Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Owning and caring for a tortoise is not always easy, and we all have lots of questions regarding care, diet, accommodation, illness, and many other things. We have tried to cover most aspects of tortoise husbandry in our care sheets and other documents on this site, but a good place to start with any questions you might have is our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section, where we have tried to identify the most commonly asked questions for easy reference.

Please note the answers provided are general ones and not species specific. 

  1. When my tortoise goes to the toilet, he sometimes passes a white substance. Is this normal?
  2. When I bought my tortoise I was told not to hibernate him until he was at least 5 yrs old, is this right?
  3. When I bought my tortoise, I was told not to put him outside until he was at least 5 years old as our weather is not warm enough for young tortoises. Is this right?
  4. When my tortoise breathes, his front legs move in and out. Is this normal?
  5. I think my tortoise is lonely, would it be a good idea to get him a companion?
  6. Do I need to leave the basking light on over night to keep my tortoise warm?
  7. Can tortoises swim?
  8. I’ve seen my tortoise eat slugs/earthworms/snails – is this OK?
  9. My tortoise seeks out and eats white stones, why is he doing this?
  10. Do I need to clip my tortoise’s claws?
  11. My neighbour has a tortoise. Is it OK to put them together once in a while for some company?
  12. I have just bought a baby tortoise. What should I keep him in while he is indoors?
  13. Do tortoises need to hibernate?
  14. Do tortoises drink?
  15. My tortoise has bubbles coming from its nose.
  16. Is it OK to buy a tortoise off the internet or is the pet shop best?
  17. What should I feed my tortoise?
  18. At what age do tortoises breed?
  19. How do I know what sex my tortoise is?
  20. Is it OK for my tortoise to wander round my living room?
  21. Can my tortoise live with different types of tortoises?
  22. My tortoise keeps rubbing his eyes with his front legs. Why is this?
  23. We have a rabbit that lives in the garden. Is it OK to let him out with the tortoise?
  24. I frequently find my tortoise on his back. Is this dangerous and will he be able to right himself?
  25. Is there anything I should put on the shell to keep my tortoise healthy?
  26. I had a tortoise hatch a week ago and it still hasn’t eaten. Should I be worried?
  27. My tortoise has developed white lines between his scutes. Is this normal?
  28. I’ve been told that tortoises carry Salmonella. Is this right and should I be worried?
  29. Which species of tortoise need a licence ?
  30. We have a dog.  Is it OK to let him in the garden with the tortoise?

1. When my tortoise goes to the toilet, he sometimes passes a white substance. Is this normal?

Yes perfectly normal. This is part of the waste produce from the tortoise and is called urates. You will not always see it, and it is a good indicator of how well hydrated the tortoise is. In a well-hydrated tortoise, the urates will either be watery or have the consistency of thick cream; if it is at all gritty or lumpy this is a sign that your tortoise is becoming dehydrated. If this happens you will need to give regular baths and give some cucumber, which has a high water content until the urates return to normal.

Back to top

2. When I bought my tortoise I was told not to hibernate him until he was at least 5 yrs old, is this right?

As long as a tortoise is a good weight and healthy, and is a species which normally hibernates, there is no reason not to hibernate him. In the wild, baby tortoises will have their first hibernation at a few months old. Hibernation is an important part of the tortoise's life cycle, and is beneficial to their health. Tortoises which haven't hibernated often grow too fast and are too large for their age.

Back to top

3. When I bought my tortoise, I was told not to put him outside until he was at least 5 years old as our weather is not warm enough for young tortoises. Is this right?

No, the best place for a tortoise is outdoors, in the fresh air, exposed to natural UV from the sunlight. Hatchling tortoises will happily live outdoors in warmer weather, provided that they have shade, shelter and a totally secure enclosure. All tortoises need somewhere warm and dry when the weather is not so good.

Back to top

4. When my tortoise breathes, his front legs move in and out. Is this normal?

Yes, a tortoise does not have a diaphragm, so needs to move the front legs in and out to help move air in and out of his lungs. However, if there are bubbles coming from the mouth or nose, or the tortoise is breathing with his mouth open, seek veterinary attention.

Back to top

5. I think my tortoise is lonely, would it be a good idea to get him a companion?

Tortoises can live very happily on their own. Before introducing another, you need to consider whether you have the room to accommodate an extra tortoise. You also need to ensure that the new tortoise is the same species and sub-species as your existing tortoise. Two males may fight, and a male may continually harass a female, so you would need to be prepared to separate them if necessary. In all cases, you should quarantine any new addition for at least six months to make sure it is perfectly healthy before allowing the tortoises to meet.

Back to top

6. Do I need to leave the basking light on over night to keep my tortoise warm?

No, the tortoise needs a ‘day and night’ cycle, and the basking lamp should be turned off and the temperature should be allowed to fall overnight. As long as the overnight temperatures won't fall below about 10 -12°C (50 - 53°F) for mediterranean tortoises - no other background heating is required. Tropical tortoises require a warmer night time temperature – see specific care sheets.

Back to top

7. Can tortoises swim?

No, and they don’t float either. If you have a garden pond, this *must* be securely fenced off from the tortoise to avoid drowning.

Back to top

8. I’ve seen my tortoise eat slugs/earthworms/snails – is this OK?

Tortoises do sometimes eat the odd slug or snail, and it is fine, although a little unpleasant to witness! However, animal protein should not be offered to Mediterranean tortoises, leopards or sulcatas.

Back to top

9. My tortoise seeks out and eats white stones, why is he doing this?

It may be that he is lacking in calcium. Try leaving cuttlefish in the enclosure, or a small dish of limestone flour. However, some tortoises will eat small stones even if they are not seeking extra calcium. A small number of stones should pass through the digestive system with no problems, but try to prevent your tortoise from eating large number of stones, as there is a risk of impaction.

Back to top

10. Do I need to clip my tortoise’s claws?

If the tortoise has a varied terrain and slates and rock to climb over, the nails should wear down naturally. If however, they don’t wear down, you can clip them, but they do have a vein running through the nail which you need to be careful not to cut. If you are not confident of doing this yourself, you may want to ask your vet.

Back to top

11. My neighbour has a tortoise. Is it OK to put them together once in a while for some company?

No. They may be different species, and any courting behaviour could cause an injury. There is also a serious risk of disease or pathogen transfer, and the stress of introducing a strange tortoise can suppress the immune system, making the tortoise more susceptible to illness.

Back to top

12. I have just bought a baby tortoise. What should I keep him in while he is indoors?

An open topped tortoise table with suitable lighting – please see the relevant care sheet for your tortoise for more detailed information.

Back to top

13. Do tortoises need to hibernate?

Hibernation is an important part of the life cycle of many species of tortoise, but you do need to ensure that you have a species which does hibernate, and also that the tortoise is healthy and a good weight.

Back to top

14. Do tortoises drink?

Yes, it is important that the tortoise always has access to fresh water, and you should also bathe him several times a week to encourage him to drink. Tortoises which come from arid areas often won't dispel fluids unless they can replace them, so you may find that the tortoise has a large drink followed shortly afterwards by a large wee.

Back to top

15. My tortoise has bubbles coming from its nose.

This could be an environmental reaction, or the beginnings of ‘runny nose syndrome’. You may sometimes see a bubble coming out of the nose after the tortoise has been drinking, or soaking in the bath. The tortoise has no palate, so when it drinks, water will sometimes escape from the nares. However, keep a close eye on the tortoise, and if there are more bubbles, seek veterinary attention.

Back to top

16. Is it OK to buy a tortoise off the internet or is the pet shop best?

The TPG strongly advise against the purchase of any tortoise off the internet or from a pet shop. Like all pets the background of these animals is crucial and the majority of these places, whether it is an internet dealer or the local pet shop, import their tortoises. The TPG only recommend true UK captive bred tortoises from reputable breeders.

Back to top

17. What should I feed my tortoise?

Please see the care sheet for a list of foods suitable for your species of tortoise. The tortoise needs a high fibre, low protein diet, and you should aim for a diet as close to that of a wild tortoise as possible. Never feed tortoise pellets, and do not rely solely on supermarket foods as a staple diet.

Back to top

18. At what age do tortoises breed?

Sexual maturity has more to do with size than age. In the wild, a female tortoise will not lay eggs until around 15 years of age. However, in captivity, tortoises tend to grow faster and mature earlier. Females can lay eggs at around 14cm straight carapace length (SCL); however, breeding very young or very small tortoises is not to be encouraged as the female may experience difficulty in laying the eggs.

Back to top

19. How do I know what sex my tortoise is?

Generally, males have longer tails, and in some species a concave plastron, and may be smaller in size. This does vary between species.

Back to top

20. Is it OK for my tortoise to wander round my living room?

No. It is colder and more draughty at floor level, and dangerous for the tortoise. He may get accidentally trodden on, or trapped by a door opening. He may eat things which are harmful, or bite electrical wires. It is also unhygienic, as it is impossible to house train a tortoise.

Back to top

21. Can my tortoise live with different types of tortoises?

No. Mixing species should always be avoided due to the risk of disease and injury from different behaviours. Different species of tortoise may also have differing dietary and environmental requirements.

Back to top

22. My tortoise keeps rubbing his eyes with his front legs. Why is this?

He may have an eye infection or irritation. Check that the substrate you are using is the correct type for your tortoise. A drop of cod liver oil may help an irritated eye, but if in doubt consult a vet.

Back to top

23. We have a rabbit that lives in the garden. Is it OK to let him out with the tortoise?

No. Rabbits and other rodents like to chew, and may injure the tortoise. The tortoise may also eat the rabbit droppings. Dogs and tortoises should not be left together either. However friendly the dog may seem, to him the tortoise is a moving chewy bone. All too often we hear of dogs attacking tortoises, often with tragic results.

Back to top

24. I frequently find my tortoise on his back. Is this dangerous and will he be able to right himself?

It is dangerous if this happens under the basking lamp or in direct sunlight. Make sure that there are no obstacles which he could climb up and cause him to tip over in these ‘danger’ areas. Also, not having an entirely smooth surface can help as this will give the tortoise something to push against and turn himself the right way up again.

Back to top

25. Is there anything I should put on the shell to keep my tortoise healthy?

You should never put any thing on the shell: it is living tissue, and oils and lotions can block the pores and attract dirt. If the shell is dirty, a soft toothbrush and water can be used to gently clean it off.

Back to top

26. I had a tortoise hatch a week ago and it still hasn’t eaten. Should I be worried?

It can often take hatchlings a week or so to start eating: they are still absorbing the egg sac during this time. Most important is to keep them well hydrated, so make sure there is fresh water always available, and that they are bathed daily.

Back to top

27. My tortoise has developed white lines between his scutes. Is this normal?

This is new growth and is nothing to worry about.

Back to top

28. I’ve been told that tortoises carry Salmonella. Is this right and should I be worried?

Tortoises, like all reptiles, can carry salmonella, although it is not common. You should always wash your hands thoroughly after handling tortoises, taking particular care with children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with suppressed immunity.

Back to top

29. Which species of tortoise need a licence ?

Annex A (need Article 10s)
Hermanns
Spur-Thigh (T. graeca)
Marginated
Pancake
Kleinmanns

Back to top

 30.  We have a dog.  Is it OK to let him in the garden with the tortoise?

Dogs and tortoises should not be left together either.  However friendly the dog may seem, to him the tortoise is a moving chewy bone.  All too often we hear of dogs attacking tortoises, often with tragic results.

Back to top





Web Designer