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Turtles/Sulcuta Tortoise


QUESTION: I noticed today the her shell is rubbing the tissue raw on the back legs. When her legs are extended the shell rests on the leg. Not sure what I need to do to remedy the problem.

ANSWER: Hi Alissa,

Can you send me a couple pics?  One that shows her shell overall, and then a closeup of the problem area?  Thanks!

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QUESTION: I can tomorrow (its a classroom pet and I am now at home). I think I found the problem on another forum though. She likes to put her upper legs up on the edge of her tank and I think as she lifts up that it causes her back shell to cut into the leg. They said to file off the sharp edge with a nail file.

Thanks for taking the time to respond!

Hi Alissa,

The shell is living tissue, so while a little careful filing would probably be OK, more would be painful and possibly injurious to the tortoise.  I'd still like to see a pic, if possible.  I'd also like to see a pic of her setup, if you don't mind.  When I see the words "sulcata" and "tank" together, it gives me some cause for concern.  Unless she's a very small sulcata, or it's a very large tank, plans should probably be in place for larger accomodations.  Tortoises need a lot of room, and sulcata grow pretty fast, relatively speaking.  Since they're giant tortoises, that means eventually a large outdoor enclosure with heated shed (or doghouse, if you're in So. CA and don't have many cold winter days).  

Another thing you can try for the time being is to cover the sides of the tank.  Tortoises want to go through anything they can see through, and they don't understand the concept of glass, so she may be trying to climb out.  Blocking her sight lines may help.  Also if you can, adding some interest to the enclosure may make a difference--substrate deep enough to dig in, a pile of straw, logs, bark, etc.  Anything that allows her to climb or dig, breaks up sight lines, etc. will make it seem more natural.  


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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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