How much effort does tortoise care take?
Do they make good pets in real life?
It’s smart to have questions and concerns about their care practices and whether one would be right for you.
How much do they eat?
Should you adopt babies or adult tortoises?
Questions and concerns are standard for any new pet owner.
They’re a sign you want to know you’re making the right decision.
We’ve put together some advantages of a tortoise as a pet and some considerations you will want to make before committing to this unique animal.
Table of Contents
Are Tortoises Good Pets?
Like with any pet, we recommend you consider your space and how much time, attention, and money you’re able to commit to a tortoise before buying or adopting one. Tortoises are a good pet for someone ready and willing to give them the best life possible.
There are definite advantages to keeping a tortoise as a pet.
However, there are also many considerations to keep in mind when it comes to their care.
What Makes Tortoises Good Pets?
Listed here are many aspects of tortoises which make them appealing to reptile keepers and pet owners in general.
No Fur, No Allergies
If you are allergic to more conventional pets like cats or dogs, you may be drawn to reptiles for companionship instead.
Tortoises are ideal pets for allergy sufferers.
They do not shed dander or fur, only the outer layer of their keratin shells and only when they are growing or fighting off injury.
Tortoises are truly hypoallergenic pets.
Different species of pet reptiles interact differently with their human keepers.
Some do not engage and do not enjoy handling, while others are social and interactive.
Though handling does cause stress in a tortoise, they tend to be social and engaged with their human keepers, much more so than other reptiles.
While some species may bite in defense, most tortoises will not be aggressive towards their human keepers.
If you have considered a reptile pet but balked at the idea of feeding them feeder mice or live insects, a tortoise may be an excellent choice for you.
These are primarily herbivorous animals, meaning they eat plants almost exclusively.
This plant matter will include grasses, hay, vegetables and dark leafy greens, and the occasional treat of fruit.
Since quite a few species grow large, like the African sulcata tortoise, they will need a lot of plant matter.
You will also want to pay attention to the calcium to phosphorus ratios of the plants they eat, as too much phosphorus will interfere with calcium absorption in their bodies.
If you are able to house a pet tortoise outside, even for part of the year, their plant-eating provides another great advantage.
Plants in your yard, like clover, grass, and dandelions, make a great free source of food.
Just make sure you are not treating your yard with pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides which may harm your tortoise if consumed.
Also, ensure any plant they may eat in your yard is not toxic to them.
Reptiles often have highly complex care requirements.
While it is true you will need to monitor an indoor enclosure’s temperature gradient, provide UVB lighting, and pay attention to dietary requirements with a pet tortoise; their care tends to be reasonably simple otherwise.
There are a few exceptions, like the red-footed tortoise, which will need higher humidity levels than other species.
Therefore, it is essential to do your research on the species of tortoise you want to ensure a great life for your pet.
Consult multiple sources and adjust as needed.
Many people take on the responsibility of a pet tortoise without fully understanding their needs.
Unfortunately, many pet tortoises are surrendered each year to tortoise and reptile rescue organizations.
Fortunately, if you have space, inclination, and knowledge to care for a tortoise, a rescue organization may be the perfect place to find your next companion.
Rescuing any pet gives them a second chance at a good, full life.
What Should I Consider Before Committing To A Pet Tortoise?
While tortoises have many advantages over other reptile pets, there are many aspects of their care and lives to consider before buying or adopting one.
Most Live For Decades
Most tortoise species are incredibly long-lived.
If given the proper care and attention, many have lived to be 100 years old or more!
This will give you a long time to bond with your tortoise.
However, you will need to make a plan for where your tortoise will go if it outlives you or if you are unable to care for it in your old age.
Many Are Big Pets
While there are small species of tortoise, many will grow to a large size.
This is especially true of the African sulcata tortoise, the third-largest species of tortoise in the world!
They grow to 24-30″ inches (61-76 cm) in length and weigh 80-110 pounds (36-50 kg) as adults.
Therefore, no matter what species of tortoise you adopt, you will need a larger-sized enclosure.
Even if you are housing smaller tortoises, you will want to make sure each has enough space.
The standard recommendation is 10 gallons of tank space for each inch of the shell of your tortoise or tortoises.
Hatchling or small tortoises should be in an outdoor enclosure with at least 8 by 4′ feet of space (2.4 by 1.2 m).
Larger tortoises, like sulcata tortoises or Hermann’s tortoises, should have at least 10 by 20′ feet outdoors (3 by 6 m).
If you’re more interested in small tortoises we have a post on mini tortoise breeds you might be interested in.
They Need A Secure Enclosure
Tortoises, like turtles, are well known for being escape artists in captivity.
Whether indoors or outdoors, they will need tall and secure enclosures.
Whatever enclosure you provide, whether tank, fenced-off pen, or tortoise table, will need to have solid walls or fences and a secure top.
Many tortoises are diggers, meaning they will dig out of their enclosures if possible.
We recommend burying rocks or bricks around the inside of an outdoor enclosure’s walls. Stepping stones on top will provide a further deterrent.
Flimsy enclosures just won’t cut it with a tortoise.
Since they are slow animals, tortoises also make easy prey for common predators like pet dogs, cats, and raccoons.
Whatever enclosure you build or tank you use should be safe and protected from other animals, either in your household or outside.
If you value the look of your yard more than the health of a pet, you may want to reconsider adopting or buying a tortoise.
Since many are burrowers, expect a yard or outdoor enclosure with many dug holes.
Housing Multiple May Cause Problems
Unlike lizards or snakes, many tortoise species thrive better in family groups than alone.
Upfront, you may want to invest in more than one, which will mean more enclosure space, more food, and more expense.
Though these are usually shy, gentle creatures, male tortoises can and will become territorial and aggressive towards each other, mainly if there are female tortoises to fight over.
Housing more than one male in the same space may cause enclosure fighting.
This will make it essential to sex your tortoises prevent any issues.
Not All Climates Are Right For Them
Though many smaller tortoises adapt to living indoors, outdoor enclosures, even for part of the year, tend to help them thrive better in captivity.
You will want to make sure your outdoor climate is suitable and warm enough if you plan to house them outdoors.
Since they are ectothermic animals, most tortoises will not survive a cold snap spent outside.
If your species of tortoise hibernate during winter, you will also need to provide a proper hibernating environment and controls for 10-20 weeks every year.
We encourage you, again, to do complete research on whatever species of tortoise interests you as a pet.
Easily Stressed And Prone To Health Issues
Though they are strong animals in many ways, there are many potential causes of tortoise stress.
Many hatchlings are shipped to their new owners in boxes and will need to adjust to a new environment and to you before they feel comfortable.
The first few weeks of captivity may cause relocation stress.
Make sure they have a shelter in their enclosure for hiding and adjusting.
You should be quarantining any new reptiles for a few weeks after receiving them to ensure they don’t have any parasites or diseases they can pass on to other tortoises in their tank.
Tortoises are also stressed by handling and tend not to like it.
This is part of what makes them not recommended as a pet for children.
Children are also more prone to dropping a tortoise during handling than an adult would be.
Unsanitary conditions in a tortoise enclosure are also a source of stress.
You will need to spend a lot of time cleaning and maintaining a tortoise tank or enclosure.
A dirty enclosure could lead to a respiratory infection.
Proper UVB lighting and a calcium-heavy diet should help relieve stress and health conditions caused by malnutrition.
Without UVB or calcium, tortoises develop metabolic bone disease, or MBD, a severe condition which may ultimately lead to paralysis and death.
Endangered In The Wild
Though some have stable wild populations, many tortoises are threatened or endangered in their native habitats.
They are threatened by the dangers of habitat loss and even by illegal pet trades.
Since wild-caught tortoises also tend not to do as well as their captive-bred counterparts as pets, we always recommend looking for a captive-bred tortoise to buy or adopt.
If you still want to commit to a tortoise, we highly recommend doing your research and finding reputable captive breeders of the species you wish to.
If your preferred tortoise species are endangered in the wild, look for a breeder with a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) certificate.
If you’re looking for tortoises to keep indoors read our post on the best indoor tortoises to keep as pets.
Tortoises make a rewarding pet for a knowledgeable and willing pet owner.
Though they have many advantages and qualities which endear them to people who own them, they are not the right pet for everyone.
Their care does take more effort than other pets, and their long lifespans mean you will have to make additional provisions for them.