Sulcata Habitat construction
Most people start off with young tortoises purchased from breeders and pet stores. Young tortoises are often kept indoors for the first few years to minimize risks of escape or harm from cats, birds, and dogs. There are some important things that need to be done to keep your tortoise healthy while housed indoors. The following information will help in providing proper care for young tortoises until they are big enough to do well outside. Check out our Sulcata tortoise care section for even more information on baby Sulcata tortoise care!
A glass aquarium, plastic tub or trough, or other enclosures are often used to house young tortoises indoors. Substrates that can be used include aspen pellets, alfalfa pellets, or dirt. They live on dirt in the wild and can live on dirt inside. Make sure dirt used is from areas without pesticides or other contaminants that can be harmful to your tortoise. The enclosure needs to be as large as possible to provide areas to walk around and explore.
A hiding area needs to be provided. I recommend using hollowed out wood logs. Shell pyramiding is a common problem in growing tortoises. Recent research show this condition has less to do with the diet and is much more associated with humidity in their environment. Indoor tortoise enclosures are often very dry due to the dry air in most homes along with heat lamps on the cage. In the wild tortoises spend much time in burrows underground where humidity levels are much higher. Humidity problems can often be resolved by soaking the wooden hide log in water 1-2 times a week. The evaporation will increase humidity in the hiding area and decrease chances of shell pyramiding.
Growing tortoises need direct access to UV lighting to properly grow and develop. There are several ways of providing UV lighting for reptiles. Be sure to purchase lighting specific for reptiles, UV lights for fish or plants will not be sufficient. One type of light is a fluorescent bulb. These come as a long tube 18-48 inches long or in a small coil that screws into standard light sockets. Growing tortoises need to have direct access to this lighting and it needs to be no further than 24 inches away from the floor of the cage. Fluorescent bulbs provide little heat. So, an additional heat lamp is usually also needed. The second type of lighting is heat plus UV lighting together in the same bulb (Zoomed Powersun). These bulbs provide better UV lighting for a longer duration. Any glass or plastic between the bulb and tortoise will block out the beneficial UV rays. No beneficial UV light gets through you home windows either, so placing them by a window has no benefit. Taking baby tortoises outside, when and where possible, for natural sunlight is also beneficial for them.
There should be a cage temperature gradient during the day of approximately 85-95 F. Night time temperatures should remain above 70 F.
Feed a mixture of dark leafy greens and offer grasses and grass hay. Commercial pelleted grass diets (Zoomed Grassland Tortoise diet) can be soaked in water and also fed. Keep fruits limited to occasional treats. Grasses and grass hay are the best diet for the tortoises. While housed indoors it is good to soak them in a shallow water bath to their chin for 15-30 minutes once a week. Dust the greens with a calcium (without vitamin D3) powder a twice a week. Dust the greens with a multivitamin powder for reptiles once a week.
An annual veterinary exam and fecal sample test should be done annually to make sure your tortoise is growing normal and continues to be healthy.
Some people do things a little differently, still with success, but try not to vary too much from the basic plan Dr. Johnson outlined, or the suggestions below.
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