Beginner guide: Having a Tortoise as a Pet

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, we may earn commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting us.

Having a tortoise as a pet was not something that I planned to do. It just happened accidentally. As weird as it might sound, I really did not plan to have any pets at all in my life. But then I turned 20 years old and my girlfriend at the time thought it was an excellent idea to give a living tortoise as a gift. Interesting.

So please meet Paddy:

A 14-year-old bad boy that has been living with my family and me for the last 7 years. By the way, he is a Russian tortoise. That is one of the most common tortoise species to have as a pet. We know that these tortoises will live until they get 50 years old +, which was a bit worrying to start with. But I guess I already got used to the thought of having him as a pet for a very long time.

At the time I got him I had no clue about how to deal with these animals. By the first sight of him I was a bit afraid. I mean, getting a reptile in your home is quite a big deal after all, isn’t it?

So I have read a lot about the topic and made an awful lot of experiences over the last years. Those are the ones that I want to share with you in this article.

I would go so far and say that these are some things you need to need to learn before considering having a tortoise as a pet.

Walking around the house or in a “cage”?

As we adopted Paddy, we were told that we could get this terrarium as a part of the deal. Or: my ex-girlfriend was told that. We quickly found out that there was no way our little tortoise would want to stay in there. He constantly scratched the window, almost desperately trying to get out of it.

We quickly understood that he needed more space to walk around. So we gave him the whole house. He is now just walking around the house (kitchen, living room, bathrooms, etc.) enjoying his life. You would have to consider the best ways for your situation, but this is something that both Paddy and we are happy with.

Relocation can be a hassle

What you also need to know about tortoises is that they hate change. They will get stressed out and possibly become depressed. We saw that the first times we brought him to our cabin. And please don’t get me wrong here: he appeared to love the surrounding nature and the conditions in a different place. He ran around like a maniac trying to explore everything and just seemed very happy.

It was not until we had done this for the second time that we understood that something was wrong. He would get stressed out, depressed, stop eating and just completely change behavior. Where he usually always was running around chasing our feet, he would now seem “unmotivated” and tired all the time.

Pro tip: Do not move your tortoise to different homes, houses or apartments. A second habitat should not be necessary.

What to feed my tortoise?

All tortoises are more or less in agreement with their preferred menu: vegetables. Salad and tomato seem to be the favorites.

However, in the summer we have this type of “prison installment” that he loves to be in. Not only will Paddy have unlimited access to the sun, but he is also able to walk around and eat fresh dandelions directly from the grass. Handy.

You can also give some fruit to your tortoise (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, etc.) , but that should not count for more than 10 % of the total diet.

Vitamin supplement

Most vitamin supplement sold to humans is, in my opinion, scam. If you have a healthy diet where you balance greens, white meat and fish – you will get the vitamins you need naturally. For tortoises that is not exactly the same. It is highly recommended to buy some vitamin supplement to make sure that you have covered all the needs.

I bought this one online (cant remember exactly the web shop):

But you can also find a lot of them on Amazon. By clicking here, you will get redirected to the page where you can see all the different vitamin supplements for your tortoise.

Note that there are two types of vitamin supplements:

1) Powder that you can use to cover the vegetables/fruit.
2) Pellets.

I bought some pellets and he is eating them like it is his last meal. Simply loving them.

Will the tortoise get sick?

It will get sick if you don’t treat it right. And by treating it right, I mean that you should provide your tortoise with the right light/warm and diet. No more than that. If you make sure that it gets the right UVB lightning (providing ambient heat) and eat healthy, you will not get a sick tortoise walking around. I can promise you that.

Now, the different tortoise species have different demands. And I am not going to list all the different demands from all the different species. That would simply take me too long. But once you consider buying a tortoise as a pet, please do your research. Make sure that you can provide the right environment for him when it comes to food and heat.

What if the tortoise gets sick?

Unless you are really experienced and know you tortoise well, please leave that to experts. Trying to figure out what your pet needs in such situation is not easy.

You should not pretend to be a veterinarian yourself. That can lead to a disaster.

Pro tip: Follow strict rules when it comes to hygiene, food habits and heat. That should keep the doctor away.

Can I have my tortoise outside in the summer?

Yes, you can- but only if you know what you are doing.

Let me give you some tips on what to do and what not to do:

1) Don’t underestimate the speed of these tortoises when they get into the sun. They can literally increase their speed by 3-4 times as soon as they get “heated up” outside. If you have an open backyard and think that “my tortoise can just play around for a couple of minutes, I will be right back”, you are mistaken.

Always keep an eye on them.

2) A solution can be to build a “prison”, which I have done. You can see mine here:

Very simple to build. Buy one very long plank, cut it in 4 and make a square. Paddy is safe and can be outside without me checking up on him every minute. Handy.

Just make sure that the enclosure is 100 % safe and that there is no way your tortoise can run away. If they run away and you have a huge area to cover when trying to find it, you will be in trouble. They are amazing at hiding. And if they don’t hide well, raccoons, big birds or other wildlife that want a nice meal can easily hunt them down.

3) As you might see, I have put a piece of wood on top of one of the corners. That is done in order to make sure that Paddy can get some shadow if he wants. Being exposed for the sun for 8-9 hours straight is not something that can be considered healthy for any species – especially not during summer.

Also note that you should never create any form of outdoor enclose with a glass ceiling. It will literally burn your tortoise.

Are there any disadvantages of having a tortoise?

If you asked me today: “Given all you know, would you still have adopted Paddy?”, I would say; yes, definitely. He is awesome. And I love spending time with him and see him gladly walk around the house like a boss.

That being said, there are some negative elements of having a tortoise pet that should be mentioned in this article.

Going to the toilet

A tortoise does not have the same intellect as a dog or cat. You cannot train it in order to make sure that it goes on the toilet in one specific place of the house. It can be a bit frustrating to go out to the bathroom, getting ready to take a shower only to find out that you need to clean the whole bathroom floor before you do so.

Economy

I guess a tortoise is one of the cheapest pets you can have. However, you look at it over a lifetime period, it is quite expensive. After all, you need to make sure to buy tomatoes, fruit and salad for 50 years or more.

Getting close to the animal

Again, let me compare to cats and dogs. You will never get the intellectual connection with a tortoise in the same way. The animal is excellent, don’t get me wrong. And they can have a very typical set of behaving, which can be called “their personality”. But you will never be able to get close to the tortoise in the same way that you would do with a cat or a dog.

It will not recognize you. And we know from the biology class that 95 % of reptiles’ decisions are purely based on instincts.

Those are some of the disadvantages of having a tortoise as a pet. If you are still convinced that getting one would be cool, feel free to do so. But remember that once you made the purchase, you need to stick with it for many years to come.

Conclusion

Having a tortoise as a pet is quite unique. And cool. But there are loads of things you need to consider before getting one. Are you really willing to spend the 40 years of your life on caring for a tortoise? If so: go for it!

Another thing you need to think about is the climate you are living in. If you are living in the northern parts of Russia (I don’t know how many of my readers that do live there by the way), you might reconsider getting a tortoise that demands a lot of sun. Adjust your expectations and needs based on what you know about the different tortoise species.

If you have any questions about caring for a tortoise, please feel free to add a comment or question below the article. I will always try to answer all enquires before at least 48 hours.

3 thoughts on “Beginner guide: Having a Tortoise as a Pet”

  1. Avatar

    Having a tortoise is level 1 difficulty. Having a dog is level 10.

    I had both and it is quite astonishing how much more a dog requires. You have to take it to a walk every single night. Also, you would have to join you on holiday, buy special seat on an airplane, blab la bla.

    No, I really miss the time when I had a tortoise. Not that dogs (which I have now) are bad, but getting a reptile is so much easier for so many reasons

  2. Avatar

    Awwww, your tortoise is so cute. I am considering getting one, but not before I know that I will be able to provide the best home possible. So many people are getting pets that they later have to get rid of as they cannot provide them with a great home and food. I really do not want to be a part of that statistics. On the other hand, I believe that a tortoise is the best option for me…

    how many hours a day do you spend on taking care of him?

    1. Avatar

      Hi Julia,

      thanks for your comment. Getting a tortoise is an excellent choice (although I am biased) 🙂 .

      Would say max 30 minutes a day. That includes everything such as cleaning up after him, feeding him, making his life easier by opening the doors in the house, etc.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *