Minimum requirements for any tortoise:
Your heating source should be positioned at one end of the vivarium, creating a hot basking end. The opposite end should have no heating, creating a cool end. Place your thermometer and/or thermostat sensor on the substrate in the middle of your vivarium. At this point in your vivarium the thermometer should read 80-82°F (27-28 °C) give or take a couple of degrees Fahrenheit and should be maintained for 24 hours a day, the best way to achieve an accurate temperature is with a thermostat. Do not ever use a heat mat or heat rock with your Tortoise.
UV lighting is essential for 12-14 hours a day. The UV tube should be placed just below the ceiling and should start against the wall at the hot end and span 2/3 the length of the enclosure thus creating a UV gradient much like your heating. It is best to position your UV tube 6-9 inches from the ceiling of a 2ft high vivarium. However a word of warning. Reptiles have adapted to living with strong UV radiation from above. Placing the UV tube level or within 45 degrees of the eye could damage it severely (photokeratoconjunctivitis or cataracts) symptoms include swelling of the eye and area around it or cloudy eye/s. This is thankfully not too common but it is better to be safe and not allow your animal to sit alongside or within a few inches of your tube.
Always remember to replace your UV tube every 6 months unless the manufacturer suggests otherwise. The tube’s UV producing capability will degrade though the tube will show no obvious sign. As far as we can tell only the Arcadia D3+ and T5 range last 12 months and give a virtually guaranteed 12% UV for the duration of that time. Failure to give your new tortoise the proper levels and quality of UV could result in irreversible Metabolic Bone Disorder.
Never place you vivarium near radiators, direct sunlight, drafts, busy areas or appliances that create a lot of noise.
Some Tortoises will fair just as well in an open topped enclosure, often referred to as a tortoise table. This type of enclosure can be heated and lit in much the same way as above, or with a mercury vapor (M.V) light which will provide heat and UV. Be sure when using the M.V lights that your tortoise can get away from the heat and light. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Please remember if your room drops in temperature at night you may require additional infra-red heating to come on when your M.V goes off. However the most effective way would to use an Infrared bulb on 24 hours a day and a UV tube as described in the section above.
It is worth noting that the table type enclosures do not work if the ambient temperature of the room is low. If during colder months you turn your central heating off during the day while you are out or at night your tortoise will suffer. It will be given only the choice of being too cold to function or basking. Quite often these seasonal changes in ambient room temperature will trigger a response in your tortoise to start the hibernation process. This could severely affect your animal’s health.
There are several good substrates for tortoises, a good quality orchid bark is recommended, and it is certainly the best for tortoises from humid regions (Herman’s, Spur thighs and Marginated). When using damper barks always increase your ventilation, not doing so may rot your wooden vivarium. Tortoises from dryer regions fare much better on beech chip (Horsfield’s). No tortoise should be kept on sand, gravel or peat.
Spot clean your vivarium regularly, if done properly a full vivarium clean should only be necessary once a month. Only use disinfectants specifically designed for reptiles. Soap, detergents and other disinfectants can be toxic to your animal.
Always provide your tortoise with clean fresh drinking water; tap water is fine, although there are water treatments available if in doubt.
Always get all your tank furniture from a recognized dealer, and remember tortoises eat plant matter, don’t use any live, plastic or silk plants.
Your tortoise requires somewhere to hide, provide it with a box containing a good quality rabbit hay. The hay provides a comfortable bedding and is also very useful as part of your animals diet.
Many different feeding routines and diets have been used with varying levels of success the best suited to this set-up will be explained below.
Tortoises should be given 3 wet meals a week and access to as much dry food as it likes.
A tortoise’s wet diet is made up of 90% leafy greens, such as Rocket, Endives, various salad leaves and selected weeds. The final 10% is made up of fruits and vegetables to add colour and flavor. See later list and online guides for safe foods.
The dry part of its diet is very important. The hay used as bedding can be eaten and chopped to mix with the wet food to add a little more roughage. Alfalfa can also be left in the enclosure or mixed with the wet food in the same way.
As a general rule we like to leave a good dry pellet food in the enclosure at all times. Do not add too much water. The point of this is to allow your animal to fill up on a low water content food so they don’t gorge themselves on high water content foods.
It’s worth noting that the Tortoises mentioned in this care sheet come from fairly arid regions and eat a large amount of roughage. They come across very little fresh growth other than early spring and can only find fruits when they fall from their plants for a very brief period of the year. A high moisture diet is a common cause of growth deformities such a shell pyramiding.
FOOD TO AVOID
It is worth remembering that if you take foods from outside to check no pesticides or fertilizers have been used nearby. Also never give your animal anything from the side of the road due to exhaust fumes.
The best way to judge what quantities of vegetable matter constitutes as a meal, is to put a sizeable amount of food in the enclosure, in the morning and remove it in the evening.
Some tortoises are prone to obesity, if you notice soft skin tissue protruding past the edge of the shell or your tortoise having difficulty getting all its limbs and head inside the shell. Then cut its meals back and consult an expert.
A good quality vitamin and mineral supplement is essential to the well-being of your tortoise, always read the manufacturer’s suggested dosage. We suggest a good pinch Nutrobal 2 out of 3 meals. Be sure to mix in well as some animals have been known to pick around it. Failure to maintain a good supply of vitamins and minerals may result in irreversible illness such as metabolic bone disorder.
Also provide a clean cuttlefish (not from the beach) for your tortoise to rasp at, it will help to keep your animal’s beak at the right length and provide it with additional calcium.
Do not handle your tortoise immediately after purchasing it or after a move; leave at least four weeks to allow your animal to settle. Or until your Tortoise is active and eating well for a few weeks. If you don’t your animal may get stressed and become reclusive and fail to feed properly. After the initial four weeks handling and activity outside may begin slowly. Tortoises are not aggressive but can be a little shy to begin with, you do not need to restrain or excessively handle them to make them good pets. Always handle your animal near to a surface, accidents can happen and tortoises don’t fly! Please always use common sense when handling animals.
When it comes to your animal’s health, if you are ever in doubt, ask a respected dealer for their advice, and if still in doubt go to a specialist veterinarian. Although your tortoise should live for around a hundred years there seems to be very little that ever goes wrong with them, but here are a few simple things to look out for.
Never house your tortoise with any other animals, they will generally live with each other when the correct sex ratios and same species are chosen. Although it is worth remembering that you will need to increase the size of the enclosure and preferably put an additional spot at the hot end of the enclosure to prevent competition over space. It is often worth putting a constant supply of food in two places in the enclosure for the first month to prevent competition over food. Ask a respected dealer for more information.
You can only put tortoises outside on warm sunny days. When keeping your tortoise outside it should always be done in a suitably sized enclosure, with a wire mesh cover to stop your animal being taken by birds such as crows and magpies, also wire mesh laid across the floor will stop your animal from digging out. Always make sure that you provide your tortoise with shade and water. When your animal is outside it may well be grazing on your lawn, if doing so remove one of its meals from its weekly diet.
On a final note and to summarize, tortoises are naturally friendly, clean and easy to maintain vegetarian animals, and in nearly all cases tortoise make a great family pet for generations to come.