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Russian Tortoise Care Sheet

Testudo horsfieldii
Developed with and approved by qualified veterinarians

Native to Asia, these small tortoises enjoy burrowing and roaming about their habitat. In nature, they live in deep burrows underground, which enables them to withstand wide environmental temperature variations. With a long life span of 50+ years, Russian tortoises can be companions for life.

Russian Tortoise Caresheet

 

Typical Russian tortoise appearance and behavior 

  • Make great first pets for families, as they can be active, friendly, and outgoing when socialized; handle calmly so as not to startle them
  • Adept at digging to escape; like to hide in objects and burrow into substrate
  • Have four toes on each foot (instead of five, like other tortoises), so they are also called four-toed tortoises
  • The top part of their shell is the carapace, and the bottom is the plastron
  • Males have longer tails than females, with the vent opening further toward the tail tip (away from the plastron) in males and closer to the plastron in females
  • Males have a spur-like scale at the tail tip, which is absent in females

Russian tortoise characteristics

Care Difficulty Beginner
Average Life Span Up to 50+ years with proper care
Average Adult Size 8–10” long
Diet Herbivorous
Minimum Habitat Size 24” W x 48” D x 12” H indoors

Habitat 

Russian tortoises can be housed indoors or outdoors in climates where environmental temperatures are warm enough. 

Habitat size

  • Ideally, indoor enclosures should be at least 24”x 48” per tortoise—the larger, the better. Glass tanks or large plastic tubs are appropriate, and the sides of the enclosure should be high enough (at least 12”) to prevent escape
  • Fresh air and sunlight are ideal for tortoises outside in warm climates, as long as they also have access to shaded areas. Outdoor enclosures or pens ideally should be at least 48”x48”, with walls that extend at least 12” above the ground (to prevent tortoises from climbing out) and least 12” underground (to prevent tortoises from digging out)

Building your habitat

Keep the habitat arid and dry, with shaded areas for your tortoise to escape direct sunlight or their basking lamp. Humid climates may need a dehumidifier, and cool climates require supplemental heating. 

  • Substrate: Tortoises are known for eating substrate, so bedding should be digestible, such as alfalfa pellets, hay or commercially available paper-based bedding; substrate should be deep enough for the tortoise to burrow. Don’t use coarse, particulate substrates that can be ingested and cause gastrointestinal tract obstruction, such as sand or gravel
  • Décor: Provide a shaded area, such as a cave or hideout filled with additional substrate, where your tortoise can hide when it gets too warm or cold, plus several large flat rocks for climbing
  • Temperature: Provide a temperature gradient (95–100°F for the warm end and 70°F for the cool end); use an incandescent light or ceramic heater as primary heat source. While tortoises live outside in nature at temperatures lower than 70°F, they will often hibernate in cooler climates, slowing their metabolism and digestion. Their immune system function is suppressed at lower temperatures, making them potentially more susceptible to infection; ideally, temperatures should be kept constant (and not lower than approximately 70°F) for tortoises housed indoors so they do not get sick
  • Humidity: Maintain less than 60% humidity; high humidity can contribute to respiratory tract infections. A humid hideout (with moist sphagnum moss placed either in a commercially available plastic enclosure or an upside down, plastic sweater box with a cutout for a door) is essential to help prevent growing juvenile tortoises from developing “pyramiding” of their shells. With this condition, inadequate humidity causes keratin plates (the scutes) on the carapace to be retained as they grow, rather than to shed appropriately; damp, moist substrate must be changed frequently to prevent mold from developing
  • Lighting: Providing UVB lighting for 12–14 hours a day helps ensure tortoises produce adequate vitamin D in their skin to absorb dietary calcium; change UV lights every six months to enable adequate UV exposure
  • Water: Provide constant access to a shallow water dish large enough for tortoises to soak in and drink from; tortoises should be able to easily enter and exit water bowls, making ramp bowls an ideal choice. Fresh water should be provided daily, as tortoises often defecate in water bowls when they are soaking

Cleaning your Russian tortoise’s habitat 

Spot clean the habitat daily, removing discarded vegetable matter and droppings. Thoroughly clean the habitat at least once a week. To safely clean the habitat:

  • Place tortoise in a secure habitat
  • Scrub the habitat and furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution
  • Rinse thoroughly with hot water, removing all traces of habitat cleaner or bleach smell
  • Dry the habitat and furnishings completely
  • Add clean substrate, then return décor and tortoise to the habitat

Feeding 

What to feed your Russian tortoise

A well-balanced Russian tortoise diet is high in fiber and low in protein and fat, with adequate calcium to ensure normal digestive tract function

  • Russian tortoises can eat dark green, leafy vegetables (including kale, escarole, red and green lettuce and collard, mustard, turnip and dandelion greens), squash, carrots, peppers, prickly pear cactus, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes and corn, as well as grass hay and nontoxic flowers, such as hibiscus. When housed outside, tortoises can eat live grasses, including Bermuda, fescue and rye grasses, as long as no pesticides or other harmful chemicals are applied to your lawn
  • Fruit (such as apples, bananas and berries) should be given only sparingly as a treat
  • Tortoises should not be fed nutrient-poor greens, such as iceberg lettuce, or high-protein items, such as dog or cat food
  • Russian tortoises can also eat commercially available pelleted diets manufactured specifically for tortoises, but these diets should not make up more than 25% of their total food

Things to remember when feeding your Russian tortoise:

  • Fresh, clean water should be available at all times
  • Tortoises tend to defecate in their water bowls, so it is critical to clean and disinfect water bowls daily
  • Feed tortoises daily; chop vegetables finely for easy consumption
  • Sprinkle food with a calcium supplement that doesn’t include vitamin D (since turtles are sensitive to vitamin D) daily for juveniles and every other day for adults, plus sprinkle on a small pinch of multivitamin or mineral supplement once a week
  • Discard vegetables and fruits not eaten within 12 hours

Russian tortoise care

Weekly warm water soaks, with the water level no deeper than the mid-point between the bottom of the plastron and the top of the carapace, can help keep your tortoise hydrated.

Where to buy a Russian tortoise

Petco sells Russian tortoises in select stores. Call your local location ahead of time to ensure availability.

Habitat mates 

Russian tortoises may be kept together if the enclosure is large enough. However, some male tortoises may fight, and males and females will breed when housed together. Most females can live harmoniously, but occasionally females will fight, too. If housing more than one tortoise in an enclosure, multiple hiding places must be provided. 

Do not house different tortoise species together.

Russian tortoise health 

Signs of a healthy Russian tortoise

  • Active and alert
  • Eats and passes stool regularly
  • Healthy, uniform-looking shell (no soft spots or pitting)
  • Clear, bright eyes
  • Healthy, supple skin 
  • Clear nose and vent

Red flags

  • Eye, nose or mouth discharge or bubbles
  • Soft, discolored or rough spots on shell
  • Lethargy
  • Bumps or spots on skin or dry, peeling skin
  • Abnormal (malformed, excessively watery or bloody) feces
  • Sneezing, open-mouth breathing or runny nose
  • Overgrown beak
  • Sunken eyes
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Common Russian tortoise health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Metabolic bone disease Symptoms or Causes Inability to absorb calcium due to insufficient UVB light or inappropriate diet (including over- or under-supplementation); if untreated, can lead to shell deformities, soft or fractured bones, swollen limbs, decreased appetite, lethargy, weight loss and death Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and provide ample UVB lighting and proper diet with calcium supplementation
Health Issue Respiratory disease Symptoms or Causes Labored breathing, runny nose or bubbles from eyes, nose or mouth; can be caused by inappropriate habitat temperatures, inappropriate humidity or underlying infectious diseases Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure the habitat is at the proper temperature and humidity level
Health Issue Ticks and mites Symptoms or Causes Parasites on the skin; can transmit disease Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian
Health Issue Gastrointestinal disease Symptoms or Causes Runny stools, caked or smeared stool around the vent, weight loss and loss of appetite; can be caused by bacterial, viral or parasitic infection Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian

 

FAQs 

  • How big does a Russian tortoise get? Russian tortoises grow up to 10 inches long.
  • What can Russian tortoises eat? Russian tortoises can eat leafy greens, grass hay and smaller amounts of commercially available pellets made specifically for tortoises.
  • What fruits can Russian tortoises eat? Russian tortoises can eat small amounts of apples, bananas and berries as occasional treats.
  • Where can I buy a Russian tortoise? Russian tortoises can be purchased at Petco.

Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco’s selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as Salmonella bacteria, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.

Go to cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about reptiles and disease.

Note: The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, contact your veterinarian.