The Russian Tortoise can make an enjoyable pet for the novice reptile keeper. They are relatively easy to maintain once you have setup a suitable habitat for them and are knowledgeable about how to feed them a balanced diet. They are typically friendly and outgoing and rarely exhibit biting behaviors. Although they are relatively small (6-8”) they have lifespans of more than 50 years- so be prepared that the care of a Russian Tortoise is a LIFELONG COMMITMENT!
If you are thinking about bringing home a Russian Tortoise make sure to do plenty of research beforehand. They are reptiles who require very specific conditions in order to thrive. These conditions are not natural to this area so they require quite a bit of initial setup on your part. River Road Veterinary Clinic also recommends contacting rescue groups in your area (such as the Upper Valley Reptile Group) to make sure that there aren’t any tortoises in your area that are in need of a home before purchasing one from a pet store or reptile expo.
Russian Tortoises are fairly active and enjoy walking around their enclosure space and exhibiting digging behaviors. It is imperative that they have separate areas of their enclosure where they can warm up (a “basking area”), cool down and burrow. The cool end of the enclosure should be in the low 80s and the hot end or basking area should be 95-100. In the evening the temperature should be allowed to drop into the 60s. Ideally the warm area should be provided by a specialty bulb that provides UVB lighting (such as a mercury-vapor bulb). Traditional halogen bulbs are able to provide adequate heat but do not provide the UVB lighting that Russian tortoises require. These specialty bulbs should be replaced every 6 months.
Aquariums are never recommended for Russian Tortoises. They do not do well when kept in glass enclosures and will often injure themselves as they repeatedly try to move through the glass. Solid, plastic Rubbermaid containers or wooden enclosures make the best homes for your tortoise. The minimum recommended dimensions for your tortoise are 18” x 36”. The best and easiest substrate to use for your tortoise is hay changed on a weekly basis.
It is also important to make sure the humidity levels in your tortoise’s enclosure are kept at an appropriate level. High humidity levels can cause shell rot as well as upper respiratory infections. Very low humidity levels can cause dehydration.
Note that during the summer on warm days it is a great idea to bring your tortoise outside. Many of them greatly enjoy the natural sunshine and opportunity to munch on grasses and weeds outside. Please make sure that the area where your tortoise is visiting is pesticide free- ingesting these abrasive chemicals can be devastating for your pet. Additionally, please keep in mind that tortoises can wander or burrow very deep tunnels in a very short period of time so watching them closely is imperative.
Feeding your tortoise a balanced diet is one of the most important aspects of keeping him happy and healthy. Tortoises love a variety of vegetables including romaine lettuce, red and green leaf lettuce, endive , escarole, radicchio, chicory, turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, collards, dandelions, squash, bell peppers, peas, beans, sprouts and cucumbers. Tortoises should never be fed iceberg lettuce, bok choy, grains, meats or dog and cat food. Fruit should be given only on occasion as a treat. If you are feeding your tortoise a variety of approved vegetables he does not need a pelleted food. In fact, these foods are high in grains and can negatively impact your tortoise’s bone growth and overall health.
Your tortoise should be provided with a shallow water bowl that they can climb into and out of at will. The large faux-stone water dishes are often ideal as they are difficult for the tortoise to tip over. In addition to providing water for your tortoise you should soak your tortoise for 10-20 minutes 1-2 times weekly in 1-2 inches of luke warm water. This allows they to remain properly hydrated. Many turtles will urinate and defecate as they are soaked.
If you have any questions about the proper care of Russian Tortoises please do not hesitate to contact us at River Road Veterinary Clinic.