Pet Shops and Tortoises

The importation of tortoises for the pet trade was huge from the 1950s through to 1984 when the government then introduced a ban to stop this, as many species were starting to decline quite dramatically.  This law was updated in 1999 to keep and protect tortoises in their natural habitat.  However since May 2004 when Slovenia joined the EU many different species of dubious origin are once again being imported in the UK in their thousands, just to indulge the pet trade and profit the unscrupulous dealers.

The vast majority of tortoises that you see today in pet shops and garden centres are certified as being captive bred when in fact they are being imported over as hatchlings, mainly from Slovenia, Germany and now many other countries.  They can spend days packed in boxes before they finally reach their destination, and along with the stress they have already endured on their arduous journey, too often they arrive suffering from dehydration and chronic worm infestations, which in many cases can lead to their early demise.

Please BEWARE!! - avoid purchasing from Pet Shops, Garden Centres, Tortoise Centres or any other establishment that offers to send out tortoises via a courier service; no matter how good their write-ups sound, they are usually middle-men dealers out to make a profit. - Please visit our list of genuine UK Breeders if you are looking for a tortoise for sale.

Many pet shops supply little if any care sheets regarding accurate tortoise husbandry, and the advice they do give is nearly always perilously incorrect.  It is a proven fact that most species of tortoises do not do well in a glass vivarium or fish tank, as it is impossible to maintain the correct humidity levels and they cannot escape the heat.  This type of set-up is particularly damaging for hatchlings and juveniles while in the early stages of development. 

The TPG recommend a table-top enclosure for indoors: this consists of a base with four sides and an open top.  A set-up like this will ensure good consistent air flow.

Substrates play an important part in good husbandry and many pet shops still get this wrong.  It is important to give your tortoise the best substrate in order to create the right microclimate.  There is much conflicting advice regarding substrates and many of these are totally inadequate.

Substrates to avoid are:
Calci sand
This is inclined to clump - especially when wet - and has also been known to cause eye irritations, and to cause impaction if ingested.

This is not only a fire hazard with the heat lamps but also fails to provide the tortoise with a means of producing a good microclimate.

Alfalfa pellets 
This can cause countless problems, including respiratory and eye  infections as well as dehydration.

Bark chipping
This substrate can increase the risk of mites and similar parasites, so extreme caution must be taken when using it. Pine gives off toxic fumes when heated.

Hemp has sharp particles which can easily cause serious damage to tortoises and it can sometimes prove to be fatal especially if ingested and as such is not recommended for use as a substrate.

Substrate to use:
Sterilised soil is recommended

Correct dietary requirements are another concern with pet shop tortoises, and an example of a bad diet is “tortoise pellets” as they are high in protein and if fed too much on a regular basis can cause rapid growth, which may lead to pyramiding of the shell.  Supermarket greens, such as lettuce, are also best avoided, due to the fact they lack essential calcium and fibre, plus they are high in phosphorus and water content, and other greens, such as members of the brassica family like cabbage and broccoli, are high in oxalic acid, which inhibits the uptake of calcium in the tortoise’s body.

A healthy diet should consist mainly of weeds and flowers, which are high in calcium and dietary fibre, low in protein and saturated fats.

All foods should be supplemented with calcium (daily) and Nutrobal (2-3 times a week or daily for hatchlings).  This is something that many pet shops ignore, but these supplements are vital for tortoises in order to maintain good health, especially for young tortoises in their early years as they are susceptible to MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease) and other calcium deficiencies if deprived of them.

Exposure to Ultra Violet Light (UVB) is very important for the development of a tortoise. Tortoises require vitamin D3 to be able to utilise the calcium they require to ensure good bone and shell growth and also to help with egg production in egg-laying females.  UVB light is essential to allow the tortoises to make use of vitamin D3. 

The need for UVB is another thing which is either often overlooked by pet shops or they sell a UVB source of a very low strength, which is of no use to a tortoise.  The best form of UVB is from the sun, but when indoors it can be provided in two ways. The first is a UVB fluorescent tube.  When using this source be sure to buy the strongest output tube available and position it as near to the tortoise as possible.  If you also attach an inexpensive reflector to the tube it will increase the amount of UVB light reaching the tortoise by up to 30%.  The second option is a UVB/heat two-in-one combined bulb. These give out a much higher output than tubes and have the added advantage of lasting longer before they need replacing.

The TPG has heard of numerous disasters concerning tortoises becoming very ill shortly after being purchased from pet shops because of high parasite infestations, or kidney failure due to excessive dehydration suffered in transport, and sometimes even extensive and expensive veterinary treatment cannot save them.  This is why we recommend purchasing UK Captive Bred tortoises only. 

The TPG has a list of reputable UK breeders who will not only provide you with a healthy hatchling but also the aftercare advice that is needed, and in most cases these tortoises will cost you far less than a tortoise from a pet shop.

We strongly advise against anyone buying a pet shop tortoise and we hope the above advice has helped you decide to buy from a genuine UK breeder.


 December 2013


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