New tortoise owner needs advise on russian care

Moonpieroy

New Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2018
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3
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UK
Hi everyone I'm very new to having a tortoise as a pet. I've looked up lots of forum to make sure what I'm doing but lots of information are ambiguous hence I wish i could get some advise one for all. Thanks..
Some information about my tortoise. He's a Horsefield tortoise. Age unknown cus I picked it up from the previous owner who didn't want him anymore. The previous owner had him for three years and she got him from a donation to the school. That's all I know about him. The previous owner didn't seem to know what she was doing when she had him. Because she recommended me to feed him strawberry and carrot. Which I looked up it said it can be really bad for him. And she never used heat lamp in his indoor cage, only uv light. Therefore there isn't much advise I could ask from her.

Here are my question:

1. What substrate should I use for his indoor table?
At the moment I'm using beech chips and I've seen him having wood chips in his mouth I'm not sure that's safe for him.
I'm thinking of using soil based substrate to make a small garden in his table but I'm not sure what's safe to use.

2. When I let him out in the garden. He would go straight to the crown of a plant and eating dirt surround it. Do anyone know why and is it safe to let him eat it?

3. About his diet.
Monty loves gem lettuce like when i feed him a mix of leaf he'd always go straight to the gem lettuce and after he finished lettuce he doesnt touch the rest of the food. Without gem lettuce he doesn't seem to eat much and that worries me. I want to give him a variety food but I'm not sure what's high in protein and what's good for him. Also I don't have much access to weeds. I'd be grateful if anyone can give me a list of food you normally feed your Horsefield tortoise.

4. His behaviour.
Monty can be aggressive when he sees my fingers or toes. Like open his mouth trying to bite them continuously or he would try to jump/knock my finger like have his head in his shell and two front legs go forward then burrow to the side to push himself forward. I don't normally feed him with hands, only when I'm giving him new food. I touch his shell sometimes or when I gave him a bath i would use a toothbrush to gently brush the dirt on his shell. And that's all I can think of that could possibly annoyed him. I wonder have I mistreated him why he's aggressive with me. Would this behavouir drop after i dont touch him for a while?

I love Monty and I really want to take care of him properly. I would be really grateful if someone could give me some advise.

Many thanks!
 

JoesMum

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Hello and welcome. I'll try to answer in line

Hi everyone I'm very new to having a tortoise as a pet. I've looked up lots of forum to make sure what I'm doing but lots of information are ambiguous hence I wish i could get some advise one for all. Thanks..
Some information about my tortoise. He's a Horsefield tortoise. Age unknown cus I picked it up from the previous owner who didn't want him anymore. The previous owner had him for three years and she got him from a donation to the school. That's all I know about him. The previous owner didn't seem to know what she was doing when she had him. Because she recommended me to feed him strawberry and carrot. Which I looked up it said it can be really bad for him. And she never used heat lamp in his indoor cage, only uv light. Therefore there isn't much advise I could ask from her.
Lucky for you, you came to the right place :) We have 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.

@Tom has written two guides that you should read and act on

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

Russian Tortoise Care
https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/russian-tortoise-care-sheet.80698/

Here are my question:

1. What substrate should I use for his indoor table?
At the moment I'm using beech chips and I've seen him having wood chips in his mouth I'm not sure that's safe for him.
I'm thinking of using soil based substrate to make a small garden in his table but I'm not sure what's safe to use.
The most popular substrates are fine grade orchid bark and coco coir. Both need to be kept damp; tip water in from a jug and mix it thoroughly with your hands until it is evenly damp top to bottom and right into the corners.

Serve food on a piece of flat rock or slate or even the wrong (rough) side of a ceramic wall tile. This helps to keep the food out of the substrate and also helps to keep the beak in shape by abrasion when your tort eats.

Put both food slate and water dish (a terracotta plant saucer is safest - pet store reptile bowls are not recommended) in the middle of the enclosure rather than at the edge. They're less likely to be on the stomping path there and there is less risk of substrate being dragged into food and water.

2. When I let him out in the garden. He would go straight to the crown of a plant and eating dirt surround it. Do anyone know why and is it safe to let him eat it?
He really shouldn't eat dirt and it can be difficult stopping them. Try leaving cuttlebone in the enclosure indoors and out which he can chomp on for calcium and to keep his beal in shape; you'll find it in the bird aisle of pet stores.

3. About his diet.
Monty loves gem lettuce like when i feed him a mix of leaf he'd always go straight to the gem lettuce and after he finished lettuce he doesnt touch the rest of the food. Without gem lettuce he doesn't seem to eat much and that worries me. I want to give him a variety food but I'm not sure what's high in protein and what's good for him. Also I don't have much access to weeds. I'd be grateful if anyone can give me a list of food you normally feed your Horsefield tortoise.
Diet is a mixture of weedy and leafy greens. Sweet foods like fruit, bell pepper, carrot and tomato are high in sugars which Russians can't digest properly - they cause digestive and kidney problems - so these foods should only be fed very sparingly and very occasionally if at all.

Write a list of the greens that grow around you and those that you can buy and look them up in The Tortoise Table Plant Database for suitability to feed - it's a brilliant online resource that explains why things are suitable, or not!
https://www.thetortoisetable.org.uk

They can be very stubborn. They know what they like and they like what they know. The secret to introducing new foods is to do it slowly.
- Chop stuff he likes small and wet it
- Chop a tiny amount of new food small and mix it with the wet food. It will stick and your tort won't be able to pick it out.
- If your tort eats everything then, at the next feed, increase the new food very slightly and decrease the liked food by the same amount
- If your tort refuses then leave it for 24 hours before replacing it with fresh in exactly the same proportions.

A hungry tort will eat. You have to be patient and strong as there will be days when your tort decides to refuse completely, but it won't do any harm.
4. His behaviour.
Monty can be aggressive when he sees my fingers or toes. Like open his mouth trying to bite them continuously or he would try to jump/knock my finger like have his head in his shell and two front legs go forward then burrow to the side to push himself forward. I don't normally feed him with hands, only when I'm giving him new food. I touch his shell sometimes or when I gave him a bath i would use a toothbrush to gently brush the dirt on his shell. And that's all I can think of that could possibly annoyed him. I wonder have I mistreated him why he's aggressive with me. Would this behavouir drop after i dont touch him for a while?

I love Monty and I really want to take care of him properly. I would be really grateful if someone could give me some advise.

Many thanks!
All torts are territorial and Russians, regardless of gender, are among the most scrappy. It is nothing you have done. He is simply telling that this is his home and he isn't fond of sharing it. He is treating you exactly as he would any other tortoise. Joe, my tortoise, used ramming as his weapon of choice rather than biting. It is very painful when 7lb of Greek tortoise catches you on the ankle bone.

Torts aren't social creatures and don't get lonely or want cuddles. Some enjoy being scratched or rubbed, some take time to get used to the idea, some have good days and awkward days (Joe) and some never want to socialise with their humans. Take it steady, no nasty surprises, and hopefully he will decide that you are the bringer of yummy food rather than someone to be chased away.

They are happiest with all 4 feet on the ground in their enclosure. Russians need secure enclosures. They are extremely good at climbing in particular. Never let a Russian roam outside a secure enclosure... And that includes capping corners and fences so the tort cannot climb over.
 
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Moonpieroy

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Awwww thank you so much! You are amazing. You’ve gave me all the information I could asked for. And I feel more confident taking care of Monty. Thanks a lot!

Monty climb all the time. It’s been raining recently so I let him walk around the house. I noticed that he climb all the time and he even flipped himself a few times so I had to block all the passage that could lead him to a dangerous position. Sometimes he’s restless in his table so I thought he has cabin fever and I would let him out walk in my flat. And I just built him a small hill for him to climb and rest on. Aww he’s grumpy but I love him.

Again thank you so much for you time. You helped a lot x
 

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TriciaStringer

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I’m not sure of the size of his table, but it needs to be no smaller than 4’x8’. That will give him the room he needs to spend all his time in there. Also, when the weather gets better, he needs a secure outdoor area, one he can’t dig out of and predators can’t get into.
Having him roam the house is dangerous and should be avoided. Mine loves to climb over everything. I have plants planted in pots in his enclosure and he climbs all over them. I love watching him.

Most of all, congrats on the new tortoise. I love my Pepe. He is super scrappy too and has bitten me a few times while trying to hand feed him some dandelion greens. They are really fun to watch. Yours is adorable.

I included a pic of Pepe’s outside yard to give you an idea.
 

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TammyJ

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Hi and welcome to the site! I am glad to see that you have got such a helping of useful advice here already. Only thing I can think of is that you said he is aggressive towards you. I think this may have something to do with the fact that his diet has been so inadequate and that he suffers from malnutrition and other mistreatment by his previous owners/keepers. Happy that you have him now and I am sure he will be too! All the best.
 
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