Baby Tortoise Care


Suzi Newsome gives advice on how to look after your baby tortoise safely, including dietary tips, proper bathing technique, and what temperature your tortoise should be kept at.

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Suzi Newsome is listed on the Tortoise Protection Group website as a Trusted Breeder. She’s bred tortoises for many years, and provides a care sheet to all new ‘tortoise parents’. Suzi has kindly shared her care sheet with us.

You can find Suzi Newsome on the Tortoise Trust website. You can also find her on Facebook. Just look for @Homebredhermannstortoises

Baby Hermann’s tortoise care

During the first year of your tortoise’s life, extra special care must be taken. Because they are so small, it is easy for them to become too cold quickly or too hot and dehydrated.

Like any baby creature they will thrive with an established routine. This article will consider the conditions required to keep tortoises, and how to look after a tortoise.

You may like this: Tortoise food and diet advice 

Bathing your baby Hermann’s tortoise

First thing every morning it is very important to start their day with a nice warm bath. Sitting a tortoise in water allows it to put its head beneath the water to drink. Tortoises are also able to absorb water through the vent in their tail (cloaca).

Make sure the water is not too deep or too shallow; the tortoise shouldn’t be straining to keep its face above the waterline, but its tail should be submerged.

The best temperature is just warmer than your finger’s warmth. I find that placing the bath under the basking lamp inside the table will prevent the water from going cold too quickly and will also make the bath a pleasant experience for the tortoise too.

A 10 to 15 minute soak each morning is sufficient to hydrate your baby for the day ahead but never allow your tortoise to sit in cold water for any length of time.

Once the tortoise has reached its first birthday, you may reduce the baths to just three times a week. By the time they are five years of age then once a week is sufficient.

Ensuring your Hermanns tortoise is hydrated is essential.  During the hibernation process process, dehydration for example can prove fatal.

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Why is bathing your tortoise important?

Bathing helps to keep a tortoise’s skin in good order and also encourages it to go to the toilet. Being properly hydrated for a 12 to 14 hour day in temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius at its hottest is vital.

After your tortoise’s bath it is really important to spray down the soil on your table with water. Do not soak the table at any point so the soil is sodden and neither will a light misting be sufficient.

I advise one of the pump sprayers. The evaporation of the moisture in the warmth of the table will create humidity. This is essential for the smooth growth of your tortoise’s shell. I always pour the bath water onto the soil underneath the basking lamp to assist with this process as well as spraying it down.

It’s important to remember that moisture and heat = humidity, but moisture and insufficient heat = damp. Damp conditions will seriously damage the tortoise’s health. It is beneficial to spray the table twice or maybe three times a day.

Tortoise substrate

Your tortoise will require a good few inches of sterilised top soil or sterilised top soil and coco coir mixed in the table. Babies need to be able to dig down and bury themselves. This is what they do in the wild and the instinct even in a captive bred Tortoise is the same.

They do this for several reasons. Mainly it is to hide from predators and also to prevent them from dehydrating in the punishing heat of the Mediterranean. In a table environment it is also part of the the thermoregulation process whereby the baby is controlling its body temperature.

Tortoise excretion

When your tortoise goes to the toilet, do not be alarmed if a white substance appears in their wee. this is quite normal and is called Urates. It should have the consistency of double cream or thinner.

Should the rates ever appear to be solid or feel gritty to the finger tip this is a symptom of dehydration and remedial action must be taken immediately.

Firstly, up the number of daily baths and feed high water content foods such as cucumber along with their normal weed diet until the rates have thinned out once more.

Certain foods should be avoided at this time such as sticky weed and dandelions which can have a diuretic effect.

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What temperature should my tortoise be kept at?

A hot spot or basking spot should be provided on a thermostat of 32 to 35 centigrade. A cooler end should also be provided for the tortoise to escape the full heat from of no less than 20 degrees.

It is very important to provide any tortoise with the correct temperature gradient and a good ambient temperature within the room in which they are living. You can use a dial and probe or infra red gun thermometer to measure this.

At night the hotter end of the table must be reduced and the temperature should be maintained at 20 centigrade. If you struggle to maintain these temperatures at night a ceramic dead spot heat emitter can be used on a pulse thermo stat which will give you the control you need over the minimum temperatures.

Ambient temperatures are very important for correct activity levels and I advise the room temperature to be of no less than 20 centigrade also.

You may like to read: Tortoise Care Essentials also written by Suzi Newsome. 

Does my tortoise need UV lighting?

It is essential that your tortoise has a UV light, and its source should be replaced at regular intervals. Without UVB light your tortoise cannot metabolise calcium, which can lead to skeletal problems. The only acceptable source of UV is a T5 D3=12% or if you ever choose a combined heat and UV source at a future date, in an outdoor enclosure for example, you can use the Megaray.

The Megaray is only available from Megaray online. These two sources of UV are proven to be the most effective. The life span of a T5, if you do not have a solar meter to test the output, is 18 months, and the same also for the Megaray.

I do not advise a combined lamp for hatchlings. This is because you do not have control over the temperature of a combined self-ballasted lamp, because it cannot be used with a thermostat.

What should my tortoise’s diet consist of?

Please ensure that your Tortoise is fed the most natural of foods. A weed and plant diet is essential. Under no circumstances should you feed meat to your Hermann’s tortoise or any fruit or vegetables.

Food supplements are essential. Vitamin D3 powder is a must on every meal for the hatchling and yearling tortoise. This must also be served alongside a calcium source such as limestone flour.

After the first year of the tortoise’s life, twice a week is sufficient. I recommend Nekton MSA for the D3 supplement which is available online. It is far more palatable than Nutrabol, the more commonly available powder. My hatchlings have never had Nutrabol and I am sure the smell of it would put them off their dinner.

Lettuce has its place as a hydration tool but is commonly referred to as ‘green water’ as it contains virtually no fibre nor does it have any nutritional value either.

Do not feed any plants that have had pesticides or fertilisers used on them. If you buy a plant with feeding it in mind, remove the soil and replace with sterilised top soil and only feed the new growth.

Is your tortoise insured? Get a quote for £2,500 of vet fees, death and theft cover. Vet fee cover only also available | We’ve been insuring exotic pets since 1996 | Check out our customer reviews on Feefo.

Suzi Newsome
14 Mar 2017

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