The Pros & Cons of Keeping a Pet Tortoise

Adopting a tortoise into your home can be a rich and rewarding experience, but there are several things you need to consider beforehand.

Mar 27, 2023By Donna Hobson
pros and cons of pet tortoise

Tortoises make fascinating and rewarding pets but have specialized needs and require a long-term commitment. If you're looking for an exciting pet that you can keep for many years, then a tortoise may be a perfect choice. Still, you must conduct thorough research on the tortoise species you intend to adopt and determine whether you can meet their specific requirements.

Tortoises are not fad pets or short-term entertainment; they are remarkable creatures who deserve loving and species-appropriate homes. Here are the pros and cons of keeping one as a pet to help you decide whether it will be the right pet for you.

Pro: They Are Low Maintenance

tortoises eating greens
Credit: Image by Himanshu Tibrewal on Pixabay

Tortoises are an ideal pet for those looking for a low-maintenance companion. They don't need a lot of attention and are mostly independent. Unlike other pets, such as cats and dogs, tortoises don't need to be walked or bathed, and their omnivorous nature makes it easy to prepare cost-effective and nutritious meals.

And, unlike other animals, tortoises do not suffer from separation anxiety when away from their owners. This is because they aren't emotionally dependent on their owners as other pets may be, which means they won't get upset when you leave for work each day.

Still, these reptiles have precise requirements you need to understand before adopting them into your home. Each species is different and comes with varying environmental needs. For example, some species adapt to cooler climates, while others hibernate for up to 20 weeks. The initial setup can be challenging, but they can make low-maintenance pets once you learn how to care for them.

Pro: They Are Hypoallergenic

little and large tortoises in the garden

According to the National Library of Medicine, as many as 20% of the population suffers from pet allergies. This means that 1 in 5 people experience abnormal immune system reactions to the proteins found in an animal's saliva, skin cells, or urine.

Hypoallergenic animals are those that produce fewer allergens than other animals. They are the perfect choice for people with allergies, as they can provide companionship without triggering a reaction. Tortoises are known as one of the most hypoallergenic animals because they don't produce dander, which is the leading cause of allergic reactions in humans. Dander is a type of skin cell released into the air when an animal scratches or rubs its fur against something. Tortoises don't have fur and therefore don't shed dander.

Pro: They Are Quiet

tortoise exploring its environment
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Tortoises are known for their quiet nature and peaceful demeanor. They are one of the few animals that generally don't make noise, but why is this? Tortoises have vocal cords (the larynx is surprisingly like mammals), which means they can produce various sounds. These include grunting, croaking, hissing, crying, whistling, and squeaking - some are involuntary, while others are used to communicate a message.

Still, you won't hear your tortoise "talk" much because they don't require advanced communication. In the wild, tortoises live alone, so they don't often communicate with other tortoises. Even when they interact, the majority is done through vibrations and body language.

Pro: They Are Fascinating

box turtle exotic pet species
Credit: Image by Stephanie Henkel on Pixabay

Tortoises are fascinating creatures that have walked the Earth for more than 200 million years. They have captivated humans for centuries with their unique and intriguing characteristics, from their long lifespan to impressive survival ability in extreme environments. They can live up to 150 years old and thrive in various habitats, from deserts to rainforests.

Did you know that their environment shapes their appearance? Tortoises are genderless when incubating in their eggs; a colder climate will more likely produce a male, while a warmer one has a female. And the temperature can affect other elements of their appearance, from shell color to size; they range from a few inches up to four feet long! You'll never get bored with so much to learn about these incredible animals.

Con: They Have Specific (and sometimes costly) Needs

tortoise crawling around

Taking care of a tortoise is a big responsibility. It requires careful consideration of the species, environment, and diet to ensure your pet is happy and healthy.

There are many different species of tortoises, so it's essential to research the specific type you are getting and ensure that you can provide the necessary care for that species. This includes adjusting the temperature in their enclosure, providing heat lamps and UV lamps, giving them plenty of space to roam around, and ensuring they have a species-specific diet. Also, if required, you must provide them with a hibernation space during winter.

The initial setup can be extremely costly as you do your best to adapt your environment accordingly. In addition, tortoises require regular checkups, which many traditional vets will not be trained to conduct. Instead, you may have to pay extra money for the support of a reptile expert.

Con: They Are a Long-Term Commitment

tortoise and owner images

As mentioned, tortoises can live for up to 150 years, so you should only adopt one into your home if you're willing to make this long-term commitment. Lifespans vary depending on the breed - the average is around 50 years, but whichever breed you choose will require a lengthy commitment.

Before adopting, you need to consider who'll look after your pet while you're away and whether you can make a long-term commitment to caring for this animal. Tortoises don't like change, and if their environment becomes unsuitable, it can cause aggressive behaviors. Additionally, zoos don't always accept tortoises because they can carry diseases that affect other animals. So please don't buy one, assuming you can give it to a zoo later.

Con: They Can Carry Salmonella

tortoise and cat in wildlife sanctuary
Credit: Image by twaeng on Pixabay

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause severe illness and even death in humans. It is found in the digestive tract of all reptiles and may be shed through their feces. In addition, tortoises can spread bacteria to people when they are handled or touched. Salmonella can be a serious health risk, as it can cause severe gastrointestinal problems, fever, and dehydration. To protect yourself and your family from salmonella infection, it is crucial to practice proper hygiene when handling or touching tortoises:

  • Pet tortoises are not gifts;
  • Tortoises do not make suitable pets for young children, elderly family members, or those with weakened immune systems;
  • Don't allow tortoises to roam your house, especially in food preparation areas;
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling your tortoise;
  • Do not clean your pet supplies in kitchen sinks or food prep areas.

Con: They Don't Relate to Humans in the Same Way as Other Pets

human handling pet tortoise
Credit: Image by Bethany Wallace on Pixabay

Tortoises are reptiles; as such, they have a very different relationship with humans than other animals. They do not have the same emotional connection to humans as mammals or birds, and cannot understand or respond to human language. This is because tortoises evolved differently from other animals, and their brains are wired differently. They don't recognize facial expressions or body language in the same way that other animals do, so it's difficult for them to relate to humans on an emotional level.

The benefit of this is that they make for reasonably independent pets, but the drawback is that you can't train them or take them for walks, and it isn't easy to cuddle them.

Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.