New and Confused about proper tortoise care

Watsons mom

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Apr 28, 2021
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Las Vegas Nevada
Hi, we adopted a 5 year old male desert tortoise less then 36 hours ago. The rescuer checked our yard for escape routes,toxic plants and shrubs (we don't use pesticide or fertilizer) and adequate shading. We are using a terra cotta saucer as a watering dish/shallow pool. We were told free roaming the tortoise in the yard was fine and that he would create his own burrow ( we live in the desert, he was free roamed before and made his own burrow). The rescuer suggested we bring him in at night for a couple of days. He was very active in the yard yesterday but did not eat his greens or have a bath (he may have eaten hay and flowers but I didn't see it). He found a hiding spot under a chair with a outdoor cover over it. He won't come out to eat, drink. bathe, sun himself or anything today. This morning he would not eat his dandelions unless I hand fed them to him. He got spooked and wouldn't eat anymore. Also, he whistles when he walks. There is no discharge, labored breathing, panting, nothing to indicate a infection. I called the rescuer the night we adopted him and again this morning and she said it was fine. She also said he would eat more when he warmed up but he only took a couple of bites of greens and its 80 degrees outside. I intend to enclose a large area for him and make him a burrow as I am concerned we were given the wrong info. about free roaming him. I am very concerned about his wellbeing. I don't know if I should just leave him alone for a few days, soak him, get him pellets. I don't know what to do. He is being fed the exact same thing as before plus timothy hay and orchard grass. He has not been active since he found the hiding spot. If we put him in the sun he just walks back to the spot. There is plenty of shade, and edible shrubs and flowers to hide under if he wants. He was living with the rescuer for atleast a month. She has several adult desert tortoises and he was just fine with her. Am I overreacting? Will he eat hardily and bathe in his own time?
 

jsheffield

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I am not a Desert Tortoise keeper, or expert, but I can tell you that tortoises do not like change, and often take days, or weeks, to adjust to changes in their environment... I think that if you keep putting food and water out for your new housemate, he'll come around in time.

Jamie
 

Maro2Bear

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Yep, what Jamie said. They are creatures of habit, don’t like change and want to feel safe. i would just make sure it has food & water & is safe. Let it learn it is safe and in good hands.
 

wellington

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I agree with above but would give him a warm water soak every couple days unless you see him drink on his own.
I would however build him a hide that can be heated on those cold days or nights you might have and not let him burrow.
Burrows can be dangerous to them and possibly collapse. A member just lost a tortoise down in its 8 foot or more deep burrow that had collapsed.
 

Tom

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Hi, we adopted a 5 year old male desert tortoise less then 36 hours ago. The rescuer checked our yard for escape routes,toxic plants and shrubs (we don't use pesticide or fertilizer) and adequate shading. We are using a terra cotta saucer as a watering dish/shallow pool. We were told free roaming the tortoise in the yard was fine and that he would create his own burrow ( we live in the desert, he was free roamed before and made his own burrow). The rescuer suggested we bring him in at night for a couple of days. He was very active in the yard yesterday but did not eat his greens or have a bath (he may have eaten hay and flowers but I didn't see it). He found a hiding spot under a chair with a outdoor cover over it. He won't come out to eat, drink. bathe, sun himself or anything today. This morning he would not eat his dandelions unless I hand fed them to him. He got spooked and wouldn't eat anymore. Also, he whistles when he walks. There is no discharge, labored breathing, panting, nothing to indicate a infection. I called the rescuer the night we adopted him and again this morning and she said it was fine. She also said he would eat more when he warmed up but he only took a couple of bites of greens and its 80 degrees outside. I intend to enclose a large area for him and make him a burrow as I am concerned we were given the wrong info. about free roaming him. I am very concerned about his wellbeing. I don't know if I should just leave him alone for a few days, soak him, get him pellets. I don't know what to do. He is being fed the exact same thing as before plus timothy hay and orchard grass. He has not been active since he found the hiding spot. If we put him in the sun he just walks back to the spot. There is plenty of shade, and edible shrubs and flowers to hide under if he wants. He was living with the rescuer for atleast a month. She has several adult desert tortoises and he was just fine with her. Am I overreacting? Will he eat hardily and bathe in his own time?
Most of the care info for DTs is wrong and has been parroted for decades. They can survive a lot, so the old style has not been wholly abandoned. I don't want them to survive. I want them to thrive.

Using a shovel, you can start a burrow for the hot summer months. If you don't, I can guarantee the tortoise will pick the worst possible place to do it himself. I would not leave the tortoise down there once the weather cools in fall.

An insulated night box will be ideal for the rest of the year. Winter temps in the box will determine if you can leave him in it, or if you]ll need to bring him in for consistent cold hibernation temperatures.

This will get you on the right track. Questions are welcome:
 

Yvonne G

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Hi, and welcome to the Forum!

Free roaming the backyard is fine, and since the rescuer inspected your yard and deems it safe, I think this is the best option.

Your tortoise is going through what is called Relocation Stress. Tortoises are very territorial. He's lived in his last territory for a while and that's where he wants to be. He's not sure if he's safe in this new territory. It will take him a while to get used to the routine and to learn his new territory.

Every morning take him out of his hiding place and place him in front of the food. Then, whenever you think about it during the day, find him and place him in front of the food. Try to keep to a routine. Did you give him a nice, warm soak when you brought him home? If not, do so. Place him into a tub he can't climb out of and have the warm water come up to the middle of his sides (so he doesn't have to strain to keep his head above water). Leave him in there for about 15 minutes then put him in front of the food.

If he has free roaming in the backyard, there is probably quite enough food there for him to eat, but until he is comfortable in his new territory, you should provide food. I'm sure the place you got him from gave you a list of foods you can feed him, but there is also a list of foods on the care sheet that was linked above for you.

Just give him time. A month isn't unheard of, but it usually takes a couple weeks for them to get over the relocation stress.
 

Watsons mom

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Thank you. He's absolutely fine. I was just being a nervous Nelly.He came to me and I gave him some greens. He just sauntered into the house after a long afternoon of sun bathing. I never imagined I'd ever have a tortoise scratch at my back door to get inside.I don't know why he wants to be in the house but it's ok by me. The house is bunny proofed and we only use non-toxic, natural cleaning products so he can't get in to trouble. Building a burrow tomorrow and he's had a nice soak. So, anyone else have a tortoise ask to come inside. It's beautiful out. There's an all you can eat buffet of beautiful vegetation.
 

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zolasmum

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Thank you. He's absolutely fine. I was just being a nervous Nelly.He came to me and I gave him some greens. He just sauntered into the house after a long afternoon of sun bathing. I never imagined I'd ever have a tortoise scratch at my back door to get inside.I don't know why he wants to be in the house but it's ok by me. The house is bunny proofed and we only use non-toxic, natural cleaning products so he can't get in to trouble. Building a burrow tomorrow and he's had a nice soak. So, anyone else have a tortoise ask to come inside. It's beautiful out. There's an all you can eat buffet of beautiful vegetation.
I would think that's really intelligent to work out how to get to you so quickly, after the stress he has experienced !!
Angie
 

Watsons mom

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Hi, and welcome to the Forum!

Free roaming the backyard is fine, and since the rescuer inspected your yard and deems it safe, I think this is the best option.

Your tortoise is going through what is called Relocation Stress. Tortoises are very territorial. He's lived in his last territory for a while and that's where he wants to be. He's not sure if he's safe in this new territory. It will take him a while to get used to the routine and to learn his new territory.

Every morning take him out of his hiding place and place him in front of the food. Then, whenever you think about it during the day, find him and place him in front of the food. Try to keep to a routine. Did you give him a nice, warm soak when you brought him home? If not, do so. Place him into a tub he can't climb out of and have the warm water come up to the middle of his sides (so he doesn't have to strain to keep his head above water). Leave him in there for about 15 minutes then put him in front of the food.

If he has free roaming in the backyard, there is probably quite enough food there for him to eat, but until he is comfortable in his new territory, you should provide food. I'm sure the place you got him from gave you a list of foods you can feed him, but there is also a list of foods on the care sheet that was linked above for you.

Just give him time. A month isn't unheard of, but it usually takes a couple weeks for them to get over the relocation stress.
He has started a new thing. He scratches at the door till we let him in. The first time was cute but he seems to get highly agitated if we won't let him in. He will pace up and down the wheelchair ramp and scratch at the door. He knows where his food is outside. He's eating. He has his favorite sunbathing area. Everyday at 3 pm he's at the door pacing and scratching at the door.
 

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Tom

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He has started a new thing. He scratches at the door till we let him in. The first time was cute but he seems to get highly agitated if we won't let him in. He will pace up and down the wheelchair ramp and scratch at the door. He knows where his food is outside. He's eating. He has his favorite sunbathing area. Everyday at 3 pm he's at the door pacing and scratching at the door.
This is one reason why I think they should have their own large enclosure area with visual barriers for walls, and not have free run of the whole yard. They need their own space and having them share their space with people, either inside the house or outside, almost always leads to disaster in one of many ways. Your torotise shouldn't be free roaming in the house. Its not safe and it can't be made safe.
 

Watsons mom

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He won't be free roaming in my house. He can't see inside the house. He's not tall enough to see in through the glass. We don't have sliders. I don't want him to hurt himself trying to get inside. If I have to make enclosures inside and out for him to be happy and healthy so be it. I just want to understand why a desert tortoise with a lovely, totally edible desert garden and warm sunshine wants to be inside on cold hard tile with humans, a cat and rabbits. I want him to feel as safe and as comfortable in the garden as he does in the house. Maybe he needs a radio to keep him company outside. He just wants to sleep under the telly. Thank you for all the help and advice. I knew we shouldn't have let him in. His cuteness got us. Now we're going to have to deal with tortoise tantrums till we get him sorted.Sweet little thing . We love him already.
 

Cocorene'

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Hi, we adopted a 5 year old male desert tortoise less then 36 hours ago. The rescuer checked our yard for escape routes,toxic plants and shrubs (we don't use pesticide or fertilizer) and adequate shading. We are using a terra cotta saucer as a watering dish/shallow pool. We were told free roaming the tortoise in the yard was fine and that he would create his own burrow ( we live in the desert, he was free roamed before and made his own burrow). The rescuer suggested we bring him in at night for a couple of days. He was very active in the yard yesterday but did not eat his greens or have a bath (he may have eaten hay and flowers but I didn't see it). He found a hiding spot under a chair with a outdoor cover over it. He won't come out to eat, drink. bathe, sun himself or anything today. This morning he would not eat his dandelions unless I hand fed them to him. He got spooked and wouldn't eat anymore. Also, he whistles when he walks. There is no discharge, labored breathing, panting, nothing to indicate a infection. I called the rescuer the night we adopted him and again this morning and she said it was fine. She also said he would eat more when he warmed up but he only took a couple of bites of greens and its 80 degrees outside. I intend to enclose a large area for him and make him a burrow as I am concerned we were given the wrong info. about free roaming him. I am very concerned about his wellbeing. I don't know if I should just leave him alone for a few days, soak him, get him pellets. I don't know what to do. He is being fed the exact same thing as before plus timothy hay and orchard grass. He has not been active since he found the hiding spot. If we put him in the sun he just walks back to the spot. There is plenty of shade, and edible shrubs and flowers to hide under if he wants. He was living with the rescuer for atleast a month. She has several adult desert tortoises and he was just fine with her. Am I overreacting? Will he eat hardily and bathe in his own time?
 

Cocorene'

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My desert tortoise often comes to the Arcadia door and acts like he wants to come in. We never let him, although he is really cute. I honestly think it's just part of their need that "if I can see through it, then I want to go through it."
 
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