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What to do when keeping Tortoises as Pets

Tortoises as pets are very popular these days. They are in some ways much easier to care for than a turtle and as a bonus are relatively quiet.

The biggest drawback of owning a tortoise is that they can live for 50-100 years and that is a fact that needs to be considered.

Adopting is one of the best ways to go about getting one if you are able to find one available since many people give them up due to the owner being outlived or a change in life circumstance.

Depending on what type of tortoise you want, they can become fairly large as well. Another thing to consider is they shouldn’t be handled much as this may cause them stress.

Depending on your space and the size of your tortoise, you can keep them either indoors or outdoors. Creating the right setup for your tortoise involves a few key things.

After choosing where you will create the setup things like lighting, heating, humidity, substrate, and other accessories are all things that will need to be considered.

Things to consider before owning tortoises as pets

Baby Gopher Tortoise

Tortoises are not a pet that will cuddle up to you, but they are an easier pet to take care of. They do require less attention, but you must still be prepared to care for them and provide a suitable shelter and living environment.

If tortoises are not cared for properly, they can develop something called metabolic bone disease. This is an easily preventable disease which is caused by malnutrition and a lack of access to UV light.

It is vital that you do in-depth research on the species of tortoise you choose to bring into your home and its specific care. We have many free tortoise care sheets available here.

The most common pet tortoises are the Pancake Tortoise, the Gopher Tortoise, the Hingeback Tortoise, the Indian Tortoise, the Radiated Tortoise, the Impressed Tortoise and the Galapagos Tortoise among others.

All of these vary in size and also the care required.

If you are just starting out I would recommend that you check out this list of pet tortoises which will give you a good overview of tortoises that could make good pets for you.

You can look more in depth into each species to learn more about them as well.


Red-footed Tortoise Habitat

As mentioned above choosing where to setup your tortoise is key. It’s best for your little friend to live in an environment that best matches their natural one, which may vary from your local climate.

To find out what is required make sure to check the care instructions for your specific pet tortoise. They must have access to fresh, clean water to soak in and to drink. Make sure the water only comes up to below their neck.

Tortoises can’t swim, so ensuring they don’t drown is very important.

Below is a general guide for tortoise care and may vary some depending on your species.

The habitat must be between 21-32 degrees Celsius (70-90 degrees Fahrenheit). As they are reptiles and cannot control their own temperature.

Whether you are housing it indoors or outdoors your tortoise should have access to shaded (cooler) areas as well as warmer areas in order for them to regulate their temperature.

Whatever you do, don’t forget the UVB light. It’s needed for their digestion and if they don’t have it can cause pyramiding, misshapen shells, MBD and more.

Tortoises also hibernate though in captivity it isn’t required, unless you plan on breeding them.

When building an outdoor enclosure, you will need to ensure any fencing is secure in the ground and that it even goes down below the surface.

Adding a layer of topsoil of around 2-4 inches is something you can do which will allow your tortoise to burrow down a bit if it chooses.

Adding a roofed enclosure is not a bad idea to help protect the tortoises from predators such as dogs or racoons. Make sure it is secured well since racoons can be very good at opening things.

Modifying a doghouse is often a popular option when building an outdoor enclosure.

For indoors you may also want to go with a tortoise table, all depending on the space available and size of your tortoise.

Cats and turtles usually get along as well, but it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your tortoise anytime it’s interacting with any of your family pets.

Lastly make sure there are no sharp objects or stones in the enclosure that your tortoise could injure itself on.

Make sure to check on your tortoise regularly to ensure he is well fed, healthy and hasn’t somehow flipped on its back.

One option would be to setup a remote video system where you can check at any point in time.

Behavior and temperament:

Tortoises have a docile temperament and are typically shy, however it is never a good idea to place two males together in an enclosure together as they may become aggressive with one another.

However, tortoises are a popular pet as they are calm and not typically aggressive.


Indian Star Tortoise Eating greens
Indian Star Tortoise Eating greens

As with any pet, tortoises require a special diet in order for them to thrive. Each species can vary with their dietary requirements, but all tortoises require a balance of calcium and phosphorus.

Without this they may develop metabolic bone disease, where they lack calcium and begin to draw it out of their shells.

As tortoises can become larger, they do require more food and they mainly eat a plant-based diet.

The best foods for a tortoise are fresh vegetables such as kale, collard greens, bell peppers and dandelions, which will make up about 80% of their diet.

They also enjoy berries, kiwis and oranges and other fruits which can be supplemented into their diet, but at no more than 10%.

Commercial tortoise food can also be used and it is vital to include a calcium powder and vitamin A into their diets as well.

Beak Maintenance

Tortoises have beaks that if not maintained can become overgrown. Supplementing their diet with cuttlebone is one way for them to continuously keep it worn down at an appropriate length.


Tortoises can easily become overweight and that is another thing that needs to be monitored. It all stems to their diet and feeding schedule.

Metabolic bone disease and how to avoid it:

As mentioned, it is vital to ensure your tortoise is well taken care of and provided with enough sunlight or UV rays and calcium in order to avoid them developing metabolic bone disease.

Calcium is vital for skeleton growth – the tortoises shell – the health of their muscles, their brain activity and their hormones. Some symptoms can include swollen legs, or legs that appear bowed, an arched spine, any bumps or unusual lumps along the tail, legs, and spine, or rubber jaw.

Metabolic bone disease causes tortoises to begin absorbing the calcium out of their shell in order to retain their metabolic functions.

If it is not treated, you may have to euthanize your little friend as it causes severe them pain and an uncomfortable life. If you notice your tortoise acting strangely, it is best to consult a vet first.


If you want to get a tortoise as a pet, we urge you to adopt one from someone who is giving one up. If you aren’t able to find one to adopt, then the second option is to buy one from a captive bred breeder.

Never take a tortoise from the wild. They may have parasites, fungus, and will not adapt well to captivity. A captive bred tortoise will be healthy and won’t know any different since it was always captive.

If you adopt a tortoise, we highly recommend taking it to a herp vet for a checkup before bringing it home. This will ensure you have a healthy tortoise and can adjust it’s husbandry if needed.

Lastly, they live a long time. Some more than 100 years, so keep that in mind when choosing your first or next pet tortoise.

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