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Keeping a Tortoise

Keeping a Tortoise

Many people still think that they can keep a tortoise in their garden and feed it lettuce leaves now and again, whereas in reality, tortoises are challenging pets and not really recommended for the beginner or casual reptile owner.  They grow to impractical sizes, especially if you choose to keep one indoors, but they also have complicated dietary needs and habits.  Thorough knowledge of the species of tortoise you would like to own, along with good husbandry, is essential for the tortoise to thrive.

Also, many tortoises that used to popular as pets are now listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and covered by additional, EU-wide, legislation which controls sale, transport and possession of tortoises within Europe.  This means that you cannot import, sell or trade tortoises in any way within Europe without a special permit, so locating a captive-bred tortoise can be quite difficult.

You should never buy a wild-caught tortoise or attempt to bring one in from overseas.  We at ideas-4-pets recommend that you join a tortoise organisation such as the Tortoise Trust as they are specialists in Tortoise care and can provide you with good advice, details of reputable breeders and information about tortoises that need re-homing.

If you do find a tortoise, make sure that it is sold with FULL DOCUMENTATION as otherwise you may be unknowingly supporting the illegal trade in wild animals.
The most popular tortoise sold as pets include the leopard tortoise, Hermann’s tortoise (sometimes called Mediterranean tortoise) and the Mediterranean Spur-Thigh Tortoise.  These are all listed under the CITES endangered list but the Russian or Horsefield Tortoise is still exempt and is another popular choice as a pet.


Tortoises have incredibly long lifespans, ranging from 50 to over 100 years and this is something you need to consider when making a commitment to this type of pet.   Not only will you need to commit caring for your tortoise during it's life, but you must also make provisions for your tortoise should it outlive you.


Many tortoises have voracious appetites and you should take carethat they are given the correct diet.  Tortoises must have a good variety of food, with particular emphasis on the amount of roughage in the diet.   You must also closely monitor the calcium/phosphorous balance. This is a huge and complicated a topic and ideas-4-pets recommend that you discuss this with reptile experts before purchasing.

Tortoises should ideally live outside and this means they may be more suited to areas with milder climates.   However, you may still need to bring your tortoise in overnight or during colder weather, depending on the temperatures of its natural habitat and where you live yourself.   If the tortoise grows very large, providing appropriate indoor housing can prove to be quite a challenge.

Even if you feel that your tortoise can be left outdoors the entire year, he must always be provided with some form of shelter, such as a dog kennel and you should ideally provide him with heating as well.  For some species, a temperature drop will trigger hibernation and this is something that they need to do.  It can be a very stressful period and requires special preparations.   Again, we recommend that you consult a knowledgeable vet or reptile expert to make sure that your tortoise is in good enough condition to cope with hibernation and for advice on how to prepare for this vulnerable period.

Most tortoises require an outside enclosure and it needs to be very strong as tortoises, especially large adults, are surprisingly strong and a flimsy pen will not last very long.   As tortoises love to burrow, make sure that the enclosure is deeply buried into the ground and as some tortoises can climb very well, make sure that the pen has a securely-fitted roof as well.   This not only prevents your tortoise from escaping but will also keep him safe from potential predators, such as dogs.
Placing things inside the pen will add interest, but check that there are no poisonous plants or sharp or small objects that might be accidentally ingested.  The water bowl should be shallow obstacles (e.g. rocks and steps) should be removed so that your tortoise is prevented from flipping on his back whilst trying to climb it, as this can lead to death.

Special Needs

Some species of tortoise can be quite anti-social and even aggressive, particularly if males are kept together in too small a space as they are territorial.
The fighting incurred can cause serious injuries around the eyes and legs, so always research your chosen species carefully and make a note of their normal habits in the wild before attempting to find a cage mate for your pet.

In general, tortoise species vary significantly in their housing, environmental and dietary needs as well as their adult sizes, temperature and lighting needs so thorough research and choosing the right species is crucial to success.

This small article is simply an introduction to keeping a  tortoise as a pet and those of you with a serious interest should join a good tortoise organisation, get expert advice and do thorough research through specialist books before purchasing.