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Tropical Tortoise Care Sheet

Tropical Tortoise

cherry-head red foot and bell's hinge-back

Tropical Tortoise

Tropical Tortoise Facts

Includes: cherry-head red foot and Bell's hinge-back tortoises
Average Adult Size 9 to 12 inches long, depending on species
Average Life Span up to 50+ years with proper care, depending on species
Diet omnivore

Will reach adult size in 3 to 4 years, depending on species and under ideal conditions; upgrade habitat size as your tortoise grows.


A well-balanced tropical tortoise diet consists of:

  • High fiber and calcium, low protein and fat is needed to ensure good digestive tract functon.
  • 20% earthworms, waxworms and mealworms. 80% plant matter, including dark green leafy vegetables, grasses, Timothy hay, squash, carrots, etc. Fruit should be given sparingly and should not exceed 15% of their diet.
  • Feed a frozen/thawed pinkie once or twice a month. Cherry head red foot tortoises only.
  • Also benefit from a commercial tortoise diet, but should be no more than 25% of the diet.


Things to remember when feeding your tropical tortoise:

  • Fresh, clean, chlorinefree water should be available at all times. Some tortoises have a tendency to go to the bathroom in their water bowl, so expect to clean and disinfect this daily.
  • Feed tortoises daily; finely chop vegetables.
  • Sprinkle food with calcium supplement daily and a multivitamin supplement once or twice a week.
  • Discard vegetables and fruits not eaten within 24 hours.


  • Size - Appropriately sized indoor enclosure of at least 24”x36” to accommodate normal behavior and exercise.
  • Habitat - Provide a shaded hiding area. Maintain 70 to 90% humidity by misting daily as needed.
  • Substrate - Use pelleted mulch or moss-type; tortoises may eat their substrate; if they do, switch to something they can’t eat.
  • Temperature - Daytime of 82 to 88°F, basking up to 95°F, and nighttime of above 60°F; recommend using an incandescent light or ceramic heater as primary heat source.
  • Lighting - Providing UVB lighting for 10 to 12 hours a day is required.
  • Water - Provideconstant access to a shallow container large enough for the tortoise to soak in and drink from; the tortoise should be able to easily enter and exit the water bowl.
  • Same species of tortoises can be kept together, but do not house different tortoise species together.

Normal Behavior

  • Active, friendly and outgoing.
  • Will become tame with gentle handling and time; move slowly around tortoises to avoid startling them.
  • Adept at digging to escape; hide in objects and burrow into substrate.

Habitat Maintenance

  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat at least once a week: place tortoise in a secure habitat; scrub the tank and furnishings with a 3% bleach solution; rinse thoroughly with water, removing all traces of bleach smell; dry the tank and furnishings completely and add clean substrate.

Grooming & Hygiene

  • Weekly water soaks with water level no deeper than the mid-point between the bottom of the tortoise's shell and its top.


signs of a healthy animal

  • Active and alert
  • Eats regularly
  • Healthy shell
  • Clear, bright eyes
  • Healthy skin
  • Clear nose and vent
  • Eats regularly

Red Flags

  • Eye, nose or mouth discharge
  • Soft, discolored or rough spots on shell
  • Lethargic
  • Bumps or spots on skin
  • Abnormal feces
  • Sneezing, mouth breathing or runny nose
  • Overgrown beak

If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.

Common Health Issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Gastro-intestinal disease Symptoms or Causes Runny stools, caked or smeared stool around the vent area and loss of appetite caused by bacterial or parasitic infection. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian.
Health Issue Metabolic bone/vitamin deficiency Symptoms or Causes Inability to absorb calcium due to insufficient UVB light or improper calcium/vitamin D. If untreated, can lead to a disorder characterized by deformities, softened bones, swollen limbs and lethargy. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and provide ample UVB lighting and the proper amount of calcium/vitamin supplements.
Health Issue Ticks and mites Symptoms or Causes Parasites on the skin; can transmit disease. Suggested Action Consult with your veterinarian.
Health Issue Respiratory disease Symptoms or Causes Labored breathing and mucus in the mouth or nose. Can be caused by a habitat that is too cold or damp. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure habitat is the proper temperature.


Ask an associate about Petco's selection of books on water dragons and the variety of private brand products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All private brand products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all invertebrates are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as Salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your invertebrate 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 invertebrates and should consider not having an invertebrate as a pet.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at for more information about Tortoises and disease.

This care sheet can cover the needs of other species.

Note: The information in this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please refer to the sources on the following page or contact your veterinarian as appropriate.

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.