So You Want A Pet Tortoise
While turtles can be fun and interesting pets to have, keeping a pet tortoise can be somewhat of a challenge. While relationships exist between turtles, tortoises and terrapins, and the terms are sometime used interchangeably, turtles and tortoises are two very distinct species. About the only thing they have in common, besides the trademark shells, are that some turtles are land creatures, and all tortoises are land creatures. In addition, tortoises tend to be larger, and grow older.
The lifespan of many tortoise species is about on par with that of a human, although tortoises living well over 100 are not that uncommon. So, if you are thinking of getting a pet tortoise, be aware that there is an excellent chance that your pet may outlive you, and perhaps outlive you children as well. While that is a point of interest, the key is that you will be taking in a pet with a long lifespan, which means if you intend to keep it, you are looking at many years to attending to your pet. The oldest living tortoise on record belonged to the royal family of Tonga, and lived to the ripe old age of 188.
Build A Large Enclosure - Although different species of tortoises come in various sizes, they tend to be large or very large. An aquarium tank is not going to be a good home for a pet tortoise, except as at temporary enclosure for a very young one. The tortoise is most at home living out of doors and that is where you will need to build an enclosure. The tortoise is a very strong animal, it can dig and it can climb to a degree, so it needs to have a sturdy enclosure, strong enough to keep the tortoise in and predators out. A dog is unlikely to kill a tortoise but could injure it. A roof or covering of some kind is a good idea, as well as a place where the tortoise can get a little privacy and hide if need be. One thing to be avoided is a shelf or step that the tortoise could climb on and fall over on its back. Unless someone is around to help the tortoise get right side up again it could eventually die if stuck in that position.
The tortoise is for the most part a warm weather animal. It will do well in temperate climates, but generally does not tolerate cold or freezing weather. You may therefore have to bring your pet tortoise indoors at times. Moving a fully grown tortoise back and forth between indoors and outdoors can be a daunting task, and you'll unlikely be able to train the tortoise to come and go on its own. A doghouse type structure that is heated, or a "tortoise door" into your garage are two potential solutions.
Buy A Tortoise, Plant A Garden - Feeding a pet tortoise can be another challenge. Almost all species of tortoise are herbivores, and will get along fine on a diet of grasses, vegetables, greens, and some fruits. Some species have voracious appetites, and you may find yourself planting an extra garden to help feed your pet tortoise. The dietary needs can vary from species to species, so there is not standard tortoise food that is good for all species. When you purchase a pet tortoise, find out what its specific dietary needs are before you bring it home. Dog food or cat food won't do the trick, in fact can be bad for the tortoise's health over time.
A tortoise generally leads a rather reclusive life style, and as they are slow movers, you aren't going to see your pet tortoise prancing about the yard. They take their time in getting to where they want to go, and generally do most of their moving about in the early morning hours or around dusk. Maybe a tortoise is not the most exciting of pets, but being an exotic animal offers its own rewards and challenges. As is the case with any pet, given proper shelter, clean water, a good diet, and attention to any emerging medical problems, a pet tortoise can live a good, and certainly very long, life.