Cage: Rubber Maid and Tupperware containers work better than glass aquariums for tortoises. Start with one about 18”x12” with sides at least 6-7” high (they can climb well) for a hatchling. Increase the size of the enclosure as they grow. Giant species such as G. sulcata will eventually need a custom reinforced enclosure to prevent escape.
Lighting: A basking area with an incandescent bulb should be offered on one side of the cage. The temperature under that light, where the tortoise will actually sit should reach 92-95 degrees F. You also need to offer a 5.0 UVB fluorescent light over the basking area. This bulb needs to be 7-15 inches from the animal in order for your tortoise to benefit from it. Make sure there is NO glass or plastic between this bulb and your tortoise as it will filter out the useful rays. Lights should be on for 12 hours a day and UVB fluorescent bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months (even if they still work). **Right now there is only 1 incandescent bulb on the market that truly provides heat and UVB exposure, it is called Active UVB heat and is available through reptile magazines.
Heating Pad: An under the tank heating pad or a red light bulb may be used to provide extra heat at night, but the cage temperature does need to drop into the lower 80’s – upper 70’s.
Substrate: Newspaper/paper towels are the safest substrate to use for tortoises, especially hatchlings. As the tortoise grows, you can switch to a particulate substrate such as a recycled newspaper product like Carefresh, or to cypress mulch for humid species. If using a particulate substrate, always feed your tortoise on a paper plate or piece of newspaper to lower the chance for intestinal blockage.
Sunlight: Try to expose your tortoise to natural sunlight as much as possible during the summer months. DO NOT leave your tortoise outside in a glass tank or an enclosed container because it will overheat. Try building an all screen enclosure for your tortoise with an area that is shaded throughout the day. Keep in mind that tortoises are great diggers. Dogs, cats, raccoons, etc. like to eat tortoises so DO NOT leave your tortoise unattended outside unless you are positive the cage is secure.
Greens: 70-80% of the diet should consist of dark leafy greens such as: Collards, romaine, kale, red/green leaf lettuce, endive, mustard greens, escarole, etc.
Fruit: If you have a S. American species such as a Red or Yellow Foot tortoise, you need to add healthy fruits into the diet. Try kiwi, all melons, papaya, mango, all berries and some banana.
Hay: Timothy and alfalfa hay are good sources of fiber for all species of tortoise. It may be difficult to digest if your tortoise is not adequately hydrated or is a hatchling. Wait until your tortoise is about a year old to start offering hay.
Complete Diets: 20-30% of the diet should consist of a complete tortoise or iguana diet such as: Rep-cal, Reeds, Zeigler, Scenic, Pretty Pets or Nutri-grow. Be sure to use a pelleted diet, and soften it in water before giving it to your tortoise.
Water: Keeping your tortoise adequately hydrated is very important, even for desert species. Offer a shallow, non-spill bowl in the enclosure. It should be small enough that the tortoise cannot climb into it, flip over and drown. All tortoises should be soaked in shallow warm water for 15-20 minutes. Hatchling and young of all species should be soaked daily and misted 1-2 times daily. Soak adult desert species 1 time weekly and adult tropical species 2-3 times weekly.
Vitamin Supplements: If you feed your tortoise only greens, you will need to supplement it at each feeding. You should use a plain calcium supplement 3-4 times weekly, and a multivitamin (with Vit. A) 1 time weekly. If your tortoise’s diet consists of 30% complete pelleted diet and 70% assorted recommended vegetables and fruits, this is not necessary.