How to Take Care of a Pet Tortoise? (Tortoise Care Sheet)

Pet tortoises can be an excellent pet for people who enjoy the convenience of a pet that doesn’t seek cuddles and attention. It’s important that you do a bit of research about tortoises before committing yourself to caring for one. This guide is going to point out the most important aspects of caring for pet tortoises so that you can gain a better understanding about the responsibilities in store for you.

A common misconception that many people make is that caring for a tortoise is the same as caring for a turtle. Many pet tortoises have found themselves thrown into a watery environment when most species are in fact land animals.

The first thing you need to understand about pet tortoises is that while they may have been bred to be a pet, they are still wild animals and are available in many different species—some of which have different requirements than others. Some tortoises stay quite small while other can grow to be massive and weigh as much as a bag of cement! The best way to prepare yourself for your responsibilities is to find out as much as you can about the species of tortoise you are going to get (particularly how large it will grow to be and what foods it favors).

Are Tortoises Good Pets?

Without a doubt, tortoises make exceptional pets, provided you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Once tortoises feel safe and comfortable with their human caretaker, they might surprise you by showing their affinity in their own distinctive ways. They might approach you, not for cuddles or frolics like a canine would, but rather for food or scratches. Remember, tortoises do sense touch on their shells!

However, it’s crucial to bear in mind that these creatures are naturally solitary. They usually don’t crave companionship, neither from humans nor from their fellow tortoises. If you’re anticipating a snuggly pet, a tortoise might not be the right fit. But don’t let this dissuade you. These stoic beings are often active during the day, particularly when it’s warm and sunny. Observing them in their habitat, whether it’s an intricately designed tank or a large backyard enclosure, is an absolute delight.

In terms of care, tortoises don’t demand much on a day-to-day basis, apart from fresh water and a balanced diet. As a tortoise enthusiast, you might find yourself spending more time strategizing the nutrition intake of your little friend than actually providing direct care. Suiting their nutritional needs and food preferences is a fascinating process that ties you closer to the tortoise.

Cleanliness is an important aspect of tortoise care. The frequency of the clean-up depends significantly on the type and size of the enclosure. While a large outdoor enclosure might not require daily clean-up, a smaller indoor one may need daily attention to maintain cleanliness.

How to Choose the Right Tortoise


The size of a fully grown tortoise is a fundamental factor that can affect your choice. The little hatchlings that you see in pet stores can indeed be deceptive as some tortoises can grow to a considerable size. For instance, the Sulcata Tortoise, one of the most popular pet tortoises, can grow up to 30 inches in length, weigh up to 100 lbs, and require ample space to roam.

On the other hand, the Russian Tortoise, another commonly chosen species, is a compact pet, reaching a maximum of 10 inches in length. The ‘small but mighty’ phrase fits perfectly for these tortoises with their assertive and lively personalities.

Before you commit to a tortoise, remember that these creatures can have a lifespan rivaling that of humans. Some species can even outlive us, with the Aldabra Giant Tortoise boasting a lifespan of over 200 years! This commitment is not just for a few years; it’s potentially a commitment for life.

When choosing a tortoise, it’s important to consider your lifestyle and space availability. If you live in a small apartment, a Russian or Hermann’s Tortoise, which are comfortable in smaller, indoor enclosures, may be a better fit. If you have a spacious backyard in a warm climate, a Sulcata could be your perfect tortoise companion.

Budget is another vital aspect. Some tortoises have specific dietary or housing requirements, such as a heated enclosure or UVB lighting. These additional costs can add up and should be considered alongside the cost of the tortoise itself.

Where Can I Get a Pet Tortoise?

There are several places to consider when planning to get a pet tortoise: pet stores, specialized breeders, and even adoption centers. Each comes with its unique set of considerations.

Pet stores are often the go-to for first-time pet owners, owing to their accessibility and wide range of species available. However, it’s vital to ensure the store adheres to ethical practices. Investigate whether the store sources its tortoises from legitimate breeders and maintains high standards of care.

Next, consider specialized breeders. They are often a haven for species-specific knowledge and provide the most controlled environment for the birth and growth of these creatures. Buying from a breeder often means getting a healthy, well-cared-for tortoise. Still, always do your research. Make sure the breeder has a strong reputation and openly shares their breeding and care practices.

Adoption centers, too, can be an excellent place to find a tortoise in need of a loving home. These centers often rescue and rehabilitate abandoned or mistreated animals, and adopting from them can be a life-changing experience, both for you and your pet. Ensure the center is licensed and provides complete health records of the animal.

Never source a tortoise from illegal traders or from the wild. It’s not just about the potential legal consequences; these practices harm natural populations and contribute to the decline of certain species.

How Much Does It Cost To Own a Pet Tortoise?


While these charming creatures can bring a world of joy, they also come with financial responsibilities. These costs encompass everything from initial setup to ongoing maintenance and potential medical expenses. Let’s break down these costs so you can make an informed decision.

  1. Initial Cost: The initial costs largely depend on the tortoise species, but common expenses include the tortoise itself, the enclosure, and essential equipment. For instance, I spent $150 on my baby Hermann’s tortoise. The enclosure, which needs to be secure and large enough to provide a stimulating environment, set me back another $200. Heat lamps and UVB lights, critical for mimicking a tortoise’s natural environment, added an additional $60 to my initial costs.
  2. Ongoing Costs: Moving onto the ongoing costs, these include items like food, substrate replacements, and the energy for heat lamps. My tortoise’s diet consists of a combination of fresh vegetables, tortoise pellets, and the occasional treat, totaling around $20 a month. Substrate replacement and energy for the heat lamps added roughly another $10 per month.
  3. Medical Cost: Lastly, let’s talk about potential medical costs. Just like any pet, tortoises can fall ill and require medical attention. A routine veterinary check-up can cost around $50, but if treatment or medication is needed, the bill can quickly escalate. I recall when my tortoise had a respiratory infection; the total cost, including antibiotics, was approximately $100.

Remember, costs can vary depending on factors such as the tortoise’s species, size, age, and specific needs. For example, larger tortoise species or tortoises with special dietary or habitat requirements can be more expensive to care for.

What Kind of Home Does Pet Tortoise Need?



First and foremost, your tortoise’s enclosure needs to be spacious. Remember, a small, cramped area is a big no-no. Tortoises, despite their slow movements, enjoy exploring their surroundings. Ideally, an outdoor enclosure is excellent as it provides natural sunlight and a larger roaming area.

However, if this is not possible due to weather conditions or safety concerns, an indoor enclosure can also work, provided it’s big enough. Indoor enclosures should be at least five times the length of the tortoise, and twice as wide as its length. Keep the enclosure safe from potential predators and escape-proof it by having walls at least twice the tortoise’s length in height.


When it comes to the enclosure’s substrate, or bedding, certain types are more suited for tortoises than others. A mix of organic topsoil and play sand, in a 50:50 ratio, mimics their natural habitat and is a popular choice among tortoise keepers.

The substrate should be deep enough for your tortoise to burrow into – around 2 to 3 inches for smaller tortoises, and up to 6 inches for larger species. Make sure to change the substrate regularly – once a month is a good guideline to follow to keep the enclosure clean and healthy for your tortoise.

Light and Heat

Tortoises require both UVB light and heat to thrive. UVB light is crucial as it helps them produce Vitamin D3, which in turn aids in calcium absorption, essential for shell and bone health. While outdoor enclosures naturally provide this light, indoor setups require UVB bulbs.

Alongside UVB, tortoises also need a heat source to regulate their body temperature. You can achieve this with a heat lamp or ceramic heat emitter, maintaining a basking spot temperature of around 95°F for most species, with a cooler end around 75°F. These conditions should replicate the tortoise’s natural day-night and seasonal cycles, and should therefore be adjusted accordingly.


When it comes to accessorizing your tortoise’s habitat, think comfort and enrichment. Hide spots like caves or log hides are vital, giving your tortoise a sense of safety and a place to retreat to. Include edible plants for them to munch on and interact with. Remember, the goal is to mimic their natural habitat as much as possible.

Food and Water Dishes

Lastly, don’t forget about food and water dishes! Shallow dishes work best for both food and water. Place them in an easily accessible spot within the enclosure. Clean these dishes daily to prevent bacteria buildup, and always ensure your tortoise has fresh water available.

Dietary Requirements for Your Pet Tortoise


Tortoises, depending on their species, primarily feed on a herbivorous diet. They enjoy a variety of leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits. These may vary across different species. For example, a Russian Tortoise thrives on a diet of broadleaf weeds and leafy greens, while a Red-Footed Tortoise also needs a small amount of animal-based protein, such as mealworms or cooked chicken. Be sure to research the specific dietary needs of your tortoise’s species to ensure a balanced and appropriate diet.

One of the key aspects of a tortoise’s diet is the balance of nutrients, particularly calcium and vitamin D3. These are crucial for maintaining a healthy shell and bone structure. Foods like kale, collard greens, and turnip greens are high in calcium and should regularly be part of your tortoise’s diet. Vitamin D3, which is essential for the absorption of calcium, can be obtained through exposure to sunlight or a UVB light in their enclosure.

Feeding Guidelines

The frequency and portion size of feeding will depend on the tortoise’s age, size, and species. Young and growing tortoises usually require daily feeding, while adults can be fed every other day. Portion size, meanwhile, is generally advised to be the same size as the tortoise’s shell. However, always consider your tortoise’s activity level and adjust portions accordingly to prevent over or underfeeding.

Foods to Avoid

Just as there are foods that are beneficial for tortoises, there are also those that are toxic or harmful. Avoid feeding your tortoise dairy products, dog or cat food, and high-protein foods, as tortoises cannot process these well. Certain plants like rhubarb, buttercups, and poppies are also toxic to tortoises and should be kept out of their reach.

Importance of Hydration

Water is as vital as food in a tortoise’s diet. Always ensure your tortoise has access to clean, fresh water. While they obtain much of their hydration from their food, especially if their diet consists of fresh veggies and fruits, they should still have a shallow water dish in their enclosure.

Pet Tortoise Care

Caring for a pet tortoise requires dedication, diligence, and an understanding of their unique needs. From the way you handle your shelled friend, to the care their shell requires, each aspect plays a significant role in their well-being. Here, I share the best practices for pet tortoise care based on my extensive experience as a tortoise keeper.


Handling your tortoise should be done with utmost care. While tortoises are not fragile, they do appreciate gentle and mindful interactions. Always support their entire body when you lift them, never from their extremities. Limit the handling time to prevent stress and always wash your hands before and after to avoid transmitting any pathogens. Remember, they are not toys, and while they may not show it, they can experience stress from excessive handling.

Shell Care

The shell of a tortoise is a critical part of their anatomy. It’s their home, their shield, and a sign of their health. Regular shell checks should be a part of your tortoise care routine. Any discolored, soft, or broken areas may signal an issue and should be checked by a vet. Regularly lightly brushing their shell with a soft toothbrush and warm water can help to maintain its condition and gives you a chance to inspect it for any issues.


Contrary to what you might think, tortoises can benefit from occasional bathing. In fact, bathing your tortoise in shallow, lukewarm water can help maintain their hydration and cleanliness. It’s essential, however, not to leave them unattended as they can easily tip over. Always use a container they can easily get out of to prevent any accidental drowning.


Brumation is the reptile equivalent of hibernation. During colder months, some tortoise species will brumate, and their metabolic activities slow down significantly. This natural process can be intimidating for new tortoise owners, but it’s a crucial aspect of their life cycle. A vet can guide you through preparing for your pet’s brumation and ensuring they remain healthy during this period.

Enclosure Care

Keeping your tortoise’s enclosure clean is vital to prevent the spread of disease and ensure their overall wellbeing. Regular removal of waste, uneaten food, and any mold or fungus is essential. Monthly deep cleans should also be a part of your schedule. While cleaning, inspect for any potential hazards such as sharp edges or potential choking hazards.

Common Pet Tortoise Diseases


1. Respiratory Illnesses

Arguably the most common health issue for tortoises is respiratory illnesses. Symptoms may include wheezing, runny nose, lack of appetite, and lethargy. These are typically caused by cold temperatures and poor humidity control.

Preventing respiratory illnesses involves maintaining the right temperature and humidity in the tortoise’s enclosure. A well-balanced diet also helps bolster their immune system. If symptoms do occur, immediate veterinary intervention is crucial. Antibiotics are often prescribed for treatment.

2. Dehydration

Dehydration, signaled by sunken eyes and loss of appetite, is often due to inadequate water supply or hot, dry conditions. Prevention is simple: always ensure your tortoise has access to fresh water and monitor enclosure conditions closely. Dehydrated tortoises may need rehydration under a vet’s guidance.

3. Malnutrition

A poor diet can lead to malnutrition, causing slow growth, weak shell, and vitamin deficiencies. Feeding your tortoise a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, primarily calcium and Vitamin D3, is crucial. A malnourished tortoise requires a diet adjustment and may need supplements under veterinary advice.

4. Shell Disease

Shell disease, often signaled by discoloration or soft spots on the shell, can be caused by poor nutrition, lack of sunlight, or bacterial/fungal infections. A diet rich in calcium, access to natural sunlight, and a clean enclosure are key prevention methods. Treatment often involves dietary changes, UVB lighting, and topical treatments or antibiotics.

5. Parasites

External parasites like mites, ticks, and internal parasites can afflict tortoises. Symptoms vary but can include unusual behavior, weight loss, or visible parasites. A clean habitat is crucial for prevention. In the case of an infestation, veterinary treatment is necessary.


Caring for a pet tortoise involves numerous considerations and commitments. Their suitability as a pet is determined by their unique characteristics and the specific needs of their species. When deciding on getting a tortoise, it’s vital to source your pet responsibly, considering both the financial and ethical implications.

Remember, a tortoise’s home is crucial for its well-being. A suitable enclosure with the right substrate, light, heat, and accessories can ensure your pet thrives. Providing a balanced diet according to your tortoise’s species-specific needs is also essential.

Monitoring your pet’s health is another integral aspect of tortoise care, with common diseases such as respiratory illnesses, dehydration, malnutrition, shell disease, and parasites often affecting these creatures. Regular vet check-ups and knowing the symptoms can aid early detection and treatment.

When it comes to handling and care, always prioritize your tortoise’s comfort. Regular bathing, careful handling, and proper shell care will go a long way in ensuring your pet’s health. Be mindful of brumation and enclosure care as well.

Finally, remember that tortoises can have a long lifespan, often outliving their owners. Taking on a tortoise as a pet is a long-term commitment, but it can be an incredibly rewarding one. As a tortoise owner, you have the opportunity to observe and learn from a fascinating creature, and with the right care, help them lead a long, healthy life.

Filled under: Turtles and Tortoises

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