Tortoise Information Sheet
AlphaPet Tortoise Clinics
Tortoises are a surprisingly common pet in the UK. Many of them are decades old and have been handed down through the family. Several species can live up to 100 years old, if they are well cared for in a captive environment!
The areas of husbandry, diet and veterinary advice have come on leaps and bounds in the 10 - 15 years and we are pleased to say we have both vets and nurses at AlphaPet who have a keen interest in these animals.
Our nurses can offer you both pre- and post-hibernation examinations, giving you advice on general care, diets and also to check if your tortoise is suitable for hibernation and how to safely go about this.
If you are at all concerned about your tortoises health our vets will be happy to examine them and give them a full health check.
Our aim is not to tell you that the way you have kept your tortoise for years is wrong, but hopefully to help offer some new ideas that may well be helpful to you and your tortoise.
Below is a round up of several handouts, information sheets and general advice we have picked up. Some of this information you will already know while some of it may surprise you a little.
- Testudo Hermanni (Hermans Tortoise): generally one of the smaller breeds measuring up to 150mm in length, one of the hardiest and easiest kept tortoises
- Testudo Horsfeldi (Afghan Tortoise): looks similar to Hermans, but comes from colder climates, such as Russia and is a little flatter in appearance. It is not a protected species and is seen as the most hardy breed.
- Testudo Gracea Ibera (Asiatic Spur Thighed): one of the larger and more commonly seen breeds. Males reach approx. 185mm, females approx. 200mm in length. They can tolerate fairly long hibernation periods.
- Testudo G Gracea (Mediterranean Spur Thighed Tortoise): slightly smaller than it's Asiatic cousin, males approx. 140mm and females approx. 180mm. They are also less hardy and can only tolerate fairly short mild hibernation periods.
- Testudo Marginata (Marginated tortoise): largest breed now becoming popular here, generally seen in Mediterranean areas. Males approx. 240mm and females approx. 270mm in length.
It is generally recommended that tortoises are chipped as they are relatively expensive animals and are therefore more prone to being stolen. Several breeds MUST be chipped under EEC Law before they can be sold.
The microchip is placed in the left hind leg, in the relatively soft skin there. If the tortoise does stray or is stolen it can then be traced back to the rightful owner.
The new mini-microchips makes the insertion of microchips even easier and less uncomfortable.
There are two different aspects of housing to consider; Summer and Winter.
During the Summer most tortoises are happy to live outside with somewhere to hide if the weather is less than clement! If the garden is well covered with plants and shrubs additional housing may not be necessary. However if the need arises a small "house" can be erected, consisting of a few bricks and a couple of yard slabs, lined with some thin plywood, newspaper, towels or Astroturf! Avoid sand, gravel, wood shavings or cat litter as these can cause impaction if ingested. Also be aware that cedar shavings are toxic to reptiles. Any cleaning that is necessary should be done using ordinary soap and water or a safe disinfectant product such as Russells Home Help (avoid harsher products unless your veterinary surgeon suggests one.)
Towards Autumn and into Winter, tortoises may need something a little warmer, a large, sturdy cardboard box is glamorous enough, with a heat source (heat pad/suitable heat lamp & UV light) at one end and a nest box. Alternatively a specialised vivarium can be set up, using a similar design. The aim is to allow a temperature gradient from cool at one end to warm at the other, enabling the tortoise to regulate its own body temperature. Also remember to keep track of the temperature using a suitable thermometer. Please contact the surgery if you need advice on this aspect of housing.
Once Winter has arrived and your tortoise has decided enough is enough and wants to sleep through the worst of our British weather, a small, well insulated box will suffice. Fill with bedding material such as hay or straw that can absorb some of the waste if tortoise awakens early. Again a thermometer to keep track of the temperature over the Winter. Try to maintain a temp of 5C - much warmer and they will wake up while much cooler and they could suffer from frostbite.
You will need to assess your tortoise individually, according to their breed and age as to when to hibernate and for how long. Experts are tending to recommend that we now have relatively short hibernation periods, by artificially increasing the length of Summer from early Spring into late Autumn. There are several ways to do this:
Bring the tortoise indoors when day time temperatures drop to approximately 12C
Daily bathing: helps to warm them up and keeps their bowels and other organs working. The bath should be approximately 5 - 10 minutes long and be a pleasant bath temperature.
Providing a suitable heat and UV light source to imitate the outside environment on a warm summer day.
Remember to starve your tortoise for 2-4 weeks pre-hibernation to ensure that no food matter is left in the gut undigested. Do however allow continued access to fluids, as these are needed during hibernation and are stored in the bladder. Other things to consider in the run up to hibernation is getting your tortoise wormed, and their weight checked against a special graph called the Jackson Ratio. This assesses their body condition and suitability to hibernate. AlphaPet runs special nurse clinics to help you with these tasks and ensure your tortoise is fit to hibernate. Please call the surgery on (01243) 842832 to book an appointment.
All chelonians are omnivores i.e. they eat both meat and vegetables. Different species will have differing requirements. Most species seen in UK require a diet of mainly green plant material, a high fiber diet that will avoid loose motions that can lead to chronic bowel problems and loss of condition. Only 10 - 20% of their diet should be fruit. Food such as mixed greens, parsley, peas, cabbage and broccoli are suitable and fruits such as apples, bananas, grapes, kiwi and figs (which contain calcium.)
In the wild, a tortoise will eat meat in the form of insects, grubs & even dead mammal flesh if they happen to come across it. The bones of this type of food provides an excellent source of calcium & phosphorous, two very important minerals. An easy way to provide these minerals in captivity is to use a suitable powdered supplement, such as Nutrobal. For males and non egg-laying females, a calcium and vitamin supplement such as Nutrobal should be given every 2-3 days. For young animals and egg-laying females, a daily supplement of Nutrobal is required.
Societies & Useful Publications
Practical Encyclopeadia of Keeping and Breeding Tortoises by A. Highfield
TFH series of Mediterranean Tortoises (European Species)
TFH series of Tortoises (Tropical Species)
The Tortoise Trust, B.M. Tortoise, London, WC1N 3XX.
The British Chelonia Group, c\o June Chatfield, Alton, Hants.