Guide To Keeping Tortoises

Here’s a brief overview of keeping tortoises, this is ideal if you have never kept them before and are just looking for a quick idea of what you will need and how much of a commitment it is.

General Guide to Keeping Tortoises

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The more you vary the diet the happier your Tortoise will be, try and mix the ingredients as much as possible and try not to to give the Tortoise to much Cucumber and Lettuce as these have no nutritional value but can help rehydrate your Tortoise.

Below is a list of readily available foods:

  • Dandelion
  • Cabbage
  • Spring Greens
  • Clover
  • Carrot
  • Mixed Lettuce
  • Cauliflower
  • Chickweed
  • Buttercups
  • Plantain
  • Heather
  • Bindweed
  • Spinach
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Sprouts
  • Cucumber
  • Kale
  • Cress
  • Rose Petals
  • Fuchsia
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Tomatoe
  • Grapes
  • Strawberrys
  • Melon
  • Plum
  • Peach

Outdoor enclosure

Tortoises are particularly long-lived animals, which are presumed to live as long as 70-100 years. In order to keep your tortoise in a temperate climate, the pen must be placed in a very sunny location.

The floor should consist of soil as in the wild to enable burying and thermoregulation. Their life pattern in captivity is the same as in the wild. They leave the house in the early morning to warm themselves and then begin to eat.

The most important part of the pen is a large water proof tortoise house that they can use as a shelter. This should be a weatherproof box with an openable roof and an entry way for the animals.

They should be provided with a wide range of edible materials and a shallow water dish. They eat for about an hour before returning to the house.

Tortoises can be kept outdoors approximately from April to the end of October. The tortoise house must be relatively large. It should be made of wood and have no floor to enable the tortoise to thermoregulate its own body temperature via burying itself.

Other materials will produce a house that is too hot or too cold. Inside the Tortoise house should be a heat lamp operated by a thermostatic control and a UV lamp 5% or above for the cooler and rainy days.

A vitamin and calcium supplement must be added to the food every other day we find Nutrabol is great for this and we always try to leave a cuttlefish bone in the enclosure for the Tortoise to chew on.

Hibernation for Horsefields and Mediterranean Tortoise

In nature, the Tortoise dig their nightly shelters out and spend the relatively mild Mediterranean winters there. During this time, the heart rate and breathing rate drop notably. Domestic animals can be kept in the attic, garage, shed etc in a roomy rodent-proof box with a thick layer of dry leaves or straw.

The temperature should be around 5 degrees C. As an alternative, the box can be stored in a refrigerator. For this method to be used, the fridge should be in regular day to day use, to permit air flow.

During hibernation, it is vital that the ambient temperature not fall below zero. Full-grown specimens may sleep 4–5 months at a time.

The more exotic species of Tortoise such as Leopard, Red/Yellow Foot, Indian Star, Sulcata etc will not hibernate through the cooler months so must be kept indoors with the correct heat and UV lighting available.


Hatchlings and young specimens can be kept indoors, and although a vivarium is often offered as suitable accommodation, the humidity in such an enclosure can reach levels much higher than commonly found in the wild, leading to respiratory problems.

A heat lamp is secured at one end of the enclosure along with a UV Tube or Compact UV with a minimum of 5% UVB output. The bulbs are turned on in the morning and off in the evening. The Tortoise should also regularly be put into sunlight in the summer outdoors to provide it with necessary ultraviolet radiation, placing a tortoise on a window sill in winter will not provide the required level of UV, as glass will filter out UV.

The reason for putting the heat lamp at one end of the enclosure and not in the middle is for the Tortoise to self regulate its temperature.

This is achieved by providing a temperature gradient in the enclosure, ranging from around 33 °C at the hot end to 18 °C at the cool end. The animal will then choose a position in the enclosure to reach its desired temperature

A vitamin and calcium supplement must be added to the food every other day we find Nutrabol is great for this and we include this in our setup.

One Response to Guide To Keeping Tortoises

  1. Pat Clapp says:

    I have a hatchling about 18 weeks old. When I first got her she had a really big appetite. She is very active every day but has not eaten for the past 4 or 5 days. I have moved her indoors to keep her at around 18°C and don’t want her to hibernate. I am worried

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