Tortoises

Tortoises originate from the Northern shores of the Mediterranean. In time they spread northwards into central Europe where there was arid, rocky hills and scrubland.

Tortoises are quite sociable and easy to handle, making them great pets for older children and adults. Their hard shells may make them seem hardy and robust, but they’re actually quite delicate. So make sure young children are supervised when they’re handling them. Another point to note - tortoises can live to be more than 50 years old, often 70 years or more, so keep that in mind when purchasing one as a pet.

Another important point to note: make sure you purchase your pet tortoise from an authorized outlet, such as your local Dobbies pet centre, as European tortoises are protected by EU and global law. Only captive bred tortoises should ever be bought as a pet. When purchasing, make sure you are given an Article 10 Exemption Certificate, which should be kept for their lifetime.

Housing and bedding

Hatchlings and young tortoises can be housed indoors in a terrarium or an open topped container; on warm days they appreciate access to a sunny outside pen. Hatchlings housed inside are best kept on newspaper, bark chips or beech chips that are easily changed when soiled. They also require some form of hide, which can be as simple as a handful of hay, for burrowing into to help them feel secure. Adults, kept outside in a secure wooden pen, should have access to full sun with retreat areas to give your pet tortoise shade and security. They should be brought inside in winter and hibernated in a box if appropriate. A mix of ground surfaces is appreciated by tortoises with a small paved area and an area of grass with shade and cover provided by low growing shrubs. An overnight box filled with hay gives protection from rain and cold so should be made easily accessible to your tortoise. A well thought out tortoise pen can make an attractive addition to any garden.

Heating

For hatchlings indoors, a background temperature of about 70°F (21°C) with an overhead heat bulb 15-30cm above your tortoise, providing a basking spot of about 90°F (32°C) at one end of the housing is ideal. Ensure your tortoise can move away from the basking area and sit in a cooler area of the cage if it wishes. The basking lamp, such as a Sunglo Daylight Basking Lamp is necessary to mimic the heat of the sun and should be left on for 13 hours a day. Any electric heating device must be controlled by an appropriate thermostat, and a thermometer at each end of the terrarium to monitor the warm and cool area is advisable. Adults, housed outside, require no additional heating if the pen gets full sun for all or part of the day. You could, however, use a sheet of glass over part of the pen to maximise the heat of the sun. Remember that they must also have an area of shade to retreat into as required.

Lighting

Tortoises need UVA and UVB light for healthy shell and bone growth. Outside, they will get this naturally from the sun but for tortoises housed inside, a fluorescent UVB source such as Repti-Glo 5.0 is essential. These must be replaced every year (even if they appear fine) as all fluorescent bulbs lose their UV radiation within a year. The daylight basking lamp should also be used as above.

Humidity

Humidity should be avoided because a damp habitat can increase the risk of breathing problems. Water spillages should be mopped up and the housing well ventilated, with no draughts.

Water

A shallow dish of water must be available at all times for your tortoise to drink from and bathe in as it wishes. The dish must be carefully selected to avoid frequent spillages, which would increase the humidity. It is also important to make sure the tortoise can get in and out of the dish easily. An Exo-Terra water dish is ideal. A tortoise will enjoy being given an occasional bath in tepid water for 10 minutes.

Diet and feeding

Tortoises are herbivores and should not be fed any meat product or derivative. Ideally you should pick fresh food (that has not been treated with any chemical) daily from your garden. Dandelion leaves, flowers and stalks are a staple food but you should also offer plantain, clover, convolvulus and honeysuckle. Cabbage, kale, cucumber, courgette, watercress and occasionally tomatoes and kiwis will also be enjoyed by your tortoise. Please check before offering plants that they are not poisonous! All food should be washed in cold water to make certain there is no chemical residue. Calcium carbonate (limestone flour) and a good vitamin/mineral supplement should be added to food items.

Hibernation

Tortoises will hibernate for several months over winter (this will get longer as they get older). Their heart rate and breathing drop considerably at this time. It is vital that tortoises are only allowed to hibernate if they are completely healthy and have enough body reserves to last the winter or they will die. You can work this out by their length to weight ratios. Ideally they should be checked by a vet or Dobbies reptile expert before deciding to hibernate them. They should be hibernated in an insulated wooden box, kept at about 5°C with a max/min thermometer to check the temperature. It must never reach freezing. Please note: to avoid serious health problems, it is vital to get detailed information about how to hibernate them and what to do when they wake up.

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