I am considering buying a tortoise. Are there any issues particular to tortoises that I should be aware of? What type of tortoise makes the best pet for a first-time owner?
Prior to buying a “land turtle” or tortoise, you need to carefully consider many issues. First, how long of a commitment do you want to make? Many tortoise species live for decades. Second, how much space do you have for the tortoise? Some species grow to over 100 pounds.
As with all pets, there are many care (husbandry) considerations that have to be carefully planned out at each stage of life. For tortoises these include proper heat and humidity ranges within the habitat, proper light cycle and UVB exposure, adequate habitat size (and, if housed outdoors, proper shelter and escape-proof boundaries), appropriate bedding, proper diet (this is a big one), adequate hiding areas, proper cleanliness and habitat hygiene, appropriate cage-mates (none in some cases), and external stressors (room too noisy, etc).
Planning for the proper care of a tortoise requires a considerable amount of research (from appropriate sources) and investment of both time and money. A good starting point is a consultation with a reputable reptile veterinarian. In addition to giving you advice and information on caring for your tortoise, your veterinarian can provide you with recommendations regarding choosing the species that best fits your lifestyle. What type of tortoise is best for you really depends on your situation. Since many (but not all) of the box turtle species are relatively hardy, friendly, relatively easy to care for, and do not get very big, I often suggest them to clients who are considering getting their first tortoise. Consider this advice before you bring home that adorable three inch-long baby African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) with the 100 year life expectancy and adult weight of 70-100 pounds!
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Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals. Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228. More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.
Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.