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Any advice for someone considering a tortoise?

(19 Posts)
GetYourOwnDamnSkip Thu 13-Jun-19 10:41:58

I've wanted a tortoise for years and now I'm finally in a position to get one. Looking at a Herman's tortoise... Is there anything in particular I should be aware of? I've already made a deal with ds to take over when I die so that bits covered.


mrsjoyfulprizeforraffiawork Thu 13-Jun-19 13:31:57

Sorry, this will be long, because it will contain all my best tortoise advice!
Google tortoise owner sites. Don't feed it lettuce! (Apparently, they can get nasty gut problems/tumours). I did not find this out for the first 30 years (in fact, I was extremely ignorant about tortoise care, as were most people, and it wasn't easy to find out). The best thing for tortoises is to be able to roam safely in your garden and eat food that they forage themselves (you can supplement with stuff - mine LOVED apricots and buttercup flowers) - so leave dandelions and other wild plants growing, if you can (you can find out by googling which ones they can/like to eat - I remember there was something called sow thistle). Very, very important, make your garden absolutely secure - they can burrow under things a bit, they can climb fences if there are enough protruberances for footholds (my friend knew someone who looked out of her window and saw a tortoise entering her garden over a six-foot fence). For a lot of years (because he could escape our large garden quite easily) ours lived in a fairly small wooden pen that my father made. He was pretty unhappy, I thought and I was right because, years later, when my mother moved somewhere where I could tortoise-proof a large section of garden, he was free to roam again and his personality perked up amazingly (he was still a bit dour, though!).

Get it microchipped in case it goes AWOL. We lost ours on numerous occasions - in the early years he had our address painted on his shell but I now know you should not do that as putting stuff on the shell may seriously affect their health. A motorcyclist saw a rock in the road once, which turned out to be our tortoise (lucky the address was still on then). In later years, he disappeared once for three whole weeks. Eventually, someone who saw our posters said they'd found him and sent him to live with their sister a few miles away (who had a walled garden) until they could reunite him.

Read up about hibernating it. We used to be told to put it in a box with hay in and ours couldn't get off to sleep because it was too hot so my father ended up putting it in a box full of dry leaves (newspaper at the bottom)inside a bigger cardboard box (I think the gaps being stuffed with newspaper) and the whole thing was in our unheated garden shed. There is lots to learn about them - ours was a spur-thighed European tortoise, I think - we had him 45 years but he then had a bad hibernation. He went to sleep after a period of poor autumn weather so hadn't eaten enough and, although he did wake up in the spring, he was not very mobile and the weather wasn't super warm so he didn't want to eat so he didn't make it.

They need a shallow dish of water that they can get in and out of - they appreciate daily wallow in this and it helps to keep them well hydrated - they drink a great deal and give themselves a "washout" (so it needs cleaning every day, if not twice a day).

It is a bit difficult finding someone to look after them for holidays Neighbours are not much good, however willing, as tortoises, when actively roaming about, often tip themselves over and can't get up again so you have to check them several times a day, if possible, to make sure they are not upside down (if left too long, they can die this way). It is unreasonable to expect a neighbour to pop in more than twice a day (i.e. to feed and to make sure they are safely in bed - my tortoise had a little house he would go to at the end of each day - in the second place I lived in he dug himself a cave under a paving stone and used that but we did go and feel to make sure he'd got to bed OK - if not, we had to search the garden for him. Through the net I found an amazing lady near Sevenoaks, who had loads of tortoises and took him for holiday boarding (she also taught me a lot more about tortoise care). I live in London so it was a bit of a trek on the train after work to drop him off but she was great. This was years ago so I doubt she is still doing it.

mrsjoyfulprizeforraffiawork Thu 13-Jun-19 13:35:45

PS: Find a vet who has an interest in reptiles (they will know about tortoises too) and register your tortoise with them. Take it along for a check up when you get it and pick the vet's brains about care. I did this after about 35 years of tortoise owning and wish there had been the chance of doing it when we first got him (he was an unexpected birthday present to my sister on her 10th birthday from a schoolfriend!). In those days, loads of people had tortoises and knew little about how to look after them though I do think we managed to keep ours much longer than the other people did, so we weren't doing so badly.

DuckWillow Thu 13-Jun-19 13:41:01

Buttercup flowers are a no feed for some species. Mine loves dandilions w hich are a moderate feed.

Look into the equipment needed. All will need access to a heat source (basking LIGHT) with UVA/UVB.

I bring my boy in over winter so you have to consider space indoors or build something outside with access to lighting and heat.

In the summer my one free roams in the garden and I supplement that with Floretre Crispy salad but ideally grow tortoise friendly weeds and flowers. Don't give pellets as they are not ideal long term.

Gabrielknight Thu 13-Jun-19 13:45:25

My sister has a huge tortoise table with heat lamps and lots of interesting things in. I second reading up as much as you can and find a reptile specialist vet as most we found don't have a clue

PanannyPanoo Thu 13-Jun-19 13:53:48

This is an excellent group.

Are you thinking of buying a young tortoise or rehoming adult?

I have inherited a 45 year old spur thighed tortoise and he's fabulous.

If you are buying a youngster get the biggest tortoise table you can. Use top soil as substrate and get a heat lamp for basking but with unheated spaces so he/she can escape the heat too. Tortoises need to have depth to bury in. Access to water to wade in and a diet of healthy fresh plants.

Mine lives outside in an enclosure I have made from old double glazing panels. Part of the inside area has a dog kennel with a a bottom dug into the ground and half filled with top soil when he burys to sleep.

He has a pig lamp for his heating that I put on most days unless it is boiling sunshine. He has an enclosed garden that he cannot dig or climb out of and I've planted with things like plantain, mallow, vine, teasel, ice plant that are safe for him to eat and he can forage. He also loves honey suckle flowers. When we are in the garden he has free rein of the whole area, otherwise we keep him in his area which is about 20ft X10ft.

We hibernate him in his own fridge which means he is kept at a constant 5 degree temp. You have to be very careful with wind down so that the tortoise is healthy and able to survive hibernnation.

They are fabulous pets with real personalities. Mine comes when he's called and wanders round the garden with the cat.

He is extremely fast and on a sunny day will walk for hours.

GetYourOwnDamnSkip Thu 13-Jun-19 19:23:01

Thank you so much for the detailed responses that's so helpful. I've fallen in love with a baby in the shop around the corner from me, he comes to the glass everytime I've been in and the guy already knows I've got my eye on him and has tried to save him for me, there's only 2 left now though so I will need to get a move on!

I can't seem to find a difinitive answer for if it's ok to keep them in Viv's? My plan is a large enough Viv with extra vents and the garden as much as possible, I don't work during the day so can keep an eye on him (will double check all the weeds but we have tons off them!) I think if that is doable then I'm going to go for it, but if Viv's are a no go then I think I will struggle to keep the temp steady as our house is def on the cold side even when it's boiling outside..

PanannyPanoo Thu 13-Jun-19 23:20:10

My understanding is that Vivs, substrate and pelleted foods are all marketing ploys and unecessary / detrimental. I have never had a youngster but did lots of reading before rehoming our inherited tortoise. You dont need to keep the whole house at a steady temp - if you think about it thy come from the med where it can be really cold at night and oiling in the day. They don't need a constant temperature - except for when hibernating. As long as there is a basking lamp on a tortoise table your tortoise can bask when he needs to and explore when he wants.

If you join the forum that I posted above there is a whole section on indoor enclosures, with lots of photos and some real experts who are happy to share their knowledge. One has her own website called tortsmad which is a good resource too. It's a steep learning curve getting all the correct knowledge and making the set up perfect, but once that's done they aren't difficult to look after.

Sounds like your tortoise knows you're his!

DuckWillow Fri 14-Jun-19 07:53:21 don’t need a Viv or the substrate. Best to have an open plan table box and soil as they love to dig.

What kind of tortoise is he as that’s important to know.? Sulcata tortoises for examp,e grow into giant tortoises (the ones you see at zoos and wildlife parks) . In fact a keeper at a Wildlife park told me all their giant tortoises were once pets but had been donated as they rapidly outgrew their surroundings.

I have a Horsfield tortoise who is about 20, I inherited him and he free roams the garden in the summer but comes indoors over winter,

When they are small they can go into an outside enclosure during sunny days as they soak up the sun which is great for their shells.

I adore my boy as he’s a great little character...very territorial and will even have a go at the lawn mower . The cats have learned to nap off the ground as he bites 😂

Some types of torts can have fruit and some can’t so worth reading up in whatever breed of tort you are looking at.

And yes find a Herp vet. Thankfully so many vets are coming from abroad to take up vacancies this is getting easier as many have good general Herp experience from their home countries.

ThespianTendencies Wed 26-Jun-19 20:18:18

This is good information! I have a 2.5 year old horsefield tortoise and it sounds like I have had a lot of bad information! he is housed indoors in a vivariam with substrate, rocks, food, water and heat lamps etc. I let him out daily and he wanders around my sons room. He usually finds a place to chill after he's had a roam about. I also made a tortoise table with some rocks, a shelter and I strew food he likes around it. He gets a break from the viv eery day. Today I let him in the garden as it was sunny and I was out there so I knew he wouldn't get lost as he is not very big yet. I've been told he can stay in the viv until he is 5 but that seems so cruel and goes against my instincts for a wild animal kept as a pet! I am a bit confused about what he needs in terms of outdoor accommodation and if I can house him permanently outdoors in Summer (such as ours is atm...!). Your advice and help is enormously welcome.

GetYourOwnDamnSkip Wed 26-Jun-19 21:32:35

Just thought I'd share a pic!

GetYourOwnDamnSkip Wed 26-Jun-19 21:33:20

Just thought I'd share a pic!

NotReve Wed 26-Jun-19 21:40:41

Lovely tortoise! smile

Before you feed anything, please check it on this website , it will tell you if it is a safe feed and how often it should be fed. Weeds and flowers are best (nothing shop bought), but not every weed/flower is a safe feed so you need to check.

Definitely not a viv - an open table with heat and UV light is better but they really should be outside in a secular enclosure in the summer. Only topsoil for the indoor table.

Not sure if I’m allowed to share Facebook groups but this is the best:

Torts are not easy pets by any means but they are lovely smile

Thatsnotmyname4291 Wed 26-Jun-19 21:43:55

This thread is marvellous and now I want a tortoise.

ThespianTendencies Wed 26-Jun-19 21:58:43

Thank you for the information - at the weekend my partner and I are making a large safe enclosure for Ralph to roam in when he is unattended. If I am in the garden he can roam free. So at night do I bring him in? I have a log cabin in the garden and I am thinking of leaving him in there but with the viv open so he can get in. Would that be OK?

GetYourOwnDamnSkip Wed 26-Jun-19 23:46:59

Just thought I'd share!

Bluerussian Thu 27-Jun-19 01:26:18

Lovely animals. I had one many years ago, I took it on because its shell was damaged and nobody else wanted. I named him after a famous race horse - then he laid eggs so he was really a she! I put the eggs in a box in the airing cupboard but they never hatched.

Anyway she recovered from her injury and starting exploring all over the garden. One day I came home from work and saw her charging up the middle of the road! So we tried to secure our back garden a bit more but she still found her way out for a long time. We also let her be indoors and she explored every corner of our living room and kitchen.

She was taken to the vet when she had a runny nose, she had a virus and we were given drops to put in her mouth after which she recovered.

I'm trying to think what we fed her, I remember giving her salad, greens and chopped raw potatoes every day but I'm sure she had something else but can't remember what.

There was a man who lived around the corner who had tortoises and he said, when she was ready to hibernate, he had a special type of hibernation box which she was welcome to share. That's what happened the first year.

When we moved house we knew we'd have a lot to do in the garden including fixing a fence on our side. The other side, which was not our fence, had some panels missing. The man around the corner, whom we nicknamed, 'The tortoise man', wanted to have her until we had got ourselves sorted so we let him. We knew she would be well looked after. However she died a while later, we don't know the cause. RIP.

Tortoises make marvellous pets, they are very undemanding and cute with plenty of personality. However I suggest you speak to your vet to get more up to date information on tortoise care, not just food but do s and don'ts.

Love your photos, you certainly have a handsome fella.

NotReve Thu 27-Jun-19 06:18:30

Very lovely tort!

I would change the wood chips to topsoil and the viv to an open table - the wood chips and viv make it too hot and hard to regulate their temperature. If you don’t want to buy anything new, take the glass off and tip it on its side so it is open at the top.

I know pet shops will often recommend vivs and different substrates but it is incorrect.

@ThespianTendencies that sounds great! A safe enclosure is best, so that would be brilliant. During the summer they can stay outside if it is warm enough (no lower than 12 degrees) as long as you’re sure the enclosure is secure and won’t flood if it rains! smile

ThespianTendencies Thu 27-Jun-19 07:23:16

So what if they were outside at night but the temp dipped? What would happen?

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