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Turtles/red footed tortoise


Hi Jeannie,

In October I purchased a reportedly 5yo red footed tortoise from a small reputable pet store.  They told us they thought he was a male and based on pix, we think he is too.  He is housed in a wooden tortoise house approximately 3'x4', lined with paper and then special bedding over top(reptile bark is the brand I think).  He has 2 water dishes and a food dish.  he has a UV light and a basking light to warm him and provide daylight.  He has a separate small area, covered and with a door, where he sleeps and we have given him a plastic stackable box for him to hide in.  When we first got him he was smaller and ate more and was more active.  Over the past month or so, his appetite has decreased significantly and he will only drink water from the sink or tub if we give him a soaker bath.  He does not poop or pee in his enclosure and would rather do it while exporing the house or outside.  he only poops 2-3 times per week.  Now he is only eating small amounts inconsistently.  We feed him a variety of foods:  greens, spring mix salad mix, tomatoes, mushrooms, yellow squash, meal worms, crickets, bananas, strawberries, grapes, blueberries,carrots, romaine lettuce, commercially available natural foods like canned papya, a dried grass/greens mix that you add water to, dried fruit that you add water to.  He has a mineral block and a calcium block.  I think he is showing signs of pyramiding but my husband doesn't think so and feels his shell has always had raised bumps on them.

when Frodo goes outside he digs and eats dirt, bugs, grass, any dog poop we mis(we try to pick it all up) etc...he really seems to enjoy himself and seems to have a mini "temper tantrum" when we pick him up to bring him inside.  We live in middle GA and it can be below 60 occasionally during the day and often can drop to the high 30's at night so full time outdoor enclosures may be difficult.

Our questions are:
1.  do these guys tend to simply sleep alot and is it normal for him not to drink or eat for a few days?

2.  Is it normal for him to only pee and poop every few days, even if outside his enclosure more frequently?

3.  Do you think it's unfair for us to let him out and then bring him back inside after an hour or so?

4.  Alot of time when walking around the house for exercise he just finds a place to hide and then stays there.  Should we be getting him out of his enclosure regularly or would he be happier to say in his enclosure?

5.  How can we tell for sure that he is not pyramidding and, if he is, what do we do?

6.  Would he be happier and healthier in the wild?  If so should we release him into the wild further down south?(we love him and don't want to do this but we want him to be healthy and happy).

Any insight would be greatly appreciated.  we are new to tortoise ownership and are trying to learn as we go.  we have read and researched but we worry alot about his well being.

Hi Kim,

To answer your last question first,  no, most definitely don't consider releasing him.  For one thing, redfoots are a tropical species and not native to the US, so releasing one presents a very real risk to the native US turtles (spreading pathogens for which they have no immunity); for another, it's most likely illegal to release any pet turtles/tortoises, period.  So best not to do that!

It's not normal for him to be lethargic.  However, based on the information you've given me, it should be fairly easy to get him perked up.  The first issue is that he is likely dehydrated.  Dehydration is a common cause of lethargy.  It would be best if you could get him in a bigger enclosure (and he will eventually need about twice the size he has now) that is moisture-proof.  Redfoots, being tropical, require a lot of moisture in their environment, and the "special bedding" you were sold isn't an appropriate substrate for tortoises.  Switch his substrate to a 50/50 mix of coir (Ecoearth) and playsand, and then mix in some sphagnum moss (not peat moss).  Then keep it moist.  If you elevate the cooler end, water will collect in the warm end and create a nice little bog...redfoots like to sit in warm, soggy, substrate.

You didn't mention exact temperatures, but he should have an area (under the basking lamp; measure the temperature at substrate level) that's 90-95 degrees, and then areas of the pen that go down to about 75 or a bit lower.  He shouldn't need heat at night.  Being too warm or cool can also cause lethargy.

You also didn't mention whether you actually have a UVB (not UV) bulb for him, but I suspect whatever you're using isn't supplying adequate UVB.  I would go online ( is excellent and would probably have the best shipping rate for you) and buy a 100 watt ZooMed Powersun.  This will provide heat/UVB in one (needs to be replaced yearly).  The other bulb is a Reptisun 10.0, but that is a tube bulb and needs a special fixture, and you'll still need a basking bulb.  Don't bother with any other UVB bulbs--I know people who've tested them and most are unreliable at best.  Lack of adequate UVB is yet another cause of lethargy.

It's best not to let him wander around the house.  The floor is probably too cool for him,.  I would build an outdoor pen for him for spring/summer/fall and warmer winter days (sunny and mid-60s is fine)--you have a great climate for keeping redfoots outdoors for a majority of the year.  

If his shell isn't completely smooth, he has some pyramiding, but don't be too concerned as long as it isn't too bad.  Redfoots can be difficult to keep from pyramiding in captivity, and in fact wild redfoots are sometimes pyramided as well.  Plenty of moisture may help, and plenty of natural sunlight and exercise.  The diet you have him on is pretty decent.  I'd cut out any commercial diets, make sure he gets plenty of high-calcium greens (turnip and dandelion especially), and give him more variety of animal protein.  You can give him worms, pinky mice, snails, boiled chicken/egg, shrimp, etc.  If he's outside, he'll also forage for himself.

As far as the poop goes...well, let's just say redfoots recycle, haha.  They frequently eat their own poop, so that may be why you're not seeing much of it.  Try not to let him eat dog poop if you can help it.  Not so great for him, and if you give your dogs heartworm preventative with ivemectin, it could be quite dangerous (ivermectin is fatal to tortoises, and some is passed through dog poop).

I hope I haven't overwhelmed you, lol.  Basically, get more moisture in his enclosure, make sure his temps are correct, and get the Powersun.  That should make a big difference.  If you have any questions, or if he doesn't improve after these changes, post back.

For more information on redfoots, see:


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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