Several members of staff here have tortoises as pets, so we are always happy to offer advice on their care and husbandry. Unless raised together, tortoises are content as solitary pets, especially as the males can be quite aggressive (and persistent) when trying to mate with a female.
It is very important to provide the right habitat as most tortoises require a warm environment with a special 'hot spot' area for basking. Preparation for hibernation, hibernation itself, and post-hibernation care all need to be considered, and we have a selection of free information leaflets available at the clinic to help new tortoise owners to offer the best to their pets.
Mediterranean tortoises, which are the most commonly kept in Britain, have a diet which is almost exclusively based on green plants. 80-90% of what is fed should be vegetables and flowers (cabbage, green beans, dandelions, etc), with the remainder being made up of fruits (including strawberries and raspberries). We usually recommend the addition of vitamin and mineral supplements to the food about once a week, but care should be taken to purchase reputable products and to follow the dosage instructions correctly. Over-supplementation can cause problems.
Fresh water should be available at all times; tortoises will not only drink from the water bowl, but will often bathe in it as well. However, they may also pass motions in the water, so the container must be cleaned out and refilled at least daily.
Due to their relatively slow metabolism, tortoises are not able to cope with disease very easily, so veterinary attention is often necessary. Abscesses involving the face (usually near the 'ear drum') or limbs are fairly common, and will need antibiotic treatment and possibly surgery to remove the infected tissue. Tortoises can also be infested with various parasites, including flagellates and worms, and strict hygiene is essential since some tortoises may be symptom-less carriers of Salmonella infections. As with rabbits, tortoises may become 'fly struck' in the summer months, so it is important to check for fly eggs or maggots around the tail of your pet on a daily basis when the weather is warm.
Diseases of the respiratory system include pneumonia and rhinitis, both of which usually need medical treatment. True rhinitis or 'runny nose syndrome' is extremely infectious, so affected animals must be isolated to prevent the spread of the disease.
Problems associated with hibernation result in several recognised conditions including stomatitis ('mouth rot') and post-hibernation anorexia. Again, veterinary advice should be sought and supportive therapy will be necessary.
Incorrect feeding will lead to nutritional osteodystrophy which can be seen as a doming or pyramidal appearance to the shields of the carapace (upper shell). The beak also usually becomes deformed, and may require trimming as a result; and the limb bones may be bent, making normal walking difficult. As the problem is due to an imbalance in the ratio of calcium to phosphorus in the diet, treatment consists of redressing the balance between theses two minerals to allow for the re-establishment of healthy bone growth. Once damage has been done, however, the deformities may be permanent, so it is always better to avoid the problem by feeding the correct diet in the first place.