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Not very long ago, we had a turtle named Augustine. Many of you will remember our years with this little guy. We sort of inherited Aug from my dad, who had received him as a gift but didn’t have time to devote to him. Turtles and tortoises are just like any other pet and they require a lot of attention and care. Today, we’re working with Petsmart in getting word out about what makes a good tortoise owner. Aug was a Russian Tortoise (to the best of my knowledge) and normally they live about 50 years. If you’re thinking about getting a Russian Box Tortoise, I have to tell you - I highly recommend it. Augustine was a great pet for many, many years. But if you’re thinking of getting a tortoise, you’ll need to plan on how you can provide for him or her for many years.

This post is sponsored by petMD Reptile Center, and the BlogPaws Professional Pet Blogger Network. I am being compensated for helping spread the word about Reptile Ownership, but PetsWeekly only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. petMD and PetSmart are not responsible for the content of this article

Food and Water

If you’re a bit weirded out by feeding a carnivorous animal, you’re in luck - the Russian tortoise prefers a diet that is mostly all vegetarian. Variety is important when feeding your tortoise. A balanced diet requires fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as a pellet blend that is commercially prepared. The pellet food should be offered once per day. But, your tortoise's diet should be about 90% fresh vegetables. Choose from leafy greens (like kale, dandelion, escarole) and vegetables (like zucchini, broccoli, shredded carrots, squash or cauliflower). Be sure not to overfeed - you should only put in what you think your pet will consume during a four-hour period. Once or twice a week, your tortoise should be offered fresh fruit. Augustine LOVED apples and melons, but they can also have red berries and bananas once in a while. Remember that your tortoise will need a fresh water supply each day. That’s part of the care requirement!

Calcium Supplements

To help your tortoise keep a healthy shell, fruits and vegetables should be dusted with a calcium supplement twice a week and a specialized reptile multivitamin once a week. Your Petsmart associate can help you choose the best option for your tortoise.


Augustine started his life in a 10-gallon terrestrial aquarium. I can tell you right now, that’s is nowhere near the room they need to live a happy life. Within a month or two of having him, we decided to build our own custom enclosure, which also doubled as a coffee table. You, however, will need to choose your best setup. At minimum, your tortoise will need to have at least a 55-gallon aquarium (more is better). Whatever you decide, remember that tortoises can be pretty messy, so make sure your setup is easy to clean. You’ll be doing at least once a week for spot cleans and water changes, and you’ll need to replace everything (substrate and any other areas) each month. The terrarium will need to be fully enclosed, including a screened in top. Tortoises are deceptively agile and can climb out if you don’t have a screen. Other options include huge designer “Tortoise Tables” which allows you to better control the heat and humidity. Visit Petsmart's Reptile Center for more information on setting up a living area.


Russian Tortoises are a desert or semi-arid species. That means your Russian Tortoise will require the humidity to stay at about 50%. Greek Tortoises require humidity to be maintained at closer to 80%. If you’re in a dry area, you can accomplish this feat by using some peat moss (which holds moisture well) below and on top of at least part of the aquarium.

Temperature Control

You’ll want to make sure your aquarium is equipped with two thermometers (one on the cool side and one close to the basking spot) and one hygrometer to monitor the humidity levels. During the day, the optimal temperature is 75-85o F. (24-29o C). The Basking area should stay between 95-105o F (34-41o C)

Basking Area

The Russian Tortoise requires plenty of light. You’ll need to provide this artificially with a specialized (F) UVA/UVB (ultraviolet) bulb for at least 12 hours per day. These little guys love to bask in the warmth and will spend most of the day doing so. We also provided a specialty heated rock for Augustine, which was his favorite place to sleep during the evening.

Sleeping Habits

Tortoises are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day. For nighttime viewing, you can pick up a night-specific bulb that is specially designed to minimize disturbing your pet.

Substrate and Decor

This is actually the most fun part of the cage design. You can choose from a variety of substrates for your tortoise, but a 2-3" layer of coconut fiber or bark bedding will help retain humidity. For Greek Tortoises that like a slightly drier environment, a 2-3" mixture of calcium sand and soil or bark works well. You’ll want to add plenty of plants (talk to your associate at Petsmart to determine the best plants). You will also need plenty of hiding places.

Water Source

This is not always required, but we provided a large area for Augustine to swim and it was his most favored place. In our case, we used a long paint roller bin. This provided traction, was large enough for him to be mostly submerged, and with the addition of gravel - allowed him to climb out easily. This is not always required, so be sure to check with your Petsmart associate when you evaluate if a tortoise is for you.

Health and Warning Signs

There are some things to watch for when you have a tortoise, and if you see these things you’ll want to make sure you have a veterinarian who can handle reptiles.
• Runny droppings for more than two days
• Eating or drinking less; weight loss
• Swollen joints
• Discharge from the eyes, nose or mouth
• Shell problems; discolored shells
• More time spent hiding in their shell Just like all animals, Russian Tortoises need room to move around and the proper food and supplements; they need water changes and extra sunlight and most important, they need someone to play with them. Suffice it to say, it’s never wise to give someone a pet as a gift - it’s much better to get them a gift card and allow them to decide what they are best equipped to handle. And for those of you who have been asking, here's a great guide from Adventure Aquarium on how to tell the difference between a turtle and a tortoise!

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Reptile Facts

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