Basic Tortoise Care

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Kristina

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Basic Tortoise Care

Please understand that this is a very generalized care sheet. It is not species specific, and each species has its own unique set of care requirements. This care sheet is intended to help you make educated decisions when purchasing food items and equipment. Please continue to do research on the special requirements for your tortoise, and feel free to ask questions from experienced owners.

Housing

It is generally accepted that aquariums are not the best housing for tortoises. They do not allow for a good temperature gradient (hot side/cool side,) and they are very poor when it comes to ventilation. There are exceptions to that rule, however. Some species of forest tortoises that need higher humidity and a steady overall temperature do well in aquariums.

Another main problem with aquariums is the glass. Because your tortoise can see out, they do not understand that they cannot get to the room that they see beyond the glass. They can fall under heavy stress continually trying, and also movement in the room outside their enclosure can cause them stress. You can put up a sight barrier around the tank, using paper, card board, or cloth.

There are many acceptable types of housing. Rubbermaid or other storage tubs and under-bed boxes, stock tanks, and kiddie pools are all very inexpensive and work very well.

Many people have converted old dresser drawers or bookshelves into tortoise houses. Lay the bookshelf on its back, minus the shelf, and line it with a waterproof material. Shower curtain liner, pond liner, or water proof tarps work very well. Staple it in, add substrate, and you have an instant tortoise house.

A table purchased at a garage sale can be converted into a “tortoise table” or you can build your own. Add walls to a recycled table, and again line it with a waterproof material. If you google “tortoise table” you will find pictures of tables other people have built, and some sites even have plans for simple tables. Look around in the Enclosures section of the forum to see things other members have built.

It is also a good idea to have some sort of enclosure available outside. Make sure that your tortoise will be safe. Being outside in the sunshine is very good for your tortoise, but make sure they are safe and supervised and have access to shade and water, so that they do not become overheated or dehydrated.

Substrate

Once you have an enclosure for your tortoise, you need substrate. Sand, calcium sand, walnut shells, reptile bark, corn cob bedding, hard surfaces, alfalfa pellets, and cedar chips are all very inappropriate, and should never be used. Cedar chips are highly toxic, reptile bark does not hold humidity, and the other items cause danger of fatal impaction if ingested. Sand and calcium sand are also very irritating to the eyes. Alfalfa pellets, corn cob bedding, and walnut shells are very hard to walk on and can cause permanent damage to the muscles and the bones in the legs of your tortoise, particularly babies. Reptile carpet and Astroturf are also very bad choices.

Cypress mulch, orchid bark, top soil, coconut coir, sphagnum moss, and in some cases aspen bedding, are all good choices. Experienced keepers usually have a favorite substrate, or a mix of a couple of different substrates.

Cypress mulch, organic top soil, sphagnum moss and orchid bark can usually be purchased at a home improvement store, such as Home Depot or Lowes.

Coconut coir and aspen bedding can be purchased at a pet store. Coconut coir comes in a brick. It is usually sold under the names of “Eco Earth” or “Bed a Beast.” Following the directions on the package, soak the brick until it expands. Ring the water out of the bedding until it is damp but does not drip. Every few days, remoisten the bedding using warm water, and simply mix it in with your hand.

The substrate should be at least 3 inches deep. Most tortoises like to dig into the substrate.

Hides

Every tortoise needs to have some where to hide. Tortoise are shy by nature, and a tortoise with out a hide is a stressed tortoise, in most cases.

Hides can be as simple as a cardboard box with a hole cut in it. Flower pots turned on their side and half buried in the substrate work well also, as do the half logs sold in pet stores. You can be creative and use things that you have around the house or are inexpensive.

You should have at least two hides available to your tortoise, one on the cool side of the enclosure, and one on the warm side of the enclosure. The allows the tortoise to choose how warm or cool he wants to be, and still feel comfortable and secure. It is also a good idea to have a hide somewhere in between the warm and cool side.

You can add a plain sponge to the top of your hide, and keep it damp to create a humid hide, or fill the hide with dampened sphagnum moss. Ask the experienced members on the forum what they use for their hides, or take a look at the posts in the Enclosures section of the forum. You can also run a search to pull up threads about hides.

Food and Water Dishes

The pet store may have told you that your tortoise does not need a water bowl. This is not true.

All tortoises need to have water to drink, and will not get enough from the food that they eat. Fresh water should be available at all times.

Tortoises like to soak. The water dish should be large enough for the tortoise to fully enter it, but shallow enough that it does not pose a hazard for drowning. Flower pot saucers, trash can lids (for very large tortoises,) commercially made dishes, cat litter pans and any other appropriate container can be used. The water level should just cover the bridge between the carapace (upper shell) and plastron (lower shell.)

Many tortoises will defecate and urinate (poop and pee) in their water dish, so it is important to keep the dish clean, and give them fresh water daily.

The best food dish is actually a very flat rock or a piece of slate or slate tile. This makes it easy for the tortoise to get to its food, and also helps to keep the beak and nails from becoming overgrown. Slate tiles can be purchased at Home Depot of Lowes for only a couple of dollars.

Lighting and Heating

Not all species need the same kind of lighting, so I am not going to go real heavily into explaining lighting. Please ask questions and do your research on what kind of lighting that your tortoise needs. Most species of tortoise do require UV lighting. Some do fine with ambient lighting from the room that their enclosure is in. It all depends on the species.

Heating is the same. Different species need different temperatures. Most species need a warm side and a cool side. Some species, like Redfoot tortoises, seem to do better with an overall temperature. Again do you research and see what your tortoise needs.


Basic Feeding

All species have different feeding requirements, but I am going to give here just a base of information.

Most tortoises, except a few of the forest types, will eat spring mix with relish. It is available at your local grocery store, and is a mix of different greens. It is a good thing to use as a “staple” for your tortoise’s diet.

Dandelion greens, turnip greens, grape leaves, hibiscus flowers, and grass are other things your tortoise will most likely enjoy, as long as you know they are pesticide free.

Please do not feed carrots, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, and try to avoid feeding a lot of vegetables. Some things such as zucchini or sweet potato are fine as part of a balanced diet.

Some tortoises require more grasses, some more weeds, and some even eat mushrooms to get the needed fiber. Do your research.

Do not feed a lot of fruit to most tortoises. Some, such as the forest species, can be fed a bit more, but most of the grazers such as Sulcata and Russian tortoises do not need a lot of fruit. Once in a while as a treat is fine.

For most species, feeding any sort of cat food or other animal protein can be very bad. Again, you have to do your research.

You can offer a piece of cuttlebone for calcium. This is the same as is offered to birds to keep their beaks trimmed. It will also help keep the beak of your tortoise from becoming over grown.

Calcium powder can also be sprinkled on the food a couple times a week.

Soaking

Soaking your tortoise is almost always a good idea. Most tortoises will use this time to void their bladder and drink water. It helps to keep them hydrated and healthy.

The water should be warm, but not hot to the touch. Fill the container to the level of the bridge between the carapace and plastron, and soak the tortoise until the water cools. Many will plunge their heads completely under the water, and draw in big gulps.

You can set the container on a heating pad, heat register, or put a lamp over it to keep it warm longer. All in all, soak for probably 10-20 minutes. You can do this daily, every other day, or once a week, it is up to you. Babies should be soaked more often.

If you have a tortoise that is sick, or not wanting to eat, you can do a baby food soak. Get a jar of Gerber or other brand strained carrots or squash. Mix the entire jar in with the soaking water, before placing the tortoise in. The tortoise will absorb some of the nutrients from the water.

You can also add bird vitamins to the water, or Gerber Poly Vi Sol infant drops.

Well, I hope that is enough info to get you started. Again, do your research, search the forum, talk to the other members, and someone will always be willing to help you.

Please feel free to add any information that you feel I did not cover, ask questions, or share other ideas and opinions. Just keep it nice please. I did this to help others, not for any other reason.
 

Tom

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I think this is a pretty good starting point for a new keeper. No one will ever agree on every point, but following this should lead to a healthy, happy tort. Nicely done.
 

Kristina

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Thanks Tom. It wasn't meant to be a bible for tortoise care, lol, but at least it can steer people away from some of the big no-no's (calci-sand, etc.) the kinds of things we DO agree are bad.
 

Madkins007

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LOL! This sounds familiar! http://www.tortoiseforum.org/thread-15229.html

Tain't easy, is it? There is a lot that can be challenged, a lot that you want to go into more detail on, trying to decide the best way to say a lot in a few words.

For example, on lighting, you suggested that the keeper do their own research. By the same token, couldn't your caresheet just say "Basic Tortoise Care, by Kyryah. Determine your species and do you own research."?

As you said, there are other things we can disagree on (and a quick glance at the debtatable topics section shows how much we like to discuss details!)

Good luck!
 
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