A pet tortoise; The hard facts

As members of the Muddling Through household go, there’s one little dude who has distinctly lacked any airtime on the blog, despite his extra personality and charm.

Meet Eddie, the 23 (ish) year old spur thighed tortoise.


For a young Greek male in his prime, he’s a pretty chilled kinda guy – which in a household often dominated by high octane females is no bad thing. He’s the one and only male companion for Dad Muddling Through, and there’s every chance he could outlive us all.

Well, that’s what we thought about his predecessor Joey too, but that theory was proven wrong, thanks to an insufficient pond guard. Tortoise pet lesson number one was learnt in a pretty harsh way. R I P Joey Essex.

A tortoise isn’t just for Christmas

The thing is, there are so many reasons a tortoise might seem like an amazing pet (they could be perceived quite low maintenance and great if you’re allergic to fur) and, in truth they really are, but it’s not something to take on lightly, because your toddler just loves that one off Peppa Pig.

I come from a family of tortoise lovers; my parents had seven at one point, so we didn’t go into this with our eyes shut. Like any reptile a tortoise, whichever breed needs some pretty specific care requirements, and although it won’t need walking twice a day, you need to be prepared for that responsibility.

Summer lovin’

The thing with a mediterranean tortoise, is that they were made for hot, dry weather and therefore they love nothing more than being outside on a warm sunny summers day. Here in blighty that equates to just a few months of the year, and other than those times, a tortoise can be a little like a solar powered toy. When it’s cold and gloomy, they do very little, eat very little, and hide away.

Tortoise Digs

With a tortoise, depending on their age and size, you can either house them indoor or outdoors. Either way they need space to roam, and to hide away; so either outdoors in a secure garden with a house to retire to, or on an indoor tortoise enclosure (tortoise tables are ideal as allow adequate ventilation – vivariums can retain too much moisture) with an appropriate UV lamp and heat source for adequate 12 hours a day  (with plenty of space to escape it should they want to).

If, like us you house your tortoise outdoors, beware these little dudes are pretty amazing escape artists! They can climb a step bigger than you’d imagine, dig out from under a wire barrier, and find a hole in a fence should there be one big enough for them to squeeze through.

Even if you have an indoor tortoise set up, it’s ideal to have a garden run to allow your tortoise to enjoy some natural sunshine during the day in the summer months. Oh, and a heads up, tortoise wee is the weirdest of stuff – it’s a highly concentrated uric acid, and believe me you don’t want it on your laminate flooring.

Fussy Eaters

Tortoises need a varied diet of vitamin packed natural sources – they are herbivores so it’s a totally vegetarian mix of wild flowers, weeds and leafy green vegetables; dandelion, clover, honeysuckle, leafy salads, watercress, curly kale, brussel tops, spring greens, coriander, parsley, rocket, carrot, parsnip, courgette and bell peppers. The bulk of the vegetation should be leafy greens but Eddie does like an occasional tomato or strawberry as a treat.

The thing is with tortoises is that they LOVE a bit of lettuce and cucumber, but sadly this is the mCDonalds of the tortoise world – totally irresistible and with very little nutritional value. Too much of a bad thing can lead to a very fussy tortoise who turns his nose up to the right stuff. We have lived this nightmare and Joey spent time in tortoise rehab to get him back on a decent diet again. #TrueStory.

You can buy tortoise pellets and also seed trays to grow your own tortoise foods, but amazing as these sound, our heroes in a half shell had little interest in them.

“I don’t drink”, my arse.

Tortoises can drink, but neither of ours have particularly done so. The weird thing about tortoises is they can absorb water through their erm, cavities, and this encourages them to empty their bowels too. And so, you need to bathe your tortoise often – for ten minutes or so a few times a week in a luke warm bath that isn’t too deep…because as brings me on to my next point…

Tortoises can’t swim

It’s amazing how many people confuse toroises, turtles and terrapins. Terrapins and Turtles are aquatic, tortoises, not so much. As I already mentioned, we can verify this fact only too well after we believed *hoped* Joey had gone into early hibernation, but in fact he turned up in the pond a few weeks later. The moral of the story is that tortoises and ponds do not mix, and after much consideration over filling the pond in, we heavily reinforced it with a steel grid. It’s a no brainer.

Sleepy sleep

Now as a knackered Mum, I envy Eddies ability to call it a day at approximately early October and sleep off the summer in one long stint. Tortoises hibernate, which means they stock up on food all summer, gain weight, then do a bit of a 3-4 week fast to empty their guts before the long goodnight. Not THE long goodnight hopefully – but to be safe you should never hibernate a sick or underweight tortoise. You can monitor their weight regularly and make sure they are fit for hibernation by measuring their bone density. Or, if you have a good bond with your tortoise, you’ll know it’s eating habits and can make a pretty good judgement. If in doubt a vet can check him over.

There are options for hibernating – you can pay an expert to take on the responsibility, or research and create the perfect set up yourself. You can keep a tortoise awake all winter with an indoor set up, and finally, you can let nature take its course. We have lost the tortoises many a winter and been totally lost as to where they are – only for them to resurface in the spring in a ball of walking mud. Forever one of my favourite moments of spring. The hibernation process is truly remarkable to watch, but keep an eye on the clock – you may need to wake up your tortoise and bring him in if he went to bed too early – tortoises should never hibernate for more than 20 weeks and with our british winters it can be a little too tempting for them to stay tucked up in bed.

Hero in a half shell

I realise it all sounds a bit complicated, but if you are prepared to be a responsible and loving tortoise owner, they do make the most amazing pets. There’s nothing quite like one begging for food at your BBQ and shuffling around the garden, making it feel like home.

That said, you need to make sure you’re aware of what you’re taking on and that could be 125 years of worrying about if the little guy has gotten enough greens in him this week! Always buy tortoises from a trusted source who can provide a breeding certificate, and treat these awesome little creatures with the respect they truly deserve.


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