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Are you a first-time tortoise owner who needs to know everything there is about looking after one before you go and buy one?
Maybe you have owned one previously, but you would like to brush up on your knowledge. Well, you are in the right place as we are going to help you in knowing all there is to know about looking after a tortoise and what to expect when owning one.
Fortunately, within the tortoise kingdom, there are many different breeds available for you to own. Some breeds may be easier to look after and care for than other breeds. Do your research on their different requirements and level of care needed.
Pet tortoises are known to live anywhere from 35 years all the way up to and over 100 years old. You will find that if your tortoise is kept outside, they are more likely to thrive than if they are stuck inside all day as they love the sunshine and fresh air.
Most breeds also need a large enclosure so an outside enclosure would suit them best.
Dietary needs vary depending on the species of tortoise, but they all need a varied diet and a substantial amount of food. Whether this is fruit and vegetables, or specific tortoise feed like pellets. You will be at a loss trying to find a tortoise who doesn’t enjoy their leafy greens such as kale and dandelions as well.
Make sure they have access to fresh water every day. If they have not finished all their feed from the previous day, this should be taken out and replaced to prevent it from expiring and making your tortoise sick.
Prior to getting your new pet, we recommend you study what to feed them, how much to feed them and when to feed them as every breed has a different diet.
Before bringing them home, you want to make sure everything is ready and waiting for them. This includes their home.
Their new home should resemble their natural living environment as much as possible to keep them happy, calm, and healthy. Whilst you may think you are giving them the best care by keeping them inside, this is far from natural for them and does not have the organic elements which tortoises enjoy.
In their home they need lots of enrichment to keep them happy and entertained. These could include logs, rocks, dirt mounds or shallow pools of water for them to play in and enjoy.
They should be able to have a varied habitat to enjoy. When the weather is bad, which it always is over winter in the UK, they should have an area where they can hide away from the harsh elements.
Whereas, in the warmer weathers, they can have access to an escape-proof area in the garden with edible grass and weeds to munch on. Be sure that this is free from any poisonous plants and is secure from any burrowing by the tortoises. You also want to be sure that no predators can get in and harm them. If they have access to all of this, they will be very happy.
Within their home, they should have access to a UV lamp, which also emits out heat, for them to warm up when needed. Also, by having access to this UV light, their body will be able to continue making calcium which helps their bones and shell remain strong.
Their enclosure must have two different temperature gradients. On one side the temperature should be between 32-35°C. Whereas the opposite end should be no lower than 20°C. This allows them to choose which side they want to be on depending how they are feeling – whether they are cold or hot.
This imitates their natural environment in the wild and allows them to remain healthy.
How to Properly Care for your Tortoise
To ensure that your tortoise is kept happy and healthy, you should bath them once per week to keep them hydrated and healthy. It is also recommended that you regularly weigh them too, making sure that they are not losing any weight.
When you bring your new pet home, bath them every day in lukewarm water. This should be carried out for 15-20 minutes to try and encourage them to become more active and relaxed in their new environment. You do not want them becoming stressed and then in turn, becoming dehydrated.
There are a few very common health issues you may want to watch out for when owning a pet tortoise. Some of these can include swollen eyelids, parasites, and pneumonia. They are also susceptible to metabolic bone disease.
Metabolic bone disease is the result of calcium deficiency. If they do not have an adequate UVA or UVB lamp, their body will not produce calcium which can affect their shell growth when they are at a young age. Older tortoises can start to develop weakness in their legs and struggle with walking if they become calcium deficient.
Before you set your tortoise up for hibernation, make sure you have done your research and checked whether they hibernate, as some breeds don’t need to hibernate. Also, the length of hibernation can vary based upon their age.
You must make sure that your tortoise is fit and healthy prior to going into hibernation. This is paramount in making sure they make it the whole way through. Their weight must be at a healthy level, and they shouldn’t have any health conditions which can affect them during this period.
You want to start the period ideally in November. The tortoise hibernation period should last 12 weeks, up until February. This will cover the worst periods of harsh British weather.
The biggest and most important thing to remember during this time, is to regulate the temperature so that it doesn’t go below 3°C or above 10°C.
If it goes below 3°C, there is a high risk that your tortoise can freeze to death, but conversely allowing the temperature to go too high will wake them up prematurely meaning they use excess energy necessary for a healthy hibernation.
Weighing your tortoise just before they hibernate will allow you to work out how much body mass they are going to lose during this 12-week period. They will roughly lose 1% of their body weight per month.
Whilst people say you should not disturb an animal whilst it is hibernating, it is advised that you regularly weigh them and check on their overall health. If you notice they have urinated, they must be woken up to avoid them dehydrating which can be fatal.
Friends For Your Tortoise
Certain species are known to be friendly to other tortoises and can live together. But there are restrictions when it comes to this. Never house two males together as this can result in them becoming aggressive and the injuries inflicted upon each other can be quite severe. You don’t want to house 1 male and 1 female either as the male may become dominant and aggressive.
You may also want to consider not housing two different species together. This is because they can infect each other with parasites the other one may not carry. Also each species has a certain diet and feeding routine so the logistics of looking after both becomes more complex. If you were to house different types, this can make feeding time complicated and increase the chances of illness.
All this information is just generalised for tortoises and it not a definitive guide on different breeds specific requirements. You should always do your own research on the specific species you are considering making your pet. We hope you feel more knowledgeable and confident in owning your very own tortoise.
So, to summarise, if you are looking for a pet which is going to live for a long time, doesn’t need walking, or require lots of affection, then we believe a tortoise is the one for you!