It’s a shame that tortoises don’t come with an owner’s manual as they can be quite confusing to come to grips with and one area that ought to be spelled out before you get a tortoise is its bedding requirements. You need to make sure that you pick the right materials, or they might get sick.
Can you use straw or hay as tortoise bedding? The answer is yes. You can use either straw or hay as tortoise bedding but they require more maintenance than some of the other preferred bedding materials.In particular, straw or hay as tortoise bedding must be kept dry so that it doesn’t become mouldy as that can make your tortoise sick and attract pests to the enclosure.
In this article we’ll look at the pros and cons of straw and hay for tortoise bedding, what you should never use, and what some great alternatives are.
Why Do Tortoise’s Need Bedding?
A tortoise, in the wild, will burrow and live underground at night and in times of danger and, possibly, throughout the entirety of the winter months.
However, a tortoise that is kept indoors cannot burrow as vivariums tend to be made out of solid material as do the rooms that tortoises are kept in.
So, a tortoise needs bedding to be able to recreate an environment in which it can burrow and feel safe.
What Do I Need To Know About Bedding?
The bedding materials that you choose for your tortoise are important. Firstly, you can find that if you use the wrong material it might be poisonous or dangerous to your tortoise in some way and it’s important not just to buy any old bedding material from the pet shop.
Secondly, tortoises need a hot, humid environment in which to flourish. That’s because the heat allows them to bask and the humidity allows them to keep the right level of moisture in their skin and bodies. It’s quite a difficult line to walk sometimes and it’s a big challenge for even experience tortoise owners to get this right all the time.
Unfortunately, this hot, humid environment can also have an impact on your bedding choice. It can promote the breeding of fungi and even pest infestations. So, you’re going to want to be sure that you can get the right bedding for your tortoise.
What Are The Wrong Types Of Bedding For A Tortoise?
There are some things that you really don’t want to use on a tortoise’s bedding, and they include:
- Cedar bedding – we’re not even sure why they still sell this stuff, it’s packed with oils and the oils are poisonous to nearly every creature including reptiles of all varieties. IF you choose this bedding material, it might be your tortoise’s last sleep.
- Ground corn cobs and walnut shells – tortoises are particularly prone to a problem known as “impaction” that’s where the alimentary canal becomes blocked and the tortoise can no longer poop. It can be deadly if left untreated and it requires an expensive operation to treat impaction. Both these bedding choices can lead to impaction if you’re unlucky.
- Newspaper, shredded paper, small animal bedding – we know people that do use these materials, but they shouldn’t. The problem is that in the hot and humid conditions they rot really quickly. You should be changing this near daily if you want to use it and that’s a pain.
- Alfalfa pellets – a good idea in theory but in practice they are really hard for a tortoise to crawl through and it’s very likely that they will injure themselves on it. It also becomes moldy when it gets wet.
It’s also important to note that none of the substrates above support effective burrowing. So, not only are they dangerous to your tortoise’s health, they don’t promote their happiness either.
So, Can I Use Straw or Hay As My Tortoise’s Bedding?
Yes, you can though some tortoise owners will claim that it’s possible for their tortoise to scratch themselves on straw or hay. In general tortoises are a bit hardier than that.
If you choose straw or hay as your tortoise’s bedding material, go for the compacted pellets that they sell in pet stores. This removes the chance of any impaction (they’re too big for the tortoise to eat).
You will find that your tortoise absolutely loves to dig down into straw pellets, they’re the perfect material for burrowing in without becoming unstable or dangerous to their motion in any way, shape or form.
However, straw and hay are also prone to rotting and they are not as bad as newspaper or small rodent bedding, you’re going to have to keep an eye on your pellets. Using pellets makes the straw last longer though and you shouldn’t need to clear out the bedding more than once every 10-14 days.
What Other Bedding Substances Can I Use Other Than Straw or Hay?
You shouldn’t use just regular sand on its own because it won’t support your tortoise’s weight effectively and burrows in sand will immediately collapse – which will mean an unhappy and stressed out tortoise.
But there’s no good reason that you shouldn’t mix sand with soil in a 50-50 mix and then allow your tortoise to bed in that. Assuming that you’ve bought sterilized soil, this should be very clean and unlikely to introduce pests into the vivarium.
Little bits of sand are probably helpful in your tortoise’s diet as they can help grind down the beak and prevent beak overgrowth.
However, if you can’t get sand then a pure soil mix is fine, but it will probably cost a bit more to lay in.
This is a pleasantly springy and easy to burrow in choice that a lot of tortoise owners really seem to love, and it certainly works. Experienced reptile owners swear by it and it makes a solid alternative to straw or hay bedding.
As with any form of organic bedding, it will develop mold over time but again – you should get away with 10-14 days before it needs removing from the vivarium and you can’t really ask for much more than that.
How Much Bedding Will My Tortoise Need?
Your tortoise needs to be able to burrow in your bedding choice if you want them to be happy – so, 2-3 inches ought to be the minimum level of bedding provided. However, some tortoise owners will be on a tight budget and that this will start to feel a little expensive over time.
If that’s the case, you don’t need to cover the whole vivarium floor in bedding material – you can arrange a big pile in one corner so that they can dig and then just lightly dust the rest of the floor with bedding material.
How Often Should You Change Your Tortoise’s Bedding?
If you’ve elected for straw or hay pellets, then assuming everything is equal – you can probably leave it at least two weeks before you change the bedding. You ought to go on a daily hunt for poop, mind you, which sticks out very clearly against this bedding color and remove that.
What you’re trying to avoid is the bedding becoming wet because once that happens you can expect it to rot fairly rapidly and once mold starts to develop – you have to change the bedding immediately. If left unchecked this can cause allergies, respiratory infections and attract a whole host of pest to the vivarium.
Removing poop becomes more challenging if you’re using a different bedding material but you still ought to do your best to keep things clean and keep them dry. Even with soil and sand you will need to change the bedding every 2-3 weeks.
Changing bedding ensures the health and wellbeing of your tortoise. Of course, in the wild, the tortoise can change beds whenever it needs to – it just moves somewhere else. So, try to help them stay natural.
Can you use straw or hay as tortoise bedding? Yes. As long as it’s in pellet form it shouldn’t become too arduous to keep the environment clean and healthy for your tortoise. There are other decent choices for bedding in the form of sand/soil mixes and coconut husks. It’s really up to you and your tortoise to decide which one is best.