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TORTOISES

How to care for your tortoise

As well as terrapins, we welcome tortoises at our veterinary surgery. We provide a selection of services for this magnificent, gentle pet at our tortoise clinic including, consultations, health checks and neutering. As well as these services, your tortoise vet will be more than happy to advise you on nutrition, husbandry and any other tortoise related topics.

Consultations

Please call our regular telephone number:  0208 943 2303 (Alpha Teddington); 01372 460107 (Claygate) during office hours and speak to one of our receptionists who will help book you for the correct consultation appointment.

 

Please remember to inform our receptionists how many pets you will be bringing. Each pet will need to be scheduled individually for a consultation to allow the vet time to properly examine each pet and discuss its problems.

 

Please note that our staff who answer the ‘Emergency Call’ number outside of office hours are unable to book regular day time consultations.

 

Here is a guideline to the different types of consultations we normally provide:

  • Regular Consultation: This is our standard 15-minute consultation with the vet for an animal with a new health problem, a problem that has recurred from some time ago, or an ongoing problem.
  • Second Opinion Consultation:  If your pet has been to see another vet for this problem (within the last year) and you would like our opinion on the problem, then we need to read the previous medical record, blood results and x-rays etc. We can then learn what medicines have been used and what the original vet found on examination. We need to do this in order to properly understand your pets’ condition and provide you with a good second opinion. As this takes time to arrange the consultation must generally be booked at least one day in advance. As this is a more complex and time-consuming procedure, we normally schedule for you to spend 30 minutes with the veterinarian and we charge a higher fee.
  • Walk in Consultation:  If you come in without an appointment booked we will try our best to fit you in; however you may have to wait for an hour or even longer if the vets are busy. Of course if your pet’s life is in danger we will assess their condition and may admit them into the hospital while we make a vet available. The Walk in Consultation is generally scheduled for 15 minutes with the veterinarian but is charged at a higher fee than the Regular Consultation.
  • We strongly advise our clients to try and make an appointment, as we are often fully booked or very busy. We do not want your pet to become stressed if they have to wait a long time.
  • Referral Consultation: This is when another vet has asked you to come and consult with us as they feel we have more expertise with tortoises or with your tortoise’s specific problem. In these cases the other veterinarian will directly fax us a ‘Referral Letter’ and your tortoises medical records. Afterwards we will also inform your original vet of the outcome of the case. This also requires the extended 30-minute consultation.

Once you have made the appointment please make sure that you, or whoever is bringing in the pet, has all the information as follows:

  1. How long your pet has been sick for and what symptoms it is showing.
  2. What food your pet is fed on, including any snacks and supplements.
  3. Any medicines that may have been given to your pet (please bring in the packets or containers).
  4. What is the origin of your pet and what animals has it been in contact with.
  5. What are the urine & faeces (poop)like usually and what are they presently like.
  6. That the owner or a decision maker will be available on the telephone if they cannot come in.

Please note that to sign a consent form (for example for an operation or if you pet needs to be admitted into hospital) legally it must be someone over the age of 18 years old to sign.

We require payment for the services provided immediately after a consultation. If your pet does unfortunately need to be admitted to hospital or for surgery you will be required to pay a deposit. To try and make it more convenient for you we do accept payments by cash, cheque, debit and credit cards.

And don’t forget to collect your  ALPHA CARD – our free loyalty card that gives you 1% back on everything you spend with us! You collect points on your card, which you can redeem against any of our services or products! The card is free to all clients, and we even give you 500 points (=£5) to get you started! Ask at reception for more details when you come in.

Health Checks

Even though it is not necessary to vaccinate your pet tortoise it is a good idea to schedule routine health checks for your pet.

Like many other ‘exotic’ pets your tortoise may only show obvious signs of illness when they become very ill,  so by the time your pet looks sick the disease may be very advanced.

At a regular check our vet will discuss the general management, environment and diet of your pet as 90% of the problems a tortoise will develop are generally due to a problem in one of these categories.

Infectious disease is quite rare in captive tortoises.

In the wild a tortoise can generally move to the environment, which suits it, the most, but in captivity the owner must provide everything it needs in its tank.

The specific needs of your pet tortoise depend upon which species it is. Accurately identifying the species of your tortoise is very important. If you are unsure about the species you own please book an appointment and bring your pet for a health check.

During the consultation we may be able to identify your tortoise for you, but if not we will take photographs and send them to other experts who can provide further help with identification.

We would normally recommend yearly health checks for your tortoise in order to review the husbandry and management of your pet.

Tortoises can often look ‘normal’ even when they are sick therefore our vets may also suggest further diagnostic tests like x-rays or blood testing.  If we suspect your tortoise has a problem we can hopefully treat the problems before they become too serious for your pet.

 

Older Tortoise Health Checks

If your animal is very old and becoming frail, or has specific healthcare needs, your vet may suggest more frequent checks.

We would normally recommend yearly health checks for your tortoises in order to review the husbandry and management of your pet. Tortoises can often look ‘normal’ even when they are sick, therefore our vets may also suggest further diagnostics like x-rays or blood testing if we suspect your tortoise has a problem so that we can hopefully treat the problems before they become serious for your pet.

As some species can live to be very, very old (for example over 50 years for sulcatas and up to 175 years for aldabras ) and get very, very big ( up to 100 kg for sulcatas and  over 300 kg for aldabras ) you should think carefully before taking one on!

Nutritional Advice

What to feed your tortoise is not a subject, which is easy to generalise on, there are many variables!

Getting the diet correct needs an understanding of the individual’s nutritional requirements, an understanding of how the environment affects nutritional requirements, as well as a basic understanding of food chemistry, vitamins and minerals. This can be very complicated.

These are not dietary “preferences”- they are dietary essentials.

We cannot stress this enough: learn about the real needs of the species you keep and try to understand the reasons why it has those needs, and then try to find out how best you can meet them.

 

Variety

In the wild, tortoises tend to be browsers. They wander over quite a wide area and in the process take small quantities of a very wide variety of seasonally available food. Some species are known to consume up to 200 different kinds of plants during the year. The exact combination of plants, and their status, young, fresh and succulent or old and dry, varies seasonally.

The tortoise’s diet changes continually throughout the year, from a fairly high moisture and protein content in spring, to a very dry, and often lower protein content later on in Autumn and winter.

It can be difficult for them to find enough food, and they may need to walk all day, looking for a bite here and a bite there.

By wandering over a wide area, and by consuming such a variety of foods, tortoises should have a well-balanced diet with all the essential mineral trace elements that they require for reproduction and healthy bone development.

Even the best captive diets tend to be very restricted when compared to these natural feeding patterns.

One of the most common mistakes to only feed the favourite food!

 

 

 

Commercial tortoise diets

There are number of ‘complete tortoise diets’ available in pet stores which are in ‘cups’, ‘soft pellets’ and ‘dry pellet’ forms. These are advertised as complete, or almost complete, solutions to all of your tortoise nutrition concerns.

Compared to the wild diet these diets are still generally too high in protein, may have high sugar levels and inadequate amounts of fibre, but can be a useful source of vitamins and minerals.

We do not recommend that you feed your tortoise only on these products but as an addition to a hay, grass and vegetable diet.

If you would like to feed these products please speak to our vets in a consultation and they will give you advice on the proportions to feed to balance your tortoise’s diet.

 

Feeding Grassland Tortoises

This would include the Mediterranean tortoises (Testudo species), Desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii), the Russian tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii), Indian Star (Geochelone elegans), large savannah species such as Geochelone sulcata (African spurred tortoise), Geochelone pardalis (Leopard tortoise) and the Aldabra (Aldabrachelys gigantea).

These tortoises are herbivores. Wild tortoises do not eat meat, other than on a very rare and opportunistic basis. It is not a regular part of their diet. Fruit is rarely found on a grassland too!

In captivity their diet should be high in fibre, low in protein and calcium rich to ensure good digestive tract function and smooth shell growth.

To provide the high fibre needed we recommend feeding a diet based on a mix of hay and grasses.

This would include timothy hay, natural grass and home grown lawn grass. General ‘meadow hay’ and ‘orchard hay’ mixes are also suitable.

It is best to avoid the use of excessively ‘prickly’ seed heads as they can injure mouths and eyes so to prevent this problem we recommend ‘Timothy Gold’ hay which is ‘second cut’ and tends to have less spiny heads than first cut. There is also a salad mix available of short hay pieces, which is ideal.

Ideally this hay based primary diet should be supplemented with grasses and flowers as frequently as possible. Grasses, clover, hibiscus and dandelion can be easily grown in pots on a balcony or roof. De-spined Opuntia (cactus) pads are sometimes available from the reptile shops and can also be offered.

 

Healthy greens can also be offered in smaller quantities, this would include Plantain, Chinese lettuce, Indian lettuce, romaine lettuce, escarole, carrot tops, coriander and parsley.  Do not use head lettuces such as iceberg, as these contain very little in the way of vitamins, fibre or minerals.

 

Commercial ‘Grassland Tortoise’ food can be soaked and added to vegetable mixes.

 

Restricted greens and vegetables– bok choi, choi sum, spinach, broccoli and other greens may be offered but only in small quantities once to twice per week. If given in excess they can inhibit calcium absorption and can cause health problems.

 

 

 

Calcium and Vitamin/Mineral Supplementation

Tortoises have quite a high demand for calcium in their diets, especially when growing fast or laying eggs. Such animals may seek out extra calcium to meet these needs. If it is not available, they can rapidly suffer deficiencies.

Tortoises tend to be found in regions where the soils are rich in calcium and other essential trace elements.  The wild grasses have a higher calcium level than the supermarket vegetables we buy.

They also have free access to sunlight for basking. Natural sunlight contains UV-B radiation which changes vitamin D into its active form vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 helps the body absorb calcium from the food, so if there is not enough, the calcium will not be absorbed and the bones and shell will not develop properly.

We prefer that the D3 is supplied by natural methods, i.e. by UVB light, but as the UVB light bulbs are unreliable (unless the output is monitored) we recommend the use of a good quality phosphorus free Calcium and vitamin D3 supplement. This will vary from once a week to once a day depending on the diet, lighting and the age of the animal.

Some pure calcium should be added to the food every day and a vitamin/mineral supplement should be added once per week.

The use of a cuttlefish bone or calcium block left in the enclosures allows tortoises to regulate the amount of calcium in the diet. Some tortoises like this very much, while others will refuse to eat it.

 

What to avoid

Fruit should be given very sparingly or not at all as it frequently leads to diarrhoea, intestinal parasite proliferation, and colic.

Try to avoid a diet based upon ‘supermarket salad’. This will not offer adequate fibre, and tends to be poor in essential trace elements and other nutrients. Some greens are great to chop and mix in with hay to encourage the appetite.

High protein foods should be avoided. ‘Grassland’ type tortoises fed on cat or dog food, or other high protein food items such as peas or beans, frequently die from renal failure or from impacted bladder stones. Peas and beans are also very high in phytic acid, which also inhibits calcium uptake.

Root vegetables are far too high in carbohydrates so should be avoided.

If at all possible allow your grassland tortoises to forage and graze naturally as this helps the tortoise to maintain good digestive-tract health, reduces the production of bladder stones, keeps them strong and slim, and keeps them happy!

If you have any questions about the suitability of your current diet for your pet tortoise and what supplementation is needed, please contact us to schedule a consultation.

Neutering (De-Sexing) Surgeries

We do not normally recommend routine de-sexing for tortoises, but we do often recommend it when there has been a problem diagnosed with a tortoise’s ovaries or uterus.

Tortoises can develop a medical problem known as ‘ovarian stasis’ in this condition the ovary develops large follicles that resemble the yolks of eggs, but does not then develop these into eggs or pass them.  With this condition this yolk material can sit in the body cavity for many years, and often leaks and causes inflammation of the body cavity (peritonitis) that can make your tortoise very sick.  If ovarian stasis is identified your vet will recommend surgical removal of these abnormal ovaries.

Most female tortoises in captivity don’t regularly pass eggs, but if yours does and starts laying eggs at abnormal times, lays unusual numbers of eggs, or stops laying eggs it is possible your tortoise may have ovarian stasis or may have eggs stuck in their uterus.

Often the only sign shown when your tortoise has these problems is a lack of appetite!

To diagnose these problems our veterinarians will need to perform blood tests, to see if there are problems in any of the other body organs, perform x-rays (to see if there are any eggs with shells in the uterus) and perform an ultrasound examination to identify any large follicles on the ovaries.

If de-sexing surgery is needed to correct your tortoise’s problem our vet will perform the surgery assisted with an endoscope. An endoscope is a very small camera and light source, which helps our vets, perform surgery through small holes.

In these de-sexing cases our vet will make an incision into the tortoise’s body cavity through the skin in front of her hind leg and then use the endoscope to examine her body cavity, ovaries and uterus.  Occasionally the shell may need to be opened up for access. Depending on her exact problem our vet will then remove the ovaries and follicles or operate on her uterus. During the surgery our vets will also normally insert a feeding tube into your tortoise to ensure she can be provided with the correct nutrition to aid her recovery.

Most tortoises do recover quite quickly after this surgery and within a few weeks are back to normal.

If you are worried please schedule a consultation with your vet.

Preventative Care

There are no vaccines available for tortoises and as these pets are normally housed in small stable groups with little contact with other animals there is normally no need for routine preventative medical treatments.

 

De-worming

De-worming will be required especially if your tortoise was ‘wild caught’ and not ‘captive bred’.

Wild caught tortoises can carry many types of parasites however de-worming programs are normally tailored specifically for individual animals or groups. Our vets are very happy to discuss with you what they would recommend during a consultation.

If your pet tortoise was wild caught, or purchased from an unhygienic crowded reptile shop it may be carrying a more varied and more significant parasite burden. The signs of parasite load are variable and include poor weight gain, soft faeces and in severe cases can cause generalised fluid build-up (oedema) or even intestinal blockage.

If you or your vet suspects a high parasite burden a more aggressive de-worming program may be needed, as well as medical treatment, environmental cleaning and possibly changes in management.

 

Hibernation:

There are some species of reptiles from cooler regions of the world that in winter will slow down, stop eating and sleep for long periods.  This is known as hibernation.

Some tortoises are adapted for this, e.g. Greek spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca) but some are not e.g. African spurred tortoises (Geochelone sulcata).

For this reason it is important as a pet owner that you know the species of your pet tortoise and understand its physiological needs.

Common species which DO NOT hibernate are the African spurred tortoise (Gechelone sulcata), Leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) and the Hingeback tortoises (Kinixys sp) which all therefore must be provided with proper heated accommodation during the winter.

For species that DO hibernate it is advisable to NOT hibernate hatchlings and juveniles less than 2 years old and tortoises that have recently been sick. Hibernating tortoises properly is a complex & difficult job and should not be attempted without much research & specialised equipment.  If you do wish to hibernate your tortoise, we would advise a health check in the early autumn in the run up to hibernation.

If you choose not to do this, then keep your tortoise warm during the winter

If your tortoise is one that does NOT normally ‘hibernate’ in the wild but in captivity it appears to and does not eat for a long period of time, it may be because it has a medical problem and should be brought for a consultation as soon as possible.

Hibernation is not truly necessary, other than for breeding, even for the tortoises that do normally hibernate in the wild.

Studies are currently underway, but evidence so far points to the fact that tortoises which would normally hibernate in the wild can be kept warm and ‘awake’ all year round. If they are kept in the correct environment and fed the correct diet then they should live to their normal species lifespan.

If you are unsure if your pet should or could hibernate please speak to our vets during a consultation.

Husbandry Advice

It is very important to correctly identify the species of your pet tortoise in order for you to research and learn how they live in the wild so you can create the best environment possible for them in your own home.

If you are unsure about the species you own please book an appointment and bring your pet in for a health check. During the consultation we may be able to identify it for you, but if not we will take photographs and send them to experts who can help with identification.

As the environment you keep your pet tortoise in is very important to its health our vet will need to ask many details about the tank/enclosure, to make it easier and more accurate please bring in some photographs of your tortoises living environment.

 

Tortoise Housing

There are many types of enclosures available to keep your pet tortoise in. Some owners purchase ‘vivariums’ or fish tanks to house their tortoises, unfortunately these are not ideal. Tortoise tables are much more preferable

 

Vivariums

The glass vivarium’s often sold by pet shops and reptile shops are not good for housing your pet tortoise for a number of reasons.

Tortoises are from arid environments where the air humidity is low and generally do not do well long term in enclosed environments. Despite the fact that some vivariums have ventilation holes or ventilation mesh at the top, air cannot fully circulate. This may lead to a build-up or reduction of humidity over a long period which may affect the tortoise’s health.

In addition, tortoises do like to roam and the floor space within a vivarium is not large enough for the tortoise to get adequate exercise as it grows.

Vivarium’s that have higher sides than floor area are best suited to other reptiles, which prefer to climb (such as geckos).

Due to the confines and the small floor space of an enclosed vivarium it is generally impossible to provide a proper temperature gradient for your tortoise, this makes proper thermoregulation impossible to achieve and invariably the tortoise will suffer if kept this way for a long time.

 

Fish Tanks

With the limited space available in many houses and flats an appropriate sized fish tank can be adapted to be acceptable while your tortoise is still small, but depending on the size of your tank and the species of tortoise you have they may rapidly outgrow it.

It is important to make sure that the lighting does not overheat or dry out a small tank.

 

Tortoise Table

If you have the space the best type of enclosure to keep your tortoise in is a ‘Tortoise Table’. Tortoise tables are generally made out of wood; they have a flat floor, sides high enough to prevent the tortoise climbing out and an open top.

 

Some of the reptile shops do now sell ‘tortoise tables’ but it is also easy and cheaper to make one yourself.  You may use an old bookcase turned on its back with the shelves taken out or plastic under bed storage boxes.  (We would suggest one like “Billy” bookcases from Ikea such the 80 x 106 cm Ikea number  001.698.24)

If you do use an under bed storage box the sides must be opaque. Tortoises don’t understand the concept of glass or materials they can see through and they will constantly try to ‘walk’ through which can cause undue stress. Therefore it is better to cover the outer sides with material that is not clear (such as cardboard)

Please search on the Internet for designs of ‘tortoise tables’ or look under www.tortoisetrust.org

 

Size of enclosure:

As a general guide, if you use a fish tank it should be a MINIMUM of 6 times the length of your tortoise and at least 3 times the width. Please remember that your cute little juvenile tortoise will grow quickly.

Ideally if you purchase a fish tank to house a new juvenile tortoise it should be at least 30cm wide by 90cm long to allow for some growth of your pet.

If making a ‘Tortoise Table’ the minimum size should be 100cm by 60cm, this is generally suitable for hatchlings and juvenile tortoises.

Adult tortoises should also be kept in an area a minimum of 6 to 10 times their length and 3 to 5 times their width. As most of the commonly kept tortoise species reach an adult size of about 20cm to 30cm this would mean that their enclosure should be 2m to 3m long!

In most cases your adult tortoise will need to be provided with its own room to walk around in or access to a roof or garden.

Please do not purchase a baby African spurred (Geochelone sulcata) tortoise or Aldabra tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantean) if you are not prepared to move to an apartment with either a roof or ideally a garden.

 

Substrate/Flooring Material

There are many options available for the flooring material in your tortoise enclosure. However, we recommend using a material that can be fully replaced or cleaned very easily.  With full replacement you reduce the ability of parasites to complete their lifecycle this can reduce or eliminate the need for regular de-worming.

In most circumstances paper (newspaper) is a very versatile and useful material as a substrate for tortoises, but still be aware that it does not provide any opportunities to create a humid microclimate.

Also paper materials such as ‘Carefresh’ and ‘Eco Bedding’ can be used but are more expensive.

Timothy Hay is a good substrate that can be found in our shop as well as most rabbit pet shops.

There are number of soils and sands that can be used but care must be taken when using them to make sure they are not ingested as may lead to impactions. It is generally advised to use a play sand/loam mixture. If you would like to provide a soil based substrate please look on the Tortoise Trust website for further advice.

 

Please DO NOT use

We do not advise using wood shavings as they are very drying, dusty and irritant and again your tortoise may eat them which can lead to impactions.

100% Alfalfa pellets used to be recommended but have been found to be drying, (reducing humidity) and when eaten can cause problems due to the high protein content.

Calci-Sand is prone to clumping, can cause eye irritation, can lead to gut impaction when ingested and is again very drying to your tortoise’s environment.

Fibre-based substrates are generally based upon coconut and similar fibres. It can also be very dusty and if too wet is an ideal substrate for the growth of moulds and bacteria.

Bark chippings/mulch can sometimes be used to replicate a tropical habitat but may include pine or cedar chippings that can be toxic. The mulch is an ideal base for mites and parasites and when ingested is often fatal.

You can make the environment more interesting for your tortoises by adding large flattish stones to allow for some climbing, will help create some microclimates and may help keep your tortoises nails trim.   Make sure that they are too big to swallow!

Also make sure to add ‘hiding’ areas or dens in different areas of the enclosure; these can either be made of cardboard, wood or plastic. These hiding areas provide your tortoise with some privacy but can also help create a microclimate. Many tortoises enjoy having ‘Eco-bedding’ placed in the hide areas as it then gives them something safe to burrow into.

 

Water Requirements

In the wild tortoises generally spend most of their time on land and only normally go near water to drink but some species of tortoises like the Red-footed tortoise of South America (Chelonoidis carbonaria) do actually like to sit in pools of water on hot days.

Even though your desert species tortoise like the African Spurred Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) only has limited access to water in the wild, it can still control its own ‘microclimate’ through its behaviour. e.g. digging burrows. Therefore in captivity desert species must still be provided with water and soaked on a regular basis.

Within your tortoise’s environment you should provide a water bowl large enough for your tortoise to climb into. Fill it with water deep enough so that if your tortoise climbs inside it can easily drink but don’t fill it any more than above its nose to prevent your tortoise accidentally drowning.

 

Soaking your Tortoise

We also advise that you ‘soak’ your tortoise to provide extra water. Many owners ask will ask why?  If they have a desert tortoise why do they need to provide it extra water?

The reason tortoise owners need to soak their tortoise is because in the wild tortoises can set up their own microclimate. They do this by burrowing under leaves, hiding in bushes, digging shallow holes, digging deep holes and actually digging underground tunnels which in the case of the African spurred tortoise can be up to 10 feet long. Under the leaves and in the holes the humidity is much higher than the general humidity out in the open.

In a tortoise tank the humidity can become very low due to having to use a heat lamp to provide the high temperatures necessary and there being nowhere your tortoise can go to find an area with higher humidity.  This is why it is possible for tortoises kept in captivity to become dehydrated. For example a young tortoise, in a small, hot tank, bedded on alfalfa pellets, could become dehydrated in less than 24 hours. (This is partially due to its relatively larger surface area to body weight ratio and the drying effect of the heat light, alfalfa pellets and the poor ventilation)

If a tortoise is chronically dehydrated then there are many health problems that may develop, including renal failure, ‘stones’ in their bladders and constipation.

For young tortoises we advise that they MUST be soaked EVERY day to prevent dehydration problems, as well as being in an environment which has some areas with a higher humidity.

On the internet most tortoise advice sites will advise that you only need to soak an adult tortoise once per week, but in our experience here in the Hospital this is often not enough and even with weekly soaking we still see many tortoises that develop ‘stones’ in their bladder and then need surgery to remove them.

This may be due to the combination of the dehydration, lack of exercise and not enough fibre in the diet.

Therefore we strongly advise that you soak adult tortoises every day, provide as much exercise as possible and make sure they are eating the correct diet!

 

Temperatures

Tortoises, like all reptiles, are ‘cold blooded’. This means they do not generate their own body heat and must be provided with external sources of heat in order for them to regulate their own body temperature. To allow your tortoise to effectively regulate its body temperature you need to provide what is called a ‘temperature gradient’. This means that part of the enclosure should be warmer than the rest (the hot spot) so your tortoise can move around to the area where the temperature is correct for its needs at that time of the day. The range should be built around the tortoise’s POTZ (preferred optimal temperature zone.)

Basking in sunlight is the tortoise’s natural source of heat.  Equally desert tortoises will dig a burrow, or seek out an area of shelter from the sun to find a cooler area.

As such your tortoise enclosure should be designed with this temperature regulation in mind. There should be a hot area- an area for basking under a high-powered light. Depending upon species the temperatures may be quite hot – 32’C or even as high as 38-40’C.

To create the temperature gradient we normally recommend positioning a light bulb or a special ‘heat’ light in one corner or end of the enclosure. The light or heater should have a power rating of >50 watts. This measure of power in watts determines how much electricity the light uses, and how much energy is finally converted into heat. The higher the power rating the hotter your light or heater will be.

In our Retail Pet Shop we sell lights and heaters of 50, 60, 75, 100 and 125 watts to meet the needs of your pet tortoise.

The exact temperature requirement for your tortoise will depend on the species of your tortoise but in general we recommend a gradient of about 24 C up to 32 C.

Remember that if your tortoise lives in a tank in your apartment do not place its tank close to the air conditioning in order to prevent the air becoming chilled.

Too close to the window may result in overheating on a sunny day.

 

Lighting

As well as possibly using a light to provide heat you will also need to provide ultraviolet (UV) light for your tortoise.

Many animals, humans included, need some ultraviolet (UV) light on their skin.  This is used by the body to produce and activate some vitamins.  For many animals their skin is very sensitive to UV light, and over exposure can cause problems such as burning or even skin cancer.  However, reptiles such as your tortoise have adapted to bask in strong sunlight for long periods of time, and as such are very resistant to UV light.  So for their vitamin activation needs, they need much more UV light.

We cannot see in the UV range, but as with all light there are different wavelengths and different ‘colours’.

The UV spectrum is divided into 3 areas: UVA, UVB and UVC.

UVA is the closest to visible light in wavelength and properties.

UVC is furthest from our visible range and closer in wavelength and properties to harmful radiation such as X-rays, is dangerous to living animals, and can cause cell damage.

The range required by the skin for activation of vitamins is UVB.  This is important as many lights which claim to produce UV light, may only generate UVA.

A proper UVB light is an important addition to the housing setup for your tortoise. There are many different types of UVB light which may state different UVB outputs.

In our Pet Retail Stop we stock UVB fluorescent tubes as well as compact bulbs, which emit UVB of different strengths. We also have mercury vapour lamps, which produce both heat and UVB.

The UVB light must be positioned within 30 cm of your tortoise for it to absorb enough UVB.

We recommend you change the UVB lights every 6 months to ensure that your tortoise is receiving adequate UVB.

If you have any questions about the equipment you have, or the equipment you need for your pet, please book to see one of our vets. During the consultation please bring along any lights you have already purchased for the vet determine if they are suitable or not.

If you already have a UVB light please bring it along to the consultation, we have a UVB meter, which we can use to check the UVB output to make sure it is adequate.

As you can read from above keeping a pet tortoise is not ‘easy’. Frequently owners find that they have to spend just as much money providing the correct environment for their pet as they do on purchasing it.

If you live in an apartment we do not recommend that you keep the larger species of tortoises such as the African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) or the Aldabra tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantean). These species need a large amount of space to roam and should only be kept if you can provide them with a large suitable outside area where they can exercise daily.

Hospitalisation

Sometimes your pet may have to stay in hospital for treatment. We understand that this can be a worrying time for owners, and try to make your tortoise’s stay in our hospital as comfortable and as stress-free as possible.

Your vet may need to hospitalise your tortoise either for a short period of a day or two whilst investigations are underway or for longer periods whilst treatment is undertaken.

We have a designated exotics room (our ‘hot ward’), which contains facilities to optimise your pet’s environment, providing the conditions essential to recovery.

As with all reptiles, tortoise are ectothermic, or cold- blooded, relying entirely on environmental conditions and warmth to drive their metabolism.

Correct environment is the most influential factor in raising a healthy happy reptile.

Whilst in hospital your lizard and its environment are frequently monitored and treatments are provided by our team of British and Australian qualified veterinary staff.

We carry a large selection of food items. If however your pet has unusual dietary preferences that your vet still sees as suitable, you may be asked to bring some in for the duration of its stay.

We have excellent on-site fully qualified nursing staff to look after your pet during the night, but if necessary in critical care cases we may advise to transfer your pet to our 24-hour hospital facility North Surrey Veterinary Emergencies.

Salmonella

We understand the bond pet owners feel to their tortoises, but if you are going to cuddle them there are a few precautions you must take!

It is important to remember that some animals may carry diseases, which could make you significantly ill.  In the case of reptiles it is the bacteria Salmonella that has the most potential to cause serious problems.

The Salmonella bacterium is a normal inhabitant of the gut of reptiles and does not cause disease in its host.

It can however cause serious disease, including severe gastro-enteritis in other animals including humans.

 

 

To reduce the risk of disease we recommend basic hygiene precautions are taken:

 

  • Always wash your hands after handling your tortoise or its enclosure.
  • Use an antibacterial soap preparation (and / or alcohol gel preparation).
  • Do not kiss your pet tortoise (no matter how gorgeous they may be).
  • When washing the cage, use an appropriate disinfectant solution – 10% bleach can be used – but please rinse very well.
  • Wear gloves when handling faeces.
  • Supervise any children.  They may not follow such precautions, and may be at higher risk of disease.
  • We do not advise a tortoise as a pet for children under the age of 5 years old.
  • Older children must be supervised during any handling and basic hygiene practiced afterwards.
  • Please keep your tortoise away from any food preparation areas. For example do not keep your tortoise in the kitchen or allow it to walk around on any surfaces in the kitchen

For further information please see our Salmonella hand out.

Learn more about your pet

You can download our PDF documents for more information.

Cushings Syndrome

Guinea Pig – Feeding

Anaesthesia

Cat – Moving House

Exotic – Critical Care

Cat & Dog – Bereavement

Remember, you can contact us anytime!