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A Beginner’s Guide to Owning a Tortoise

Posted on 7th October 2019 by Green Lane Farm Team

Tortoises make for great pets. They are attractive, quiet and exhibit fascinating behaviour. In this guide, the experts at Green Lane Farms are going to teach you everything you need to know about how to care for a tortoise.


Which breeds of tortoise make for good pets?

Jonathan giant tortoise at Plantation House St Helena Island

Not all breeds of tortoise are right for keeping as pets. The following are the most suitable choices:

– The Indian Star Tortoise
– Hermann’s Tortoise
– The Russian Tortoise
– African Spur-thighed Tortoise
– Horsefield Tortoises
– Mediterranean Spur-thighed Tortoise
– Leopard Tortoise
– Red-footed Tortoise


Keeping a tortoise

Where should I house a tortoise?

Except for a few anomalous species, tortoises prefer to live outdoors. They should be housed in a spacious outdoor enclosure that provides plenty of fresh air and an abundance of natural UV light from the sun.

What should be inside my tortoise’s enclosure?

Tortoises like to burrow, so it’s important you keep the enclosure secure and escape-proof. This can be achieved by using a protective barrier of concrete bricks or sealed wood walls. Consider using a sand and soil mix as the substrate; it is an affordable option that facilitates safe burrowing.

Also included in your enclosure should be:

  • ShelterDespite tortoises being outdoor creatures, they still require somewhere to shelter from heat, rain and other natural elements.
  • Plants Tortoises feed on plants. Keeping a healthy amount of plants in the enclosure allows your tortoise to feed through the day. The majority of species will eat dandelions and clover, but you may wish to look into the diets of specific species to ensure you don’t pair them with toxic plants. Many plants can also help control ammonia and nitrates in the soil, reducing the frequency of substrate changes.
  • Shade Ensure there is a permanent shady area in your enclosure where your tortoise can rest during particularly hot days.
  • A water sourceAn accessible water source will ensure your tortoise stays hydrated.
  • Stimulating surroundings A stimulating environment will keep your tortoise entertained. A few boulders, some grassy areas and even small trees can enliven the enclosure.


Do tortoises hibernate?

Most Mediterranean tortoise breeds are biologically set to hibernate and do so for health reasons. Forcing irregular hibernation is not advised, as this could adversely affect the health of your tortoise.


Can multiple tortoises live together?

Tortoises tend to be solitary by nature, but keeping two tortoises together in one enclosure should be fine provided you stick to the gender rules and monitor them regularly during their first few weeks together. Ideally, you should keep two tortoises together only if they are both females. A male tortoise can become overly aggressive if kept with another male or a female, although one male with two or more females can work.


Feeding a tortoise

What should I feed my tortoise?

Tortoises are omnivores but predominantly eat plant-based foods. 

– Your tortoise will get much of its food from its surroundings. Keeping lots of plants in your enclosure, especially dandelions, will help to keep your tortoise satisfied throughout the day.
– Three or four times a week, serve some extra leafy greens into the enclosure. These can include kale and collards.
– Feed small insects, such as crickets, mealworms and waxworms, to the tortoise a few times a week.
– There is also a variety of commercial tortoise food available on the market. Check their packaging and instructions for serving sizes and regularity.

What should I avoid feeding to my tortoise?

There are a variety of plants and fruits that are toxic to tortoises. You should ensure that none of the following is kept inside the enclosure:

– Daffodils
– Azaleas
– Foxgloves
– Buttercups
– Avocados
– Hydrangeas
– Morning Glory
– Citrus Fruit
– Bean Sprouts


Handling a tortoise

holding a tortoise


Should I touch or pick up my tortoise? 

Tortoises have an instinct to thrash their claws when they are picked up. If you wish to pick up your tortoise, do so by picking it up by the shell and then supporting its limbs as much as possible. Be careful though — dropping a tortoise can shatter its shell, which can lead to life-threatening infections.

Are tortoises good pets for children?

Tortoises are not ideal pets for children. Tortoises are delicate creatures and even dropping them from a low height can fracture their shells. In addition, tortoises can live an incredibly long time — often over 25 years! They require serious commitment and shouldn’t be purchased in response to a child’s spontaneous desire.

How long do tortoises live for?

Some tortoises can live for an unbelievably long time — sometimes over 100 years! Here are the average lifespans of popular pet tortoise breeds:

– Hermanns Tortoise between 50 and 60 years
– African Spur-thighed Tortoise – 70 years
– Russian Tortoise – 40 years
– Indian Star Tortoise – 80 years
– Pancake Tortoise25-30 years


Caring for my tortoise

What are common tortoise illnesses and how can I spot them?

Tortoises are prone to a variety of diseases and illnesses. Ensure you stay aware of unusual behaviour or physical changes in your tortoise. 

Vitamin A deficiency
Cause: diet lacking in vitamin A
Symptoms: changes in the epidermis, lack of appetite, lethargy, swelling of the eyes.

Respiratory diseases
Cause: bacteria
Symptoms: excess mucus, nasal discharge, lethargy and loss of appetite

Shell infections
Cause: bacteria or as the result from fractured shells
Symptoms: fractured shells as a result of drops, vehicles or dog bites.


Do I need to vaccinate my tortoise?

Pet tortoises do not need vaccinations. With the correct care, pet tortoises should lead long, healthy lives without the defence of vaccinations.

If you ever leave home and require temporary care for your tortoise or other small pet, trust in Green Lane Farm. Our facilities provide the perfect home away from home for your pet. Complete with luxury pet runs, family atmosphere and expert staff, Green Lane Farm offer the very best tortoise care throughout Chessington, Kingston and the wider Surrey region. To enquire further about our services, give our team a call today.


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