These notes refer to Mediterranean tortoises, different species of tortoise have very different housing and dietary requirements.

Potential owners should thoroughly research their tortoise’s requirements and talk to experienced keepers before acquiring one. Many species are subject to controls on sale and purchase, which must be observed.

Biological data

Tortoises are exothermic (cold blooded) which means they require outside heat to function. There are numerous species and they are generally very long lived commonly living over 20 years. Female tortoises lay eggs.


Tortoises enjoy exploring stimulating environments. For summer a walled garden with a greenhouse or dry warm shed is ideal. There should be a shallow water bath. For winter some tortoises can be hibernated in a frost free container lined with newspaper. If the tortoise is not suitable for hibernation e.g. Tropical tortoises, they can be kept awake through the winter in a vivarium with controlled environment and lighting. It is recommended not to hibernate tortoises for the first 2-3years and be over 200g in weight.


Hibernation is one of the tortoise owner’s most worrying periods. We can provide detailed advice and literature on this but the main points are that tortoises should be in good health and body weight before hibernation. The decreasing day length and temperature will stimulate tortoises to prepare for hibernation and it is important that the tortoise starves for 4-6 weeks prior to hibernation to prevent residual food in the gut which could ferment. Hibernation temperature should be maintained at 5⁰c and should not last longer than 3 months. It is useful to check weight and condition periodically through this period. Increased environmental temperature will bring the tortoise out of hibernation. Daily bathing in warm water encourages urination and defaecation and allows eating and drinking. If the tortoise does not start eating and drinking quite quickly consult the vets or nurses at Eastgate Vets.


Tortoises require access to clean fresh water; a shallow bowl sunk into the ground is ideal. They are herbivores and enjoy green vegetables, chopped root vegetables and fruit. They will forage in the garden for a variety of plants. Avoid slug pellets and other garden chemicals. High protein foods (like dog and cat food), should be avoided.

Health Problems

  • Runny nose syndrome.
  • Mouth rot.
  • Rat/fox/dog attack.
  • Intestinal obstruction and prolapses.
  • Parasite diseases e.g. worms.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Abscesses.
  • Shell damage.
  • Bonfire injuries.
  • Post hibernation Anorexia.