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Turtles/Bedding for Russian tortoises


I have owned two Russian tortoises since about 1997. For their bedding I have sometimes used just coconut fiber and sometimes coconut fiber mixed with sand. It was recently recommended to me by a worker at a pet shop to use rabbit food pellets for bedding.(He is also a Russian tortoise owner) He said they are harmless if ingested. Also when they get wet they clump up and The soiled spot can be easily removed from the box. I have begun to use them and so far it seems to be a good idea. I am not sure whether this is a question or a suggestion, but wanted to run it by you. What are your thoughts?

Thank you,

Bad idea, for a few reasons:

1)  Rabbit pellets are generally comprised mostly of alfalfa, which is too high in protein for tortoises.  So you don't want them eating it.

2)  They are far too dry, and if dampened, will mold.  Don't keep your Russians dry!  They should be on a substrate that is slightly damp at all times.  Dehydration is a serious problem with Russians kept indoors and dry, because prolonged dehydration can lead to bladder stones and serious health problems (one reason to soak regularly).  

3)  They have a very unnatural footing compared to coir or soil.  Potentially, this could lead to leg problems over time.  I have a friend who works in rescue who said she commonly sees tortoises with muscular issues in their hind legs due to being kept on a pellet-type substrate.

4)  They don't allow for natural digging behavior.  Wild Russians spend most of their time in burrows (which is why they shouldn't be kept dry, because burrows hold much more humidity), and allowing them to dig is important.

The 50/50 coir/playsand substrate is much better, but be sure to keep it damp, and deep enough for them to burrow (so 5-6" deep)..  When my tortoises are indoors, I generally spray the substrate down every day, and then water thoroughly once a week.  

Finally, don't ask pet shops for advice.  I'm sure there's some good employees out there, but most of them don't have any real knowledge.  I can't tell you how much really bad advice I've seen coming out of pet stores, and I'm sure you know that there's also a lot of stuff marketed for tortoises that's inappropriate or downright harmful to them (walnut shell substrate, ugh, ugh, ugh).

BTW, you didn't say if you had an outdoor pen for the warmer months, but Russians do really well outside.  Just make sure the pen is secure (they climb and dig), and predator-safe.  


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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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