While tortoises are slow moving, when left to their own devices they can disappear in an instant! You look away for a moment and they may be wandering somewhere where they can get hurt or lost. The worst place for this to happen is in your house, which has plenty of hiding spots!
Why shouldn’t a tortoise roam around the house? Tortoises shouldn’t roam around the house. They could get injured, lost, too cold or too hot, fall or get stuck and be attacked. A tortoise roaming around the house might also spread disease. Even when supervised around your home, you will often have to handle the tortoise (pick her up) to put her back safely within a supervised area. This can be stressful to your tort.
The best location for a tortoise is in a safe and contained environment. A home is not usually suitable for this environment. Additionally, an outdoor environment is the best because it replicates the natural environment in which tortoises are accustomed to in the wild.
Why a Tortoise Shouldn’t Roam Around The House
Like any common house pet, wandering can lead to a variety of unsafe outcomes for you and your animal. In addition to safety, the home also does not provide a suitable environment for tortoises to exist within.
Tortoises should not wander around your house because:
- There is no proper enclosure set up
- They could get lost
- Your house does not replicate nature
- They often carry many germs (such as Salmonella which is typical of reptiles – read about it in our article here)
Unless you have a room specifically designed for your tortoise, which many people do not have in their home directly, there is no sturdy enclosure for them to stay within. Enclosures are designed to keep the tortoises safe and their whereabouts known.
A Stressed Tortoise is an Unhappy Tortoise
Supervision is required when there is no enclosure, but even then, it can be difficult to manage them. When they start to head for an area they should not be, then it requires you to pick them up and redirect them.
This is not only time consuming to oversee, but handling of tortoises should be kept to a minimum. They can get stressed when picked up and as a general rule, do not like it that much. We personally know that our own tortoises tolerate it but if we handle them often, they get annoyed. This is what you are seeing if you notice that they will try and hide from you or urinate and defecate once held.
Because of this, try to only handle tortoises, (and always with two hands under their shell) when absolutely necessary. Given that there is no enclosure, you may have to move and redirect the tortoise too often.
A Lost Tortoise is a Tortoise in Danger
Because of the lack of enclosure, the tortoise may get lost. This presents real problems as they will not know how to get back to you and you may not be able to find them. Aside from them getting into dangerous situations, getting lost will present challenges of its own. If not found, you may find a newly deceased pet.
With no access to food or water, they may not survive. It only takes a short period of time for a tortoise to get lost. While they are not the speediest of creatures, getting distracted can allow for the tortoise to get away when you are not looking.
The Indoor Environment is Unnatural
Maintaining a natural and suitable environment for your tortoise is important in keeping it comfortable and safe. A house does not have grass, dirt, or rocks for the tortoise to enjoy. It is used to wandering in an outdoor environment or at least one that is replicated to the outdoors.
A hardwood floor, carpet, or a blanket are foreign to the animal and may make it uncomfortable. It will most likely not know what to do or not interact with its new environment comfortably.
The Spread of Disease, Especially Salmonella
Finally, tortoises should not roam around the house for the health of their owners. Tortoises and many reptiles carry salmonella. Salmonella is a bacterium that may cause fever, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and a headache.
It can last between two to seven days. Most people are able to fight it off on their own, but there have been hospitalization cases. Salmonella in tortoises is carried on their skin, shells, and digestive systems.
This means that anything your tortoise touches or poops on can be infected. If you do choose to let your tortoise roam around the house, have disinfectant spray and wipes ready. You must always remember to wash your hands after handling a tortoise as well. Letting a tortoise wander around your house puts your health at risk!
For details about this disease, please go through this article called “Tortoises and Salmonella: What You Need to Know”.
Finding and Preventing Indoor Dangers for a Roaming Tortoise
Letting your tortoise roam around the house can actually be dangerous for them! We want to keep our pets safe, and bringing them in the house poses risks to their health and safety. We should treat our tortoise like any other pet or baby, with close attention and care in a foreign environment.
The major indoor dangers for your tortoise include:
- Sharp Objects
- Floor Heaters
- Getting trapped
- Inconsistent temperatures
- Other animals
Our homes are full of dangerous objects! This could be a sharp angle on walls or doors, chair legs, decorative items that could fall over, stairs, fireplaces, and countless more!
Think of your home and the potential risks you could be putting your tortoise in contact with. There may even be objects around your house that are not deemed dangerous, but your tortoise will find a way to make it dangerous for them!
Many homes have floor heaters and these can be especially unsafe for your tortoise. If they come in contact with them, they could not only burn themselves or overheat, but also get their nails stuck within the vents.
There are plenty of small crevices that a tortoise will try to fit into. Remember, they’re very curious creatures! Once they have wedged or forced their way in, it might be very difficult for them to get out. This will either require your rescuing, or they may be stuck there for a long time. Sometimes, it will require the owner to damage a household object or a piece of wall to get the tortoise out safely.
Needless to say, if they get stuck in a hidden location, you will not be able to find them! If not found for an extended period of time, you could easily put their life in danger.
A significant problem with roaming around the house is the inconsistent temperatures. This includes air drafts and temperatures that may be suitable for a human, but not a tortoise. Maintaining steady and warm internal temperatures is important for a tortoise’s ability to digest food and their overall health.
Different rooms within the house may be different temperatures, which are often too cold for a tortoise. One of the coldest parts of the house is the floor itself. Because a tortoise is roaming almost exclusively on the floor, their temperature could drop below a healthy level.
Cold-blooded creatures such as tortoises are extremely sensitive to rapid changes in temperature.
The final risk is other household animals. If you have dogs or cats, they may try to eat or play with your tortoise. If you do decide to let them roam, make sure your other animals will not have contact with them.
Even if your other pets are extremely friendly and have no ill-well towards the tortoise/s, he may still see them as a predator and feel immense levels of stress. We wrote an extensive article on this topic, so when you get a few minutes we do recommend you to check it out: “Can Tortoises Live Safely With Other Pets? A Guide to Tortoise Safety”
How To Keep Your Tortoise Safe
The best way to keep your tortoise safe is to avoid roaming in un-contained spaces. A strongly built and closed habitat is the safest environment for a tortoise.
They should be able to roam for exercise, but this roaming should be contained to a designated and safe space. As mentioned by the risks associated with free roaming around a home, your best plan is to construct an area that a tortoise will not be able to escape from.
Moreover, the ideal environment for a tortoise is outdoors. This mimics their natural habitat and gives them a comfortable space in which to exercise and exist. Often times, outdoor spaces will allow for a bigger enclosure, giving them an appropriate-sized space.
Put rocks and branches out for them to climb on, shaded areas to protect them from too much sun, and opportunities to dig! Tortoises love to dig and often use it as a form of exercise and shade creation.
Outdoor enclosures are best but they are largely dependent on where you live. Weather is a major factor in building a safe space for your tortoise. Many people will build indoor and outdoor enclosures to account for temperature changes.
Greenhouses that are properly constructed and detailed are great for easy transition from inside to outside. Giving freedom to your tortoise to go from inside to outside given that weather conditions permit, is best!
Sometimes this is not possible, so if you have to limit your tortoise to an indoor enclosure, there are specificities you should include to keep it safe. While indoor enclosures are not the most ideal for their spatial needs, if you do set one up, you should try to do a few things.
Basic Tips For Keeping Indoor Enclosures Safe:
- Make a wood enclosure
- Include UV ray heating lamps
- Include natural elements on floor of enclosure
Wood enclosures are the easiest and often most secure. You want to make sure your tortoise will not escape. Avoid using glass containers as there is no protection from the outside, while nothing will be presenting danger (except possibly your dog or cat), tortoises feel exposed.
They know they are not protected from a predator and this will cause them stress. Stressed tortoises may have changes in appetite and behavior.
Without being outdoors, tortoises will not have access to the sun! The sun and its natural rays are crucial for a tortoise’s survival. Without it, they cannot properly digest food. Reptiles need to spend a portion of their day basking in the sun and maintaining a high internal temperature! Cold-blooded problems!
This will require attention to heat and artificial sun within their indoor enclosure. They sell lamps that emit UVA/UVB rays. This will be important in allowing your tortoise to live a healthy indoor life.
Additionally, you must maintain fairly warm temperatures, at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). If the enclosure is dropping below this, additional lamps and heating apparatuses are required.
Indoor enclosures should replicate the outdoors as much as possible. This may include a sanded or grassy floor with rocks, branches, plants, and other natural elements. You want to keep the tortoise safe and in a comfortable environment.
Without these components, the tortoise may not be able to live stress-free! Animals best dwell in environments that reflect their natural habitat!
The goal of owning a tortoise is to enjoy it and to keep it safe! The best way to do this is to provide a safe home that will allow it to exist, exercise, and enjoy life as much as possible.
Letting a tortoise roam throughout the house puts these goals in danger! The best enclosures give you to opportunity to interact with your tortoise and let it roam in a contained environment. With the best option being outdoors, tortoises can feel as if they are back in their wild habitat!