Tortoises should always be handled with care, as despite their armoured appearance they are easily injured. Make sure you pick them up, by holding them firmly with two hands, either side of the shell. They are surprisingly strong and may wriggle, so be sure to hold them securely. Always supervise children, and as with any pet, always wash your hands after handling them.
Tortoises cannot groom themselves, so appreciate a lukewarm bath 2-3 times a week, this should only be up to the depth of their lower shell (the Plastron). A soft toothbrush can be used to clean their shells in water, never use any oils or other chemicals, as they can damage their shells.
Tortoises can urinate in high volumes so it is essential their housing is spot cleaned daily, removing any soiled bedding and faeces. A tortoise fed on the correct diet produces compact, fibrous faeces which are easy to remove. Make sure you have a full clean of the housing every week.
Hibernation needs to be researched thoroughly, as it is a complex procedure. Generally, tortoises under 2 years are not hibernated. Adult hibernation should be limited to 3 - 4 months, so protected housing is necessary for spring and autumn when the weather is not tortoise-friendly.
It is thought that the best environment a tortoise should hibernate in, is in the controllable and protective environment of a reliable fridge (one not used for food storage). Whatever method is chosen the tortoise should be checked and weighed regularly.
Tortoises should be weighed regularly to ensure they are healthy. If a tortoise is ill, its weight may start to drop, therefore by regularly monitoring it, problems can be identified quickly. It is recommended that baby tortoises are weighed twice a week, using accurate kitchen scales and recording their weights for future reference. Larger tortoises may need to be turned upside down to weigh them correctly. Knowing the accurate weight of your pet is essential if you are considering hibernating your tortoise.
As long as they're given the correct food, care, attention and correct habitat, tortoises are usually problem-free. Feeding them correctly is the most important aspect of their care if long-term problems are to be avoided. As with all pets you should ensure that your tortoises are kept in clean and hygienic conditions.
A healthy tortoise has bright, clear eyes, actively searches for food, explores its environment and eagerly eats their food. Their shells are smooth and rounded with no 'pyramiding'.
All vets have a basic understanding of tortoises but those with a specialist interest in reptiles may be much more familiar with the complexities of tortoise medicine. Insurance against unexpected veterinary costs is available in the same way as it is for cats and dogs.
If your pet shows any signs of being unwell contact your vet immediately.
All tortoises are protected under the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species. Mediterranean species can only be legally sold if they are accompanied by their official paperwork known as an Article 10. Furtherinformation is available from the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) but generally speaking pet owners only need worry about this if they intend to sell their pet.
Tortoises are great pets for older children and adults. Although they may seem robust with their hard shells, tortoises are delicate creatures; therefore it is advised that young children are supervised when handling them. Tortoises can live to be more than 50 years old. This is why it's important to be sure you can undertake such a long-term responsibility.
Tortoises are best kept either singly, in same-sex groups, or one male with several females. Adult males kept together can become territorial and tend to fight. If you are looking to keep more than one tortoise together, it is best if they are the same size and species, as larger tortoises or those of a different species can become aggressive and put others in the group under stress, leading to poor health.
As tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles, they need an environment which allows them to regulate their body temperature. A large enclosure, known as a vivarium, is recommended for housing baby tortoises.
A thermostat-controlled heat lamp and reflector will need to be fitted inside the enclosure to provide a basking spot of 30°C, and set on a timer to give around 12 hours of heat each day. At the opposite end of the vivarium the temperature should be lower at about 20°C. Ideally use two thermometers to monitor the temperature at hot and cool ends. At night the temperature should fall to about 15°C. Temperatures below 10°C can be dangerous.
Tortoises need access to direct sunlight or a specialist Ultraviolet (UV) light which helps them to absorb the calcium they need for healthy bone and shell growth. Lights should be on 14 hours every day. Good ventilation is required to prevent excess heat.
Tortoises do not play with toys, but their habitat can be enriched by providing them with suitable climbing opportunities. Consider including a smooth rockery area, branches and shrubs for them to climb on or seek shade under. Tortoises also enjoy digging, so make sure there is a deep layer of a mixture of sand and topsoil, topped with beech chips. Why not scatter food around their enclosure, to encourage them to search for it.
A house should be provided within the enclosure, filled with good quality hay for them hide in, and feel safe and secure whilst sleeping.
Tortoises will eventually outgrow a vivarium, so can then be kept in an adapted rabbit cage indoors or an outdoor pen in warmer weather. It is advised that all housing has solid walls, at least twice as high as the largest tortoise, to prevent them from escaping. You may want to consider a mesh roof, to stop any unwanted attention from other animals, as they easily harm tortoises. Tortoises kept outside, should be encouraged to graze on naturally growing grasses and weeds.
An ideal diet for tortoises is their natural diet of weeds and herbs. There are several complete processed foods available for tortoises. These are convenient and easy to make up, although should be supplemented with a variety of fresh, natural leafy greens. In fact tortoises can be fed entirely on a natural diet of weeds and herbs. In all cases they require high fibre, low protein and low sugar. Tortoises will also require daily calcium and vitamin supplements, which should be given alternately.
Different types of lettuce should be offered as well as a varying mixture of water cress, rocket, grated carrot, chopped sweet pepper and weeds like dandelion, clover and plantain. Always wash any plants, so they are clean and free from pesticides. It is important to provide a variety of plants, just like they would find in their natural environment, and like humans, they have their preferences.
Small quantities of fruit and vegetables can be given as treat. These include, strawberries, apples, spring greens, kale, broccoli and spinach, but should only be given occasionally as they can irritate their digestive system. Don’t forget to give them plenty of fresh water in a shallow dish, which will need to be changed daily or sooner if they have used it as a toilet!
Plants and flowers that grow from bulbs, such as daffodils are toxic and can cause death. Rhubarb leaves are also poisonous, and soft fruits like bananas can also cause digestive problems.
To give your tortoise the best possible diet, we recommend that you research what food can and must not be fed to tortoises.