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Normally its all about the dogs here, but when I had the opportunity to introduce one of my family members, I was super excited. Tato is a red footed tortoise that is about six years old. We’ve found that tortoises are pretty easy to take care of, but of course we’re learning as we go. Thanks to the brand new reptile center on petMD® (all of its content is either written by a veterinarian or approved by one for accuracy and factual information) and PetSmart’s® Guide to Choosing A Reptile it is easy to find reliable information regarding reptile care. Before adding a new pet to your household, it is important to do your research first. We knew we wanted a tortoise, and briefly considered a Sulcata Tortoise, but realized we wouldn’t be equipped to house a full grown one. The smaller, but adorable, Red Footed Tortoise is fairly easy to care for and we’ll always be able to move him easily. Special thanks to my sister, Alice G Patterson Photography, for taking these photos of Tato as well as the product shots.
In case you’re wondering how to identify a Red Footed Tortoise, take look at his foot. (Truthfully, I’m not sure that they are the only tortoises with red feet, but it makes sense, right?)
All tortoises need a tank or enclosure to keep them safe from predators and getting lost. PetSmart recommends a 40 gallon tank for Red Footed Tortoises. (A new tank can be pricey, but it is easy to find used ones at garage sales and on Craigslist. However, be sure that it is free from harsh chemicals that could harm your reptile.)
Like all reptiles, tortoises are cold blooded. That means Tato’s body temperature is dependent on the external temperature. Every tortoise habitat should have two temperature zones. One side should be cooler and the other side should be warmer. We use a heated rock to help warm Tato’s cage on one side. We monitor the temperatures and humidity with 2 thermometers. One of the thermometers also is a hygrometer.
The humidity needed is dependent on the tortoise species. Red Footed Tortoises need more humidity than some other types of tortoises. Cypress mulch helps maintain the humidity of the tank. (I only purchase reptile bedding because I’m unsure if mulch from other sources would be harmful to pets.)
A UV light helps maintain bones and shell structure. You can add a basking light or under the tank heater to help heat the tank.
Tato loves to soak in a pan of warm water. We gave him an old pie pan (not shown) and he fits in just perfectly. He also eliminates in it, so we have to change it regularly.
Suggested Supplies for Habitat Set Up
- tank and screen top
- UV light
- Heat Source (Basking light, under tank heater, rock heater, etc.)
- 2 thermometers, hygrometer
- pan for soaking
- reptile bedding
- food dish
- water dish
- decorations and hiding space
One of the things I like best about Tato is his diet. On warm summer days, we can let him outside (carefully supervised) and he loves to eat grass, weeds and dandelions. (Our lawn is not treated with any type of pesticide or fertilizer, so it is safe for him to eat the grass.)
However, the bulk of his food comes straight from the farm or grocery store. Among his favorites: spinach, sliced carrots, escarole, zucchini, apples and strawberries. We were told that fruit should be given to him sparingly.
Foods to Avoid
Celery, rhubarb, cabbage, tomato, peppers. If you let your tortoise out in the yard, please remember that many ornamental plants are toxic!
A calcium supplement is recommended for tortoises. We recently decided to give this food spray a try instead of the powder. I think Tato likes it just fine. I like the fact that it doesn’t make a powdery mess if we spill it.
Upkeep and Maintenance
Tortoises have a life expectancy of 50-100 years! They should visit a vet regularly. If you have a question about your reptile’s health, you can look on petMD Reptile Center. They are happy to answer your questions as well.
The tank should be cleaned regularly. Every few weeks the substrate should be replaced entirely and the tank washed clean. I never use chemicals on our tank (so it is a lot smudgier than some) for fear that they might harm Tato.
The day to day cost and upkeep for a tortoise is pretty minimal. After the initial set up, the only big cost is the yearly vet visit. (Among other things, tortoises should be de wormed.)
Always wash your hands after handling a reptile. They can carry salmonella which although is harmless to the reptile, it can cause serious problems in humans.
Tato is quite comfortable out of his tank, but we always keep an eye on him. We know someone who let their tortoise wander around the house, and one day she must have gotten outside. Tortoises are diurnal (the opposite of nocturnal) which is great since he stays in my kids’ room.
The only sound Tato makes is when he bumps into the walls of the tank occasionally. He’s used to people and rarely withdraws into his shell. If and when the time comes and my son takes Tato off to college, I’ll definitely be looking to get a tortoise of my own.
Tato makes us smile every day.
Like Alice G Patterson Photography on Facebook to see more of her images.
About Alice G Patterson Photography: Based in Syracuse, NY, Alice specializes in pet photography, senior portraits and photography for small businesses. She has three dogs of her own, Franny, Lulu and Darla.