In some parts of the world, it’s difficult to grow grass. In others, it may be uneconomic to do so or there may be other local challenges which prevent you from using natural grass. But how do tortoises do with artificial grass, instead?
Are tortoises OK with artificial grass? Artificial grass does not make for good bedding and a tortoise cannot burrow in it, but a tortoise will happily walk around on it. While not idea, using artificial grass under a tortoise’s feet will not do any harm.
So, let’s take a look at artificial grass, the pros and cons of use with tortoises, what makes for good bedding and why there are better choices for bedding than artificial grass.
What Is Artificial Grass – And Can Tortoises Use It?
Artificial grass, as you might expect, is a purely man made material. The grass is made of synthetic fiber and is usually designed to be as close to real grass in look and feel as possible.
It was first introduced to the world in 1966 and it was used in the Houston Astrodome. Why? Well, in the 1965 season – they couldn’t grow any grass in the second half of the season, and it became very clear they need a different approach.
Nowadays, artificial grass is a bit more complex than it was back in 1965 and it comes in different pile heights and it’s made in a similar way to carpet. That is the grass is stitched on to a backing in the way that a carpet pile is.
The advantages to artificial grass from a human perspective are boundless. It’s cheap to make. It’s non-toxic. It requires no watering (and real grass requires an amazing amount of water – up to 55 gallons per square foot). It can be used in drought zones. It lasts for up to 20 years. You don’t need fertilizers or pesticides to maintain it, either.
You don’t even need to mow it and given that the emissions from a lawn mower are highly polluting – this is a massive environmental win.
Is it OK to use artificial grass with your tortoise?
It depends. It’s important to point out that a tortoise cannot use artificial grass as bedding (as we shall see a little further down the page) and it’s important to recognize that a tortoise cannot burrow effectively in artificial grass.
However, artificial grass is non-toxic to tortoises as well as people and tortoises don’t seem to want to eat artificial grass, either. That means it’s safe enough in the right quantity.
We’d recommend that if your tortoise cannot access real grass, they need some topsoil to burrow around in and possibly some bedding material too.
In an indoor tortoise home, you will definitely need some bedding for your tortoise, but you can certainly line their enclosure with artificial grass and give them something comfortable to wander around on.
In fact, we have an example, of a happy tortoise called Fudge enjoying some artificial grass at this link here.
Maybe, synthetic turf is not the right way to go
Now, having said this – there’s one type of tortoise that doesn’t like synthetic turf and that’s wild tortoises. The FAA in Austin Texas has found that synthetic turf has a very useful property when it comes to protecting the nation’s runways – it stops tortoises from burrowing and thus, they won’t live there by choice.
This is why it’s so important that you ensure that you don’t have 100% artificial grass as your coverage for an outdoor enclosure. Tortoises live to burrow and if you remove that facility from them, they will be stressed and unhappy, to say the least.
Fortunately for the FAA, however, this humane repellant has saved them $400,000 a year in removing and rehoming tortoises from a single runway!
The 5 Qualities Of Ideal Tortoise Bedding
OK, so, we’ve said that we don’t think you should use artificial grass as bedding for tortoises and that’s because the ideal bedding should measure up well in 5 different categories.
1. They Can Dig In It
Tortoises and burrowing, you can’t escape the fact that after eating, this is your tortoise’s favorite activity. They will feel most safe and at home when their bedding allows them to dig into it a bit and create mini burrows. The ideal bedding is soft enough to burrow into but strong enough that it doesn’t immediately collapse in on itself when the burrow is made.
2. It Stays Moist
You probably didn’t know it, but tortoises have a beauty regime to follow and that means they need a lot of moisture. Ideally, their bedding should absorb enough moisture to keep their skin healthy, but it shouldn’t be wet all the time, or it might grow mold or bacteria which are harmful to your tortoise and thus, it ought to drain well.
3. It Doesn’t Interfere With Their Digestion
Tortoises have a rather delicate digestive system and it’s prone to become “impacted”. This is a fancy way of saying: “it goes in the tortoise’s mouth but does not emerge at the other end”. This is very dangerous to a tortoise and given that they do tend to chew on their bedding – you want something that will go straight through their system and not stop along the way.
4. It’s OK To Walk On
This is fairly obvious, but you don’t want to use a bedding that collapses under a tortoise’s weight and nor do you want something that is too harsh for their feet. There’s also the possibility of using the wrong kind of sized pieces which they may not easily walk on (sand would be too fine, lumps of concrete far too rough).
5. It’s Not Poisonous
The final quality we like in a bedding is that it’s not poisonous to your tortoise. You have to be quite careful about this because some materials might seem fine as a bedding from all other viewpoints but when you dig into it, they can create toxic conditions for the tortoise. Anything from leaking resin in wood to soil with too much water in it can be problematic.
How Does Artificial Grass Measure Up As Tortoise Bedding
Artificial grass isn’t a terrible substance for tortoises, but they cannot burrow in it and that’s a genuine problem for a bedding material. It’s a bit like being given a bed as a person only to find that they’ve glued the duvet and covers to the bed and you have to sleep on top of them – you can do it, but it’s not nice and it doesn’t feel safe at all.
So what can we use as tortoise bedding instead?
There are four usual choices for bedding materials for tortoises instead of artificial grass. Let’s take a quick look at each:
- Coconut chips. Easy to dig in and great for retain moisture, the drawbacks are that it doesn’t support tortoises as well as other choices and it can be too dry and cause difficulties with their skin.
- Soil. Soil’s cheap and natural and tortoises like it. They can burrow in it no problem, but it needs to be sterilized before you use it and it may contain contaminants.
- Sphagnum moss. It’s expensive but it’s the best all round bedding material because it’s very absorbent, non-toxic and decently supportive.
- Wood chips/mulch. Wood mulch is great for humidity and it stays odor free. But it is prone to going moldy which can hurt your tortoise’s health and sharp pieces and large pieces can cause damage to the tortoise’s digestive system. It’s also not great for burrowing in.
So, as you see there’s no perfect bedding material for tortoise’s and many tortoise owners will mix up a bunch of different materials until they find the right blend for their pets. Don’t use anything that’s not on our list, though, many other standard pet bedding materials are not at all good for tortoise health.
So are tortoises OK with artificial grass? Yes, they are as long as they have space to burrow and as long as they don’t have to use it for bedding. Artificial grass is completely safe for a tortoise to use.
However, for bedding it’s better to choose soil, coconut chips, sphagnum moss or wood chips/mulch, instead. These are much more compatible with a tortoise’s needs than artificial grass in this respect.