Animal Information

How do you CHOOSE the RIGHT Turtle or Tortoise for a Pet?

If you have considered becoming the owner of a new tortoise, you may be wondering where to start. Do you pick what species to raise before doing the research? How do you know what to research before you know what species you are going to house?

Which kind of tortoise or turtle you should raise depends on a lot of things, but mostly what kind you like the most, and what is available. There are a few things that may help you decide.

  • Climate. Your local climate may make some choices logical, especially if you keep the tortoise outside.
    • Warm and wet?
    • Warm and dry?
    • Short, dry summers and long winters?
  • Time. Do you have time to change filters as needed with Sliders and other aquatic turtles? Does your lifestyle allow you the needed time to lock up desert species on rainy and cold days?
  • Local wildlife. Your local animals can help predict how comfortable a tortoise might be. What species of reptiles do you have in your area? What are their needs?
  • Available space. Will you be able to house an animal outdoors year round?
    • African spurred (Sulcata), Leopard tortoises, Burmese mountain, and so do well with lots of space like a large back yard.
    • Russian, Pancake, Hingebacks, Mediterranean, and others in the 6-8 inch range are great for limited spaces.
  • Interaction and personality.
    • This is very subjective and depends a lot on individuals. It will be important to know if you will enjoy shy animals such as snapping turtles in which case you may not see often. If not then the outgoing Redfoot tortoise is an awesome choice.

Finding a healthy tortoise can take time. You can use multiple resources. 

  • Pet store
  • On-line source, either a retailer or breeder
  • Local breeder
  • Pet rescue, adoption
  • Local ‘for sale’ ads, like Craig’s List
  • Reptile or pet expo or show

If you can check for:

  • Egg yolk scar is completely healed over
  • What it eats and how often it eats, as well as if it has defecated lately
  • Length and weight. If you see it, does it feel ‘heavy’
  • Clear eyes and nostrils- no puffiness, discoloration, runniness, etc.
  • Overall condition
  • Pulls in tight when picked up, and/or claws like crazy to get away
  • If possible, get a vet check-up before purchasing with special attention to parasites.

Baby or older tortoise?

Most people want to start with very young or baby animals for most pets, but babies generally take the most careful care, and many of them pass away for many reasons. There is also the issue that babies need smaller habitats, but as they get older, they need bigger ones quick. Lots of people get babies thinking they have plenty of time to build the bigger cage, only to get caught by surprise when the once little guy has outgrown the starter home. 

If you can, consider a year or two old tortoises. It will be past most of the hazards, be able to be placed outside from the onset, and still offer you a long life.

Click to read Housing tortoises using tortoise tables.

If You Choose A Baby Tortoise…

Tip #1. Temperatures

Basic laws of physics dictate that objects with a smaller mass will heat up more rapidly than a similar object of larger size in an identical environment. This applies to tortoise husbandry in the sense that baby tortoises will reach and be able to maintain a proper body temperature faster and more efficiently than an older animal.

As a result, extra consideration should be taken when providing basking spots for smaller animals. While a 100 pound sulcata may be able to safely bask at 110 degrees for hours, similar conditions would prove quickly detrimental to a baby.

Simply monitor basking temperatures closely, and be absolutely sure that your pet can easily move away from the heat source. Take care that the entire enclosure does not become too hot, and preferable one should create a thermal gradient having one end of the enclosure heated and the other end close to room temperature. Some research regarding the requirements of the species you have and the invest in a high quality thermometer should ensure that all goes well.

Tip #2. Hydration.

Tortoises are found in a wide variety of habitats ranging from desert to rainforest. As a result, some species are more likely to actively seek out potable water than others. Many desert and Mediterranean species drink only opportunistically during the wet seasons, and in captivity will rarely drink from a bowl without prompting. Additionally, in the wild some species which may live in the hottest and driest parts of the world, also spend most of their days in cool, moist burrows. This is a survival tactic that has evolved over time to prevent rapid dehydration and desiccation of desert dwellers.

To prevent dehydration of baby tortoises, always provide a shallow bowl filled with clean water. While it is true that many species get most (but never all) of their water requirements from their food, it never hurts to add a shallow dish, even they seldom use it. Additionally, weekly or bi-weekly soaks in room temperature water are advised. This tactic nearly always elicits a reflexive drinking response in tortoises. The water should be no deeper than the animals chin, and replaced immediately if the animal defecates.

10 to 15 minute soaks are sufficient, and will ensure proper hydration as a replacement for the shelter provided by burrows they may inhabit in the wild. Even tropical tortoises should be offered water via this method.

Click to read Why Soaking Baby Tortoises Is Important.

Tip #3. UV Light

In the wild, tortoises bask in the sun as a way to regulate body temperature. In addition to the heat afforded by the sun, the animals are also receiving direct, natural sunlight that allows for proper biosynthesis of vitamin D3, which in turn is vital to calcium absorption in the gastrointestinal tract.

In captivity, natural sunlight should be utilized if possible, although always sun your tortoises in an open air (not glass) enclosure, and make sure that they do not get too hot.

A few hours a week can make a big difference in the overall well-being of your tortoises. When they are not outside, the use of artificial lighting is required. Special bulbs designed specifically for this purpose should be used.

These bulbs, typically in the form of a fluorescent tube, emit ultraviolet B rays (UVB) which are of the same wavelength as those put off by the sun. 10 to 12 hours of light is recommended for most species.

Tip #4. Diet and Supplements

Tortoises of all ages and size should be provided with a varied and healthy diet. This becomes more important when dealing with younger animals. As they go through their stages of rapid growth, the need for a balanced diet complete with proper calcium and vitamin supplementation is a must.

Different species will have their own unique dietary needs, so be sure to carefully research the requirements of the type of tortoise you have, and closely follow the guidelines provided in books and elsewhere. Take care not to feed any single food item too frequently. The more types of food that your pet receives correlates directly with the amount of varying vitamins and mineral that they will be ingesting.

Click to read Why RepCal Is Important To Baby Tortoises.

Click to view the baby Redfoot tortoises at Crazy Critters Inc.

As for supplements, one with calcium and vitamin D3 should be used at every feeding for young animals, and less often as the animal reaches adult size. Older tortoises housed exclusively outdoors under natural sunlight do not require dietary D3. A multivitamin is also a good idea, although a varied diet is usually adequate. Just to be safe, lightly dust your pets food with a reptile multivitamin once every week or so.

Click to read Why Cuttlebone Is Important To Your Tortoises.

Tip #5. Reduce Stress

While tortoises are tough, hardy animals, they are subject to stress, as is any other living creature. Babies especially should be raised in a low-stress environment. This is easily accomplished by paying close attention to your husbandry regimen, and by limiting the handling of baby tortoises.

Small tortoises are often quite appealing to young children, and occasional supervised handling by them is acceptable, but prolonged periods of being picked up, flipped over, and occasionally dropped are obviously undesirable.

The best bet is to limit owner-pet interaction to gentle petting and hand feeding until they reach a slightly sturdier size.

Tip #6. Have Fun!

The most important tip is to have fun. Be creative. The more you enjoy housing an exotic, the better life you will provide. It is easy to find enjoyment in the educational part of raising a reptile. Research where your pet comes from. Talk to people in the hobby who might have already tried a method to see if it worked out. Build relationships and share your experiences.

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