create a house for her inside of it since it is warn year round in there.. i was concerned it would be to humid. if you have any thoughts on any of this please let me know.
 

Bambam1989

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I went and got Hanu the day I wrote this thread, I just could not stand the idea that she was suffering in that little tank anymore. Now she is in a giant-sized tote, eating almost completely grass, and no longer has said as a substrate. I am looking for the orchid bark but so far no luck at lowes or home depot, i will look in the nursery next. Hanu has been bathing every day in warm water and walking around the house to get exercise, this morning she pooped a huge poop in the tub full of sand so I am hoping that means the baths and grass are moving things along for her. It snows up to a foot and a half here so it is way to cold for her out right now. I am following your advice and making her an enclosed house instead of a turtle table in order to better control temperatures, my husband worked out a plan with me, as I am also a hobby carpenter and gardener, and we are building a drain system into her 4x8 enclosure so that I can plant living grasses directly into it that she can munch on at her leisure. I've seeded oat grass, wheat grass, barley grass, clover, and rice grass. I'm also bringing as many dandelions as I can into the greenhouse to keep over the winter for her. Hanu walks around the house every day to get exercise.... i am trying to do everything i can to help her and make her a better life. My husband suggestion when i create the addition to my greenhouse i create a house for her inside of it since it is warn year round in there.. i was concerned it would be to humid. if you have any thoughts on any of this please let me know.
I understand that your letting your tort walk around the house for exercise but I feel like I should point out that the floor of people's houses are not safe for them. They could be stepped on, eat carpet, get stuck somewhere.. like under a couch, floor cleaner residue may cause problems, and the list goes on. If the floor cannot be avoided at this time we beg you to be EXTREMELY cautious. I hear about people letting their torts permanently walk around the house with no issues but I think they have been very lucky.
 

Tom

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I went and got Hanu the day I wrote this thread, I just could not stand the idea that she was suffering in that little tank anymore. Now she is in a giant-sized tote, eating almost completely grass, and no longer has said as a substrate. I am looking for the orchid bark but so far no luck at lowes or home depot, i will look in the nursery next. Hanu has been bathing every day in warm water and walking around the house to get exercise, this morning she pooped a huge poop in the tub full of sand so I am hoping that means the baths and grass are moving things along for her. It snows up to a foot and a half here so it is way to cold for her out right now. I am following your advice and making her an enclosed house instead of a turtle table in order to better control temperatures, my husband worked out a plan with me, as I am also a hobby carpenter and gardener, and we are building a drain system into her 4x8 enclosure so that I can plant living grasses directly into it that she can munch on at her leisure. I've seeded oat grass, wheat grass, barley grass, clover, and rice grass. I'm also bringing as many dandelions as I can into the greenhouse to keep over the winter for her. Hanu walks around the house every day to get exercise.... i am trying to do everything i can to help her and make her a better life. My husband suggestion when i create the addition to my greenhouse i create a house for her inside of it since it is warn year round in there.. i was concerned it would be to humid. if you have any thoughts on any of this please let me know.

So glad to hear all of this. Sounds like a successful rescue is well under way.

I share BamBam's concern. Many tortoises are injured or killed this way, and in every case the person had good intentions and was always careful. A good way to get exercise safely is to do your soak in a slick bathtub. All the marching around is exactly what they need, but they will be safe in there, and doing it in the warm water serves to keep them well hydrated at the same time. Makes it easy to keep the water warm too. You can soak for an hour or two and nothing bad will happen. In the wild they trudge around in marshes in the rainy season.

About the green house: Humidity is very good for them and simulates the monsoon conditions they would experience in the wild AS LONG AS it doesn't get cold. Keep the closest part of green house above 80F at all times, day and night, and it will be a great thing.
 

KGawi

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Hello everyone,
A while back i wrote about adopting my sisters Sulcata and got a lot of great and helpful information here.
Hanu has been doing very well.. she is SO sweet. I love her.
And because i love her i wanted to check in with more experienced people to see how i am doing and what i might make better.
Hanu has a closed enclosure instead of a "turtle table", per the advice given here, in order to maintain her temperature more easily. She has enough room to roam around for a good portion of the day and a few large flat stones place under her lamps to "sun" herself on. She has two UVB (i always mix up what order these letters go in) lamps because her enclosure is so big.
It is winter and snowy here so no outside until summer but we are making plans for summer outdoor time. I grow a lawn of regular grass.. mostly crab grass really. I water my lawn with the same water we have in our house to avoid "ditch water" chemicals. Will it be alright for Hanu to go out and much on the lawn in the summer?
We are making plans for the green house already wanting to give Hanu even more room to roam but that is a little ways off.
Hanu eats fresh grasses that i grow for her with a blend of wheat, rice, oat, and rye grass seeds.. i also am trying to grow clover but for some reason am having trouble with it. Dandilion's are out of season right now. She very very rarely gets a leaf or two of romaine. Hanu eats as much as she pleases. I grow the grass in flats and then "plant" them in her habitat fresh. she grazes on as much as she wants or sleeps on it if she feels like it. Is this ok? i sort of figured she should know when she needs to eat or not. But my sister only fed her romaine lettuce and dandelion leaf (when in season) for seven years and only fed her a few times a week.
Lastly about her diet Hanu will often eat the entire grass, she'll pull up the root, whats left of the seed.. everything. this worries me a little..
I am trying to give Hanu a better life and i worry about doing the best i can.
Any guidance is very welcome.
Thanks

Kathrine
 

Big Charlie

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It sounds like you are doing great. Grass and weeds are the best for them. As long as she is getting enough exercise, she can eat as much as she wants. Your lawn will be fine for her to graze on when the weather is warmer.

How big is Hanu? Can you post some pictures of her and her enclosure? What are your temps and humidity? What are you using for nighttime heat?

Can you update your profile to show exactly where in the US you are? The climate in California is a lot different than North Dakota, so the recommendations would be different. Even Northern California is different from Southern California.
 

KGawi

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so a little more than a year ago, I think, I adopted/rescued young sulcata from pretty terrible living conditions. She was fed 3-4 large Romain leafs a day, some days she would get a handful of dandelions, she lived in a 12” by 30” fish tank and was only taken outside in a box a couple times a year, her substrate was red sand and she was pretty terribly impacted when we took her.
I built her a more suitable indoor enclosure, have a fenced 6 foot fence around my yard so she had free roam of the place most of the spring/summer built a greenhouse so we have a year round warm grazing area as we do get snow here and have spent many hours learning whatever I can to care for this poor beautiful girl.
I thought she was pretty young, she wasn’t more than a few pounds when we got her... well after contacting the original owner finally I discovered she is almost 9 years old! She was three and a half pounds six weeks ago.... today she is four and a half pounds so with her new environment and diet she is growing but... man I see people with 30-50 pound sulcatas by almost ten years old. I am worried. A trip to the reptile vet said her shell is in good order no sign of bone softness or disease. Wants her on a calcium supliment, and suggests a diet of leafy dark greens daily before letting her go out to graze on the grasses and dandelions I grow... any thoughts from you guys?? She is less than five pounds and will be nine in December... sigh.. I attached pictures of her and her enclosure.

9EAD8BEB-593E-4AB1-BAE2-BC43E40843CC.jpeg 09C5C3EE-8A33-461E-AF37-3BD5611F6E6D.jpeg 7AEC96F7-5E9E-4864-A13A-A93E7D928D8A.jpeg 8EBF9BC6-839A-4547-A9C8-D54FC504C556.jpeg
 

SULCY

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I would give her the dark leafy greens AFTER she was out grazing all day. Grass is great for her.
 

Yvonne G

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(Note: I merged the three threads so we can see the whole story in one thread)

Your tort table is very nice, however, it's still too small for a tortoise of that size. Also, the substrate should be damp and I think a damp substrate would ruin the floor of that nice enclosure. It could also use a few plants and a couple hiding places (the red flower pot is too open).

Is there any reason the tortoise can't live outside during the warm weather months, then be brought in for the cold weather? It would help if we knew more than "United States."
 

KGawi

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(Note: I merged the three threads so we can see the whole story in one thread)

Your tort table is very nice, however, it's still too small for a tortoise of that size. Also, the substrate should be damp and I think a damp substrate would ruin the floor of that nice enclosure. It could also use a few plants and a couple hiding places (the red flower pot is too open).

Is there any reason the tortoise can't live outside during the warm weather months, then be brought in for the cold weather? It would help if we knew more than "United States."

I am in Washington state, on the eastern side, so it is desert like here but we still get cold winters. i just didn't update my information, sorry. the bottom of her enclosure is tiled and sealed to resist water damage and prevent her from digging through the wood, i was spraying the soil with a misting spray bottle but the humidity went up to almost 100%, right now it maintains at around 70-75% Any plants i put in there wither and die pretty fast, i only keep the one uvb bulb because she spends so much time outside and the plants don't do well without a real source of light.

during the warm months here Hanu goes out pretty much all day in the yard, which isn't small, almost 1/4 acre, because it is fenced she does fine walking around munching, but i get paranoid of coyotes, local dogs, and other things breaking in to get at her because she is so small, so i bring her in at night. I lost all my chickens to tenacious dogs a couple years ago before i got hanu and i am not keen on anything happening to her. I have reinforced the fence, it is solid wood with bricks sunken into the ground along the bottom of it... but... i don't want to risk Hanu.
She doesn't really spend much time in the enclosure during the warm months, just inside for the evenings. unfortunately we are having an unusually short summer and it is already below 70 here for most of the days. I take her out for an hour at least every day.

usually she digs in her enclosure, as it is a 6 inch substrate, but i will bury the 5 gallon bucket in there so it is more secluded and into the soil for her. i see what you mean by it is too open, thanks
I guess there is really nothing i can do for her besides make sure she has plenty of food water and sun.
reading back i guess i also always new she was at least 8 years old but i didn't realize till i started reading around here how big a tort that age should actually be..
 

Yvonne G

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What is the temperature all over the whole enclosure? You're doing a good job, certainly much better than your sister was doing. During the winter when the tortoise has to stay in all the time, maybe give it something to do???? A bright red or yellow wiffle ball to chase around? Try hanging food from a clip and a chain or string so he has to raise his head up to bite it, and chase it as it moves away from him. Be inventive!
 
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