Tyrannosaurus Pets

Tortoises as Pets

Tortoises are again gaining popularity as pets in the U.K. Most people can remember the one that their grandparents bought cheaply in the local shop or market. These animals were then let loose in the garden, fed on lettuce, and often drilled for a string, or had the house number painted on their backs.

Advances in both veterinary science, and animal husbandry have shown that these practices were not in the animal’s best interest, and that tortoises are actually quite demanding animals with very specific requirements. Failing to meet these requirements will quickly start to affect the health of the animal.

There are three basic groups of tortoises available in the U.K. These are European species, African savannah species, and tropical species. Each of these groups has good and bad aspects to their care, and I’ll try to cover these here.

A lot of the basic care for tortoises is the same regardless of where they come from. They all need access to the correct housing, heating, lighting, food, and water.

Housing your Tortoise

Most species of tortoise are prone to respiratory problems brought about by bad air quality. It has been shown that keeping them in enclosed tanks such as those used for snakes and lizards, can cause these problems. To combat this it is now recommended to house tortoises in a tortoise table. This is basically an open top wooden box or tray. The tray needs to be about 12” (30cm) deep, as the animals are surprisingly good at climbing.

For smaller baby tortoises you can use an indoor rabbit cage. For tortoises up to 4” (10cm) in length the enclosure needs to be approx 3’ by 2’ (90cm x 60cm). When the tortoise is over this size it needs to be moved into its adult enclosure. The size required for the adult depends on the species of tortoise.


In their natural habitat tortoises bask in sunlight. To mimic this any heating system used with a tortoise needs to be mounted above the animal. For most species a basking lamp in a clamp fitting attached to the side of the enclosure is sufficient to create the basking area.

Heat mats are not suitable for use with tortoises as they produce heat in the wrong direction, they can cause the plastron (lower shell) to over heat leading to some serious health issues.


Tortoises need access to UVB lighting in order to remain healthy. With out the UVB the animal will be unable to properly utilise any calcium in the diet, leading to soft shell, and other problems. A good quality UVB strip light is usually enough, but a combined output mercury vapour lamp like Zoomed’s Powersun™ are a much better though very expensive alternative.


The ideal diet for European tortoises is a mixture of grasses and weeds such as clovers, dandylion, sowthistle, and plantains. These provide the high fibre and low protein diet required by most species of tortoise available in the U.K. Food bought from a supermarket is generally too high in protein, or too low in fibre to be used as a staple for feeding tortoises, though certain fresh vegetables may be offered as a treat.

African savannah tortoises require the same natural forage, with a greater percentage made up of grass and hays.

The tropical tortoises will eat more fruit and fresh vegetables. Due to this variety of diet it is essential to research the exact dietary requirements of the species you wish to own to ensure you are able to provide for its exacting needs.


Tortoises need access to fresh water at all times. Any water dish needs to have a large enough floor plan for the animal to sit in, but be shallow so the tortoise can easily climb in and out. Most species of tortoise benefit from being bathed two or three times per week, in a shallow amount of tepid water.

This is a very basic introduction to the care of tortoises. As time permits I will add more detailed care sheets on the individual species available. For further information please look at the Tortoise Trust website www.tortoisetrust.org

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Tyrannosaurus Pets