As May 23rd is International Turtle Day, we thought it would be a good opportunity to do a blog about a different kind of four-legged pet! While not as common as dogs or cats, many people enjoy having tortoises as household pets, and they do have specific needs based on their unique structure and breeds.
Turtles and tortoises have specific dietary and environmental needs that need to be fulfilled by their owners. Without these, they tend to have health problems that can lead to diseases. Like other reptiles, tortoises need specific wavelengths of ultraviolet light. They need lights in the 290-320nm UV-B spectrum in order to properly utilize vitamin D and calcium. Even if ingesting appropriate amounts of calcium in their diet, they cannot convert calcium into healthy bone without UV-V light. Any tortoises kept indoors should have a light that include at least 5% UV-B in their spectrum.
Temperature regulation is another important aspect of their overall health. An ideal temperature for terrestrial turtles can range from 75-90*F. When arranging housing, either indoor or outdoor, there should be adequate space for an area of heat and an area of shade so that they can appropriately move around to regulate their own body temperature.
Clean water is necessary for land turtles for several reasons. Soaking in water stimulates most turtles and tortoises to urinate. There are many tortoises who won’t urinate until they have a water source to urinate in! However, as they tend to use their water soaks for elimination purposes, it is important to change the water out daily to ensure it is clean and not a source of infection.
Dietary control is an important factor when it comes to tortoise husbandry. It is important to know what species each tortoise is, to allow an appropriate diet to be determined. Omnivorous tortoises (red and yellow foot, for example) require both animal and plant materials for adequate nutrition. Leopard or Russian tortoises are grassland tortoises who enjoy grazing on dark leafy greens. Ensuring a diet based on each individual species is essential for their overall health.