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Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 11544
Experience:  Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
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My name is. i just took in a tortoise that someone abandoned

Customer Question

hi anna, my name is ***** ***** just took in a tortoise that someone abandoned and i really don't know too much about reptiles. i believe he's a male russian tortoise. he's probably a little bit bigger than a softball and i have no idea how old he is. he seems a little sleepy lately. when we first brought him home, he was slightly more active but had also been neglected for a few days. i will be taking him to a vet to make sure everything is ok. UV and heat lamp have yet to be set up but i do take him outside daily for basking and he has three heated rocks that we found him with. is there anything i need to know? any sort of red flags that would tell me that he's sick?
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Reptile
Expert:  Anna replied 2 years ago.

Hi Sarah. It was kind of you to take in this tortoise. Taking him to the vet is a good idea. One of the biggest health problems we see in tortoises is a respiratory infection. These are very serious and require a quick vet visit. Symptoms include frequent yawning, discharge from the nose or eyes, noises when breathing, and sometimes, appetite loss and lethargy. Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) is another common condition. Symptoms include a soft or dis colored shell, difficulty walking, or swollen legs. Any of these symptoms would be red flags. For now, I'll give you a first aid measure that is a good step to take with any new tortoise. Buy some Pedialyte (yes,mtge kind for human infants). Prepare a shallow bath consisting of half Pedialyte and half water. Reptiles can absorb fluids and nutrients through their vents (where droppings pass out), so make the water deep enough to cover the vent. Soak him for 20-30 minutes. Be sure to supervise closely. Another thing to do immediately is get rid of those heated rocks. Some of the most common injuries we see in reptiles are burns from these rocks. Tortoises sense heat from above, not from below or the sides. If they stay near these rocks too long,ma burn results. The rocks are also not a good wY to provide the necessary warmth. If you want to use them as decorations, unplug them and cut off the cords.

Expert:  Anna replied 2 years ago.

Since you are new to reptiles, I'll also give you the basics on Russian tortoise care. Of course, you can ignore whatever you already know. Please don't rely on a pet store for care information. While we should be able to rely on such information, unfortunately, it is often wrong. They sell people the wrong lighting, advise the wrong foods, and often don't know the correct temperatures for the various reptiles. After months of things not being quite right, the animal becomes ill.

A glass -sided enclosure or tank isn’t the best environment for tortoises to live in because the air can’t circulate properly. That can contribute to skin and respiratory infections. They should have some kind of an open enclosure that is at least 4 feet long and 2 ft. wide, and 1 to 2 ft. deep. You could build such an enclosure or convert a preformed garden pond or child’s plastic wading pool (one of the larger sizes). Large RubberMaid totes can also be converted. Here is a site where you can see photos of indoor and outdoor homes for tortoises:

It's important to have a digital probe thermometer to check temperatures because incorrect temperatures can also lead to many different health problems. The gradient in the enclosure should be 70*F to 85*F, with the basking area warmer yet, at 95*F. Night temperatures can go down to 70* to 75*F, so you probably don’t need to leave the heat on at night. Tortoises need the night time drop to stay healthy.

In sufficient UVB light can also lead to skin infections and even more serous health problems. even though you have a UVB light, little is reaching your tortoise. UVB light shouldn't be placed on top of screens. A wire or plastic screen blocks 50% or more of the rays, resulting in too little reaching the tortoise. In addition, the spiral bulbs are often inconsistent in their output. They can put out so much that they damage the eyes, or so little, that they don't prevent health problems. Also, pet stores often don't inform customers that UVB lights only last for 6 months. Make sure the light you bought really is a UVB. UV, UVA, DayGlo, and full-spectrum are not the same thing. I recommend the Reptisun 10.0 in the straight tube style.

Diet is very important. Tortoises need a high fiber diet. Greens are important, but greens alone don't contain enough fiber, either. Hay and grasses should be a big part of the diet. Buy some tasty varieties of hay. The one available at this site is put together especially for tortoises.

You can also find timothy hay in the rabbit department of pet stores. Hay should be available at all times. A calcium source is also needed. The easiest way to provide that is to place a cuttlebone in the enclosure. Cuttlebones are inexpensive and are sold in the bird section of a pet store. You can read much more about diet at the following reputable site:

The same site has a good care sheet:

Here is a good section on substrate:

If you have more questions, let me know in a REPLY. I hope you'll enjoy many years with your new companion.


My goal is to provide you with excellent service – if you feel you have gotten anything less, please reply back, I am happy to address follow-up questions. Please remember to rate my service only after you have all the information you need. Thank you!

Expert:  Anna replied 2 years ago.
I'm just following up on our conversation about Trout. How is everything going?
Expert:  Anna replied 2 years ago.

Hello again, Sarah. Do you need any additional information?