0208 979 1384   moleseyvets@hotmail.co.uk
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TORTOISES

How to care for your tortoise

As well as terrapins, we welcome tortoises at our veterinary surgery. We provide a range of specialist services for this magnificent pet at our tortoise clinic including, consultations, health checks and neutering. As well as these services, your dedicated tortoise vet will be more than happy to give you advice on their nutrition, husbandry and any other tortoise related topics.

Consultations

Please call our regular telephone number: 0208 979 1384 during our regular office hours and speak to one of our receptionists who will help book you for the correct consultation appointment.

When calling for a consultation, remember to inform our receptionists how many pets you will be bringing. Each pet will need to be their own individual consultation, as this gives the vet time to properly examine each pet and discuss any problems.

Please note that our staff who answer the ‘Emergency Call’ number outside of office hours are unable to book regular day time consultations.

Here is a guideline to the different types of consultations we normally provide:

  • Regular Consultation: This is our regular 15-minute consultation with the vet for an animal with a new health problem, a problem that has returned from some time ago, or an ongoing ailment.
  • Second Opinion Consultation:  If (within the last year) your pet has been to see another vet for this problem and you would like our opinion on the problem, then we’re happy to do this. We would need to read the previous medical record, blood results and x-rays etc so we can then learn what medicines have been used and what the original vet found on examination. This lets us properly understand your pets’ condition and provide you with a good second opinion. This does take time to arrange, so the consultation must generally be booked at least one day in advance. As this is a more complex and time-consuming procedure, we normally schedule for you to spend 30 minutes with the veterinarian and we do charge a higher fee.
  • Walk in Consultation:  If you visit the surgery without an appointment we will try our best to fit you in; however you may have to wait for an hour or even longer during the busier periods. Of course if your pet’s life is in danger we will assess their condition and may admit them into the hospital whilst we make a vet available. A Walk in Consultation is generally scheduled for 15 minutes with the veterinarian but is charged at a higher fee compared to the Regular Consultation.
  • We strongly advise our clients make an appointment before visiting the surgery, as we are often fully booked or very busy. Waiting for longer periods of time may mean your pet becomes stressed in an unfamiliar environment.
  • Referral Consultation: This is when another vet has asked you to come and consult with us as they feel we have more expertise with tortoises or with your tortoise’s specific problem. In these cases the other veterinarian will directly fax us a ‘Referral Letter’ and your tortoises medical records. Once the consultation has finished, we will also inform your original vet of the outcome of the case. This also requires the extended 30-minute consultation.

Once you have made the appointment please make sure that you, or whoever is bringing in the pet, has all the information as follows:

  1. How long your pet has been sick for and what symptoms it is showing.
  2. What food your tortoise is currently being fed, including any snacks and additional supplements.
  3. Any medication that may have been given to your pet (please bring in the packets or containers).
  4. What you tortoise is originally from, and what other animals that it has been in contact with.
  5. What are the urine & faeces (poop)like usually and what are they presently like.
  6. That the owner or a decision maker will be available on the telephone if they cannot come in.

Please note that to sign a consent form legally it must be someone over the age of 18 years old to sign. For example, signing the consent form agreeing to an operation or if you pet needs to be admitted into hospital.

We require payment for the services provided immediately after a consultation. If your pet does unfortunately need to be admitted to hospital or have surgery you will be required to pay a deposit. To try and make it more convenient for you we do accept payments by cash, cheque, debit and credit cards.

And don’t forget to collect your Molesey card – our free loyalty card that gives you 1% back on everything you spend with us! You collect points on your card, which you can redeem against any of our services or products! The card is free to all clients, so simply ask at reception for more details when you come in.

Health Checks

Even though it is not necessary to vaccinate your pet tortoise, we would recommend scheduling routine health checks for your tortoise.

Like many other exotic pets your tortoise may only show obvious signs of illness once they have been suffering for a while,  so by the time your pet looks sick the disease may be very advanced.

At the regular health check our vet will discuss the general management, environment and diet of your tortoise. This is because 90% of the problems a tortoise will develop are generally due to a problem in one of these three categories.

Infectious disease is quite rare in captive tortoises.

In the wild a tortoise can generally move to an environment that suits it the most, but in captivity the owner must provide everything it needs.

The specific needs of your pet tortoise depend upon its species, so this means that accurately identifying the species of your tortoise is crucial. If you are unsure about the species you own then please book an appointment with our specialist vets and bring your pet for a health check consultation.

During the consultation we may be able to identify the species for you, but if not we will take photographs and send them to experts who can provide further assistance with the identification.

We would normally recommend yearly health checks for your tortoise in order to review the husbandry and management of your pet.

Our vets may also suggest further diagnostic tests like x-rays or blood testing, and if we suspect your tortoise has an ailment we can hopefully treat the problems before they progress too far.

 

Older Tortoise Health Checks

If your animal is very old and becoming frail, your vet may suggest more frequent checks. This may also apply if your pet has specific healthcare needs.

We would normally recommend yearly health checks in order to review the husbandry and management of your pet. Tortoises can often look ‘normal’ even when they are sick, therefore our vets may also suggest further examinations including x-rays or blood testing. If we suspect your tortoise has a specific problem we can hopefully treat it before they become serious for your pet.

Some species can live to a ripe old age (for example over 50 years for Sulcatas and up to 175 years for Aldabras ) and get extremely large ( up to 100 kg for Sulcatas and over 300 kg for Aldabras ) you should think carefully before taking one on!

Nutritional Advice

What to feed your tortoise is not a subject which is easy to generalise as there are many variables!

Getting the diet correct needs an understanding of the individual’s nutritional requirements. This includes knowledge of how the environment affects nutritional requirements, as well as a basic understanding of food chemistry, vitamins and minerals. This can be very complicated.

These are not dietary “preferences”- they are dietary essentials.

We cannot stress this enough: learn about the real needs of the species you keep and try to understand why it has them, and then try to find out how best you can meet those specific needs at home.

Variety

In the wild, tortoises tend to be browsers. They can wander over a wide area and in the process take small quantities of any seasonally available food. Some species are known to consume up to 200 different kinds of plants during the year. However, the exact combination of plants, and their status, young, fresh and succulent or old and dry, varies based on each season.

A tortoise’s diet can change throughout the year. This ranges from a fairly high moisture and protein content in Spring, to a very dry, lower protein diet later on in Autumn and Winter.

It can be difficult for them to find enough food, and they may need to walk all day, foraging for food as they go.

By wandering over a wide area, and by consuming such a variety of foods, tortoises should have a well-balanced diet with all the essential mineral trace elements that they require for reproduction and healthy bone development.

Even the best captive diets tend to be very restricted when compared to these natural feeding patterns.

One of the most common mistakes to only feed them their favourite food!

 

Commercial tortoise diets

You may find a number of ‘complete tortoise diets’ available for sale in pet stores which come in ‘cups’, ‘soft pellets’ and ‘dry pellet’ forms. These are advertised as complete, or almost complete, solutions to all of your tortoise nutrition concerns.

In comparison to the wild diet these diets are generally too high in protein, may have high sugar levels and have inadequate amounts of fibre. However, they can still be a useful source of vitamins and minerals.

We do not recommend that you feed your tortoise only on these products but as an addition alongside normal hay, grass and vegetables.

If you would like to feed these products, please book a consultation with one of our vets, and they will give you advice on the proportions to feed to balance your tortoise’s diet.

 

Feeding Grassland Tortoises

This would include the Mediterranean tortoises (Testudo species), Desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii), the Russian tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii), Indian Star (Geochelone elegans), large savannah species such as Geochelone sulcata (African spurred tortoise), Geochelone pardalis (Leopard tortoise) and the Aldabra (Aldabrachelys gigantea).

All of the above tortoises are herbivores. Wild tortoises do not eat meat, other than on a very rare and opportunistic basis. It is not a regular part of their diet. Fruit is rarely found on a grassland too!

Whilst kept in captivity their diet should be high in fibre, low in protein and calcium rich to ensure good digestive tract function and smooth shell growth.

To provide them with the high fibre they need we recommend a diet based on a mix of hay and grasses.

This would include Timothy hay, natural grass and home grown lawn grass. General ‘meadow hay’ and ‘orchard hay’ mixes are also suitable.

It is best to avoid the use of excessively ‘prickly’ seed heads as they can injure mouths and eyes. To prevent this problem we recommend ‘Timothy Gold’ hay which is ‘second cut’ and tends to have less spiny heads than first cut. There is also a salad mix available of short hay pieces, which is ideal.

Ideally this hay based primary diet should be supplemented with grasses and flowers as frequently as possible. You can grow your own grasses, clover, hibiscus and dandelions on a balcony or roof. De-spined Opuntia (cactus) pads are sometimes available from the reptile shops and can also be offered.

 

Healthy greens. These can also be offered in smaller quantities. This includes healthy greens such as Plantain, Chinese lettuce, Indian lettuce, romaine lettuce, escarole, carrot tops, coriander and parsley.  Do not use head lettuces such as iceberg, as these contain very little in the way of vitamins, fibre or minerals.

 

Commercial ‘Grassland Tortoise’. This food can be soaked and added to vegetable mixes.

 

Restricted greens and vegetables. Bok choi, choi sum, spinach, broccoli and other greens may be offered but only in small quantities once to twice per week. When consumed in excess they can inhibit your tortoises’ calcium absorption and can cause further health problems.

 

 

 

Calcium and Vitamin/Mineral Supplementation

Tortoises require a lot of calcium in their diets, especially when they’re growing fast or laying eggs. Tortoises may seek out extra calcium to meet these needs and if it is not available, they can rapidly suffer from calcium deficiencies.

Tortoises tend to be found in regions where the soils are rich in calcium and other essential trace elements.  Wild grasses have a higher calcium level compared to the supermarket vegetables we buy.

In the wild, they also have free access to sunlight for basking. Natural sunlight contains UV-B radiation which changes vitamin D into its active form vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 helps the body absorb calcium from the food, so if there is not enough, the calcium will not be absorbed and the development of their bones and shells will become restricted.

We prefer that the D3 is supplied by natural methods, i.e. by UVB light, but as UVB light bulbs are unreliable (unless the output is monitored) we recommend the use of a good quality phosphorus free Calcium and vitamin D3 supplement. This will vary from once a week to once a day depending on the diet, lighting and the age of the animal.

Some pure calcium should be added to the food every day and a vitamin/mineral supplement should be added once per week.

The use of a cuttlefish bone or calcium block left in the enclosures allows tortoises to regulate the amount of calcium in the diet. Don’t be alarmed if they don’t use it, some tortoises like this very much, while others will refuse to go near it at all.

 

What to avoid

Fruit should be given very sparingly or not at all as it can lead to diarrhoea, intestinal parasite proliferation, and colic problems.

We would recommend avoiding a diet based upon ‘supermarket salad’. These not offer adequate fibre or nutrients, and tend to be poor in essential trace elements. Some greens are great to chop and mix in with hay to encourage your tortoises appetite.

High protein foods such as peas or beans should be avoided. ‘Grassland’ tortoises that have been fed on cat or dog food, or other high protein food items frequently die from renal failure or from impacted bladder stones. Peas and beans are also very high in phytic acid, which also inhibits calcium uptake.

Root vegetables are far too high in carbohydrates so should be avoided.

We would always recommend allowing your grassland tortoises to forage and graze naturally. This helps the tortoise to maintain good digestive-tract health and reduces the production of bladder stones. It also keeps them strong and slim, and makes them happy!

If you have any questions about the suitability of your current diet for your pet tortoise and what supplementation is needed, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our trained specialist vets.

Neutering (De-Sexing) Surgeries

We do not normally recommend de-sexing for tortoises, unless there has been a problem diagnosed with a tortoise’s ovaries or uterus.

Female tortoises can develop a medical problem known as ‘ovarian stasis’. This condition means the ovary develops large follicles that resemble the yolks of eggs, but these follicles do not develop into eggs, and do not get passed through.  With this condition this yolk material can sit in the body cavity for many years, often leaks and causes inflammation inside the body cavity (peritonitis) which leads to your tortoise becoming very sick.  If ovarian stasis is identified your vet will recommend surgical removal of these abnormal ovaries.

Most female tortoises in captivity don’t regularly pass eggs, but if yours does and starts laying eggs at abnormal times, lays unusual numbers of eggs, or stops laying eggs it is possible your tortoise may have ovarian stasis or may have eggs stuck in their uterus.

A lack of appetite can often the only sign shown when your tortoise has these problems!

To diagnose these problems our veterinarians will need to perform blood tests, perform x-rays (to see if there are any eggs with shells in the uterus) and perform an ultrasound examination to identify any large follicles on the ovaries.

If de-sexing surgery is needed to correct your tortoise’s problem our vet will perform the surgery assisted with an endoscope. An endoscope is a very small camera and light source, which helps our vets, perform keyhole surgery.

In these de-sexing cases our vet will make an incision into the tortoise’s body cavity through the skin in front of her hind leg and then use the endoscope to examine her body cavity, ovaries and uterus.  Occasionally the shell may need to be opened up for access. The ovaries and follicles may be removed, or the uterus operated on based on the exact problem identified by our vet. During the surgery our vets will also normally insert a feeding tube into your tortoise to ensure she can be provided with the correct nutrition to aid her recovery.

Most tortoises do recover quite quickly after this surgery and within a few weeks are back to normal.

If you are worried your tortoise may be suffering from these conditions, then please schedule a consultation with your vet.

Preventative Care

There are no vaccines available for tortoises. As these pets are normally housed in small stable groups with little contact with other animals, there is normally no need for routine preventative medical treatments.

 

De-worming:

De-worming will be required especially if your tortoise was ‘wild caught’ and not ‘captive bred’.

Wild caught tortoises may carry many types of parasites, however de-worming programs are normally tailored to individual animals or groups. During a consultation our vets are very happy to discuss their recommendations with you.

If your pet tortoise was wild caught, or purchased from an unhygienic crowded reptile shop it may be carrying a more varied and more significant numbers of parasites. The signs of parasite load are variable and include poor weight gain and soft faeces. In extreme cases the parasite load can cause generalised fluid build-up (oedema) or even intestinal blockage.

If you or your vet suspects a high parasite burden your tortoise may need a more aggressive de-worming program, as well as medical treatment, environmental cleaning and possibly changes in management.

 

Hibernation:

There are some species of reptiles from cooler regions of the world that in winter will slow down, stop eating and sleep for long periods.  This is known as hibernation.

Some tortoises are adapted for this, e.g. Greek spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca) but some are not e.g. African spurred tortoises (Geochelone sulcata).

For this reason it is very important as a pet owner that you know the species of your pet tortoise and understand its physiological needs.

Common species which DO NOT hibernate are the African spurred tortoise (Gechelone sulcata), Leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) and the Hingeback tortoises (Kinixys sp). Species such as these must be provided with proper heated accommodation during the winter.

For species that DO hibernate it is advisable to NOT hibernate hatchlings and juveniles less than 2 years old, and tortoises that have recently been sick. Hibernating tortoises properly is a complex & difficult job and should not be attempted without prior research and specialised equipment.  If you do wish to hibernate your tortoise, we would advise a attending a health check in the early autumn before the hibernation process begins.

If you choose not to do this, then simply keep your tortoise warm during the winter

If your tortoise is one that does NOT normally ‘hibernate’ in the wild but in captivity it appears to and does not eat for a long period of time, it may be because it has a medical problem and you need to bring them in for a consultation as soon as possible.

Hibernation is not truly necessary, even for the tortoises that do normally hibernate in the wild.

Studies are currently underway, but evidence so far points to the fact that tortoises which would normally hibernate in the wild can be kept warm and ‘awake’ all year round. As long as they are kept in the correct environment and fed the correct diet, they should live to the full lifespan of their species.

If you are unsure if your pet should or could hibernate please speak to our vets during a consultation.

Husbandry Advice

In order to research the life span and natural living environment of your tortoise, it is very important to correctly identify the species. This means you will be able to create the best environment possible for them in your own home.

If you are struggling to identify the species you own, then please book an appointment and bring your pet in for a health check. During the consultation appointment we may be able to identify it for you, but if not we will send photographs to experts who can help with identification.

As the environment you keep your pet tortoise in is very important to its health, our vet will need to ask many details about the tank/enclosure. To make this as easy and accurate as possible, please bring in some photographs of your tortoises current living environment.

 

Tortoise Housing

There are many types of enclosures available to keep your pet tortoise in. Some owners purchase ‘vivariums’ or fish tanks to house their tortoises, unfortunately these are not ideal. Tortoise tables are much more preferable.

 

Vivariums

The glass vivarium’s commonly sold by pet and reptile shops are not suitable for housing your pet tortoise for a number of reasons.

Tortoises originally come from arid environments where the air humidity is low, and they generally do not do well long-term in enclosed environments. The air cannot fully circulate around the vivariums, even though some have ventilation holes or ventilation mesh at the top. This may lead to a build-up or reduction of humidity over a long period that can affect the tortoise’s health.

Tortoises do like to roam around, and the floor space within a vivarium is not large enough for the tortoise to get adequate exercise as it grows.

Vivarium’s that have higher sides than floor area are best suited to other reptiles, which prefer to climb (such as geckos).

Due to the confines and the small floor space of an enclosed vivarium it is generally impossible to provide a proper temperature gradient for your tortoise. This makes proper thermoregulation impossible to achieve, and leads to your tortoise suffering if kept this way for a long time.

 

Fish Tanks

With the limited space available in many houses and flats an appropriate sized fish tank can be adapted to be acceptable while your tortoise is still small, but depending on the size of your tank and the species of tortoise you have they may rapidly outgrow it.

It is important to make sure that the lighting does not overheat or dry out a small tank.

 

Tortoise Table

For those with enough space, the best type of enclosure to keep your tortoise in is a ‘Tortoise Table’. Tortoise tables are generally made out of wood; they have a flat floor, and have sides that are high enough to prevent the tortoise climbing out. Air can still circulate through an open top.

Some of the reptile shops do now sell ‘tortoise tables’ but can be easier and cheaper to make one yourself.  You could use an old bookcase turned on its back with the shelves taken out, or plastic under bed storage boxes.  We would suggest one like the “Billy” bookcases from Ikea, ideally the 80 x 106 cm model (Ikea number  001.698.24).

If you do use an under bed storage box the sides must be opaque. Tortoises don’t understand the concept of glass or materials they can see through and they will constantly try to ‘walk’ through which can cause undue stress. Therefore it is better to cover the outer sides with material that is not clear (such as cardboard)

Please search on the Internet for designs of ‘tortoise tables’ or look under www.tortoisetrust.org

 

Size of enclosure:

As a general guide, if you use a fish tank it should be a MINIMUM of 6 times the length of your tortoise and at least 3 times the width. Remember that your tiny juvenile tortoise may look cute now, but will grow quickly in size.

Ideally if you purchase a fish tank to house a new juvenile tortoise it should be at least 30cm wide by 90cm long to allow for some growth of your pet.

If you’re thinking about making your own ‘Tortoise Table’, the minimum size should be 100cm by 60cm. This is generally suitable for hatchlings and juvenile tortoises.

Adult tortoises should also be kept in a minimum area of 6 to 10 times their length and 3 to 5 times their width. As most of the commonly kept tortoise species reach an adult size of about 20cm to 30cm this would mean that their enclosure should be 2m to 3m long!

In most cases your adult tortoise will need to be provided with its own room to walk around in or access to a roof or garden.

Please do not purchase a baby African spurred (Geochelone sulcata) tortoise or Aldabra tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantean) if you are not prepared to move to an apartment with either a roof or ideally a garden.

 

Substrate/Flooring Material

There are many options available for the flooring material in your tortoise enclosure. However, we recommend using a material that can be fully replaced or cleaned with ease.  When fully replacing the floor covering, you reduce the ability of parasites to complete their lifecycle. This in turn can reduce or eliminate the need for regular de-worming.

In most circumstances paper (newspaper) is a very versatile and useful material as a substrate for tortoises, but still be aware that it does not provide any opportunities to create a humid microclimate.

Also paper materials such as ‘Carefresh’ and ‘Eco Bedding’ can be used but can be more expensive.

Timothy Hay is a good substrate, and can be found in most pet shops.

There are number of soils and sands that can be used but care must be taken when using them to make sure they are not ingested as may lead to impactions. It is generally advised to use a play sand/loam mixture. If you would like to provide a soil based substrate please look on the Tortoise Trust website for further advice.

 

Please DO NOT use

We do not advise using wood shavings as they are very drying, dusty and irritant. Your tortoise may eat them which can lead to painful impactions.

100% Alfalfa pellets been found to be drying (reducing humidity in the enclosure) and when eaten can cause problems due to the high protein content.

Calci-Sand is prone to clumping, can cause eye irritation, lead to gut impaction when ingested and again very drying to your tortoise’s environment.

Fibre-based substrates are generally based upon coconut and similar fibres. Again, this can also be very dusty and if too wet is an ideal substrate for the mould and bacteria growth.

Bark chippings/mulch can sometimes be used to replicate a tropical habitat but may include toxic pine or cedar chippings. The mulch is an ideal base for mites and parasites and when ingested is often fatal.

You can make the environment more interesting for your tortoises by adding large flattish stones to allow for some climbing. These stones will help create some microclimates and may help keep your tortoises nails trim.  Make sure that they are too big to swallow!

Also make sure to add ‘hiding’ areas or dens in different areas of the enclosure; these can either be made of cardboard, wood or plastic. These hiding areas provide your tortoise with some privacy but can also help create a microclimate. Many tortoises enjoy having ‘Eco-bedding’ placed in the hide areas as it then gives them something safe to burrow into.

 

Water Requirements

In the wild tortoises generally spend most of their time on land and only normally go near water to drink. However, some species like the Red-footed tortoise of South America (Chelonoidis carbonaria) do actually like to sit in pools of water on hot days.

Even though your desert species tortoise like the African Spurred Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) only has limited access to water in the wild, it can still control its own ‘microclimate’ through its behaviour. e.g. digging burrows. Therefore in captivity, desert species must still be provided with water and soaked on a regular basis.

Within your tortoise’s environment you should provide a water bowl that is large enough should your tortoise want to climb in. Fill it with water deep enough so that if your tortoise climbs inside it can easily drink but don’t fill it any more than above its nose to prevent your tortoise accidentally drowning.

 

Soaking your Tortoise

We also advise that you ‘soak’ your tortoise to provide extra water. Many owners ask will ask why?  If they have a desert tortoise why do they need to provide it extra water?

The reason tortoise owners need to soak their tortoise is because in the wild they can set up their own microclimate. To do this, they burrow under leaves, hide in bushes or other vegetation, or by digging shallow holes, deep holes and even underground tunnel. The African spurred tortoise can be up to 10 feet long. Under the leaves and in the holes the humidity is much higher than the general humidity out in the open.

In a tortoise tank humidity levels can become very low due to having to use a heat lamp to provide the high temperatures necessary. This means there is nowhere for your tortoise to find an area with higher humidity.  This is why it is possible that captive tortoises can become dehydrated. For example a young tortoise, in a small, hot tank, bedded on alfalfa pellets, could become dehydrated in less than 24 hours. (This is partially due to its relatively larger surface area to body weight ratio, the drying effect of the heat light, combined with the alfalfa pellets and poor ventilation).

Many health problems can develop from chronic dehydration, including renal failure, ‘stones’ in their bladders and constipation.

For young tortoises we advise that they MUST be soaked EVERY day to prevent dehydration problems, as well as being in an environment that has some areas with higher humidity.

Most tortoise advice websites will advise that you only need to soak an adult tortoise once per week, but in our experience here in the Hospital this is often not enough. Even with tortoises that get a weekly soaking weekly we still see many that develop ‘stones’ in their bladder and then need surgery to remove them.

This may be due to the combination of the dehydration, lack of exercise and not enough fibre in the diet.

We strongly advise that you soak adult tortoises every day, provide as much exercise as possible and make sure they are eating the correct diet!

 

Temperatures

Tortoises, like all reptiles, are ‘cold blooded’. This means they do not generate their own body heat and must be provided with external sources of heat in order for them to regulate their own body temperature. You need to provide what is called a ‘temperature gradient’ as this lets your tortoise effectively regulate its own body temperature. Part of the enclosure should be warmer than the rest (the hot spot) so your tortoise can move around to the area where the temperature is correct for its needs at that time of the day. The range should be built around the tortoise’s POTZ (Preferred Optimal Temperature Zone).

Basking in sunlight is the tortoise’s natural source of heat, with desert tortoises digging burrows, or seeking out cooler sheltered zones that are from out of direct sunlight.

As such, your tortoise enclosure should be designed with this temperature regulation in mind. There should be a hot area – an area for basking under a high-powered light. This may depend on the species, as some do like it extremely hot – up to 32’C or even as high as 38-40’C.

To create the temperature gradient we normally recommend positioning a >50 watt light bulb or a special ‘heat’ light in one corner or end of the enclosure. This measure of wattage determines how much electricity the light uses, and how much energy is finally converted into heat. The higher the power rating the hotter your light or heater will be.

In most reptile shops you’ll find lights and heaters of 50, 60, 75, 100 and 125 watts, each designed to meet the needs of your pet tortoise.

The exact temperature requirement for your tortoise will depend on the species of your tortoise but in general we recommend a gradient of about 24 C up to 32 C.

Remember that if your tortoise lives in a tank in your apartment do not place its tank close to any air conditioning in order to prevent the air becoming chilled.

Any tank placed too close to the window may result in overheating on a sunny day.

 

Lighting

As well as possibly using a light to provide heat you will also need to provide ultraviolet (UV) light for your tortoise.

Th skin of most animals, and all humans, needs some ultraviolet (UV) light.  The body uses this UV light to produce and activate some vitamins.  For many animals their skin is very sensitive to UV light, and over exposure can cause problems such as burning or even skin cancer. In comparison, reptiles such as your tortoise have adapted to bask in strong sunlight for long periods of time, and as such are very resistant to UV light.  This means for their specific vitamin activation needs, they need much more UV light.

Humans cannot see in the UV range, but as with all light there are different wavelengths and different ‘colours’.

The UV spectrum is divided into 3 areas: UVA, UVB and UVC.

UVA is the closest to visible light in wavelength and properties.

UVC is furthest from our visible range and closer in wavelength and properties to harmful radiation such as X-rays. This is dangerous to living animals, and can cause significant cell damage.

The range required by the skin for activation of vitamins is UVB.  This is important as many lights which claim to produce UV light, may only generate UVA.

A proper UVB light is an important addition to your tortoises’ new home. There are many different types of UVB light which may state different UVB outputs.

In most reptile pet stores you can find UVB fluorescent tubes as well as compact bulbs, which emit UVB of different strengths. They may also have mercury vapour lamps, which produce both heat and UVB.

The UVB light must be positioned within 30 cm of your tortoise for it to absorb enough UVB.

We recommend you change the UVB lights every 6 months to ensure that your tortoise is receiving adequate levels of UVB.

If you have any questions about the equipment you have, or the equipment you need for your pet, please book to see one of our vets. During the consultation, it would be good if you bring any lights you currently own, so the vet can assess whether they are suitable or not.

We have a UVB meter, which we can use to check the UVB output to make sure it is adequate. Simply bring your UVB light (if you have one) to the consultation.

As you can read from above keeping a pet tortoise is not ‘easy’. Frequently owners find that they have to spend just as much money providing the optimum environment for their tortoise as they do on purchasing it.

If you live in an apartment we do not recommend that you keep the larger species of tortoises such as the African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) or the Aldabra tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantean). Species such as these require large amounts of space to roam, and should only be kept if you can provide them with a large suitable outside area where they can get their daily exercise.

Hospitalisation

Sometimes your pet may have to stay in hospital for treatment. This is an extremely worrying time for owners, and try to make your tortoise’s stay in our hospital as comfortable and as stress-free as possible.

We have a dedicated ward that has been designed to keep “exotic” pets such as tortoises, rats, birds and other reptiles as comfortable as possible. The ward is kept to 25-30 ‘C degrees to keep them warm during their stay. Larger animals, such as cats and dogs can be seen as potential predators (and therefore very scary) so they are kept in separate wards where they are out of sight and smell of smaller animals.

During your tortoises’ stay in our surgery, we always try to the ward as calm, quiet and relaxed as possible so it can settle down quickly.

 

We do offer a range of suitable food for our residents to tempt their appetites. However, if you would like to pack a little lunch box of their home foods you are very welcome.

We are a 24-hour hospital, and have specially trained vets who can care for your tortoises’ specific needs during the night.

Salmonella

There is always a strong bond between an owner and their tortoise, but if you want to give them a hug then there are a few precautions you have to take!

Always remember that some animals may carry harmful bacteria and diseases, which can make you extremeley ill.  Reptiles most commonly carry the Salmonella disease, and this has the potential to cause you some serious problems!

The Salmonella bacterium makes its home in the gut of reptiles, but has no impact on its host.

It can however cause problems, including severe gastro-enteritis in not just humans, but other animals too.

 

 

To help you reduce the risk of catching this disease we recommend the following basic hygiene precautions:

 

  • Wash your hands and lower arms before and after handling both the tortoise and its enclosure.
  • Use an antibacterial soap or alcohol gel in preparation.
  • It might be tempting, but no matter how beautiful they are, do not kiss your tortoise.
  • Use an appropriate disinfectant solution (up to 10% bleach can be used) when cleaning their enclosure, but make sure you rinse well after.
  • Ensure you hands are covered by gloves when handling faeces.
  • Do not leave children unattended. They won’t follow precautions, and are more susceptible to infection.
  • We do not advise children under the age of 5 being given a tortoise as a pet.
  • Older children must still be supervised when handling a tortoise. Teach them basic hygiene techniques for before and after handling.
  • Keep your pet tortoise away from food preparation zones. Do not let it in the kitchen, or allow it to walk on surfaces where food is eaten or prepared.

For further information please see our Salmonella hand out.

Learn more about your pet

You can download our PDF documents for more information.

Cushings Syndrome

Guinea Pig – Feeding

Anaesthesia

Cat – Moving House

Exotic – Critical Care

Cat & Dog – Bereavement

Our expert team is always ready to help you