caring for tortoises


Tortoises are land reptiles that originate from central Asia however many of them have been kept captive as pets for centuries. Tortoises are herbivores therefore they do not eat meat, and have a life span of about 50 years. They only require a modest amount of space and food so are generally an easy pet to care for.


A tortoise’s diet should consist of leafy greens and grasses and should never eat meat. If the reptile Is kept outside, then it will naturally graze on grass and flowers but if it is kept inside the majority of the time then food will be required. Some of the favourite foods that tortoises eat are; dandelion leaves, hay, nettles, cucumber and green vegetables. However, one this that is misunderstood is that tortoises cannot eat iceberg lettuce which is a very common type and can be critical if consumed.

As reptiles do not move much they do not use a lot of energy therefore it is often misconceived how little you need to feed tortoises. On average they only need to be fed several times a week and this can feel like you are depriving the tortoise of food. However, when winter comes around the tortoise will naturally reduce its food intake in preparation for hibernation because if there is food in the stomach when it is hibernation it will rot and cause serious illness. It is very important that tortoises receive the right nutrient and vitamins to keep their shell healthy and shiny, this can be done by sprinkling a calcium supplement on the food.


if you are keeping your tortoise inside then it will need approximately 3 metres squared. The tortoise table or vivarium should be adequately lit with sunlight. They will also need an additional UV light so they can synthesise vitamin D plus a heat lamp so they can bask and keep warm. For the substrate, it is best to use material like sawdust, bark chips maybe mixed with play sand, and it should have a depth of 10cm so that there is enough to dig down and bury in. The enclosure should be kept around 21 degrees Celsius to keep the interior temperature constant because they are unable to do this themselves, as they are cold-blooded. As tortoises naturally like to dig and hide it is important to provide places for them to do this, with logs and wooden houses etc.


Tortoises do not need much exercise and because of this, they do not require much space. If a tortoise is kept inside, it will usually just sleep or eat, so it is important that tortoises get some time outside to exercise. Stereotypically, they do not move quickly however when you are not looking they can definitely move quickly so it is vital that a secure enclosure is used. They love open spaces of grass to graze and walk around on so a back lawn is good enough. Despite them being small reptiles it is important they still get daily exercise to maintain general health and receive some natural sunlight to keep their shells healthy and shiny. Typically, an hour a day outside is adequate.


When tortoises are stressed, it is easy to notice. Firstly, they will rapidly pull their limb into their shell if you try to pick them up. This creates a hissing like noise, which is the air inside their shell being compressed, but this is often misconceived as the tortoise hissing which creates more stress by the handler and consequently the tortoise. Another why of them showing being scared is pooing and urinating a lot and it is normally more watery when scared or stressed. Tortoises also stop eating when they are in a new environment or are uncomfortable so this is experienced often when moving house ect. So to prevent the tortoise from being stressed you should move slowly when attempting to pick it up and and reduce the amount of time that it is being moved from place to place.

Protection from disease

One of the most common diseases amongst tortoises is the ‘runny nose syndrome’, which is an upper respiratory tract infection. It is caused when tortoises are in dusty conditions, lack of sunlight, inappropriate temperature or humidity. To prevent this the right conditions are needed, such as temperature and humidity and a main way to prevent this is by feeding the right diet with no ‘junk food’ such as too much fruit and normal human food. Also another way Is avoiding stress from other animals like dogs ect, but the most important thing to prevent RNS is do not let your tortoise have contact with different species as this is very easy for alien pathogens to spread.

This is going to be part of my first assignment of my pre-vet course at college

thanks for reading

libby x

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