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Turtles/Indian Star Tortoise care


My tortoise
My tortoise  
QUESTION: Hey Jeannie..

I have an Indian star tortoise male, dont know his exact age because i got it from someone else and he found him in jungle area but he is definitely more than 10 years old. He mostly eats cucumber and Lotus Stem and has a fixed spot for sleeping but since last few days he has not been sleeping and eating well, he roams inside the house from one place to another and it looks like he is always trying to climb the wall holding his head up high looking for something and trying to dig the floor also when i put him in a tub for soaking he becomes restless trying to get out of it. Really need your advice what should i do.

ANSWER: Hi Rahul,

Well, first of all, wild tortoises should be left where they are, but it's too late to do anything about that.  It's very hard to say what's going on with your tortoise based on the information I have.  If it's a female, restlessness can indicate a readiness to lay eggs, but it could be due to external parasites, etc.  However, for optimum health you really should completely change how your keeping your tortoise.  Free roaming in a house isn't appropriate.  You should either build a roomy indoor enclosure with proper substrate and lighting, or ideally, a secure outdoor planted enclosure.  The outdoor enclosure would be much better because of the natural sunlight.  Indoors, you will need a source of UVB (a special reptile bulb), and I have my doubts as to whether you can find the right bulb in India.  The enclosure substrate indoors can be soil or a mix of playsand/coir (mixed together, not separately).  

The most important thing right now is to completely change the diet.  Your tortoise at this point is likely very malnourished.  Cucumbers have almost no nutrition, and I'm not sure lotus stem is an appropriate food either, but in any case the diet shouldn't be only two foods, and it should closely mimic the tortoise's natural diet.  Star tortoises are grass and cactus eaters.  Your tortoise should be fed a diet that's primarily grass, hay, and cactus, supplemented with some healthy leafy greens (mustard, turnip, dandelion, chicory, kale, collards).  NO fruit.  NO vegetables.  This website will give you more food ideas:  Feed as much variety as possible, but meals should always include grasses or hay.  

Ideally you should have a good reptile vet available in case you need medical treatment for your tortoise, but since there doesn't seem to be any in India, it's vitally important that you take the best care of your tortoise possible.  If it gets sick, your treatment options will be very limited.  I hear from people in India all the time with sick star tortoises, and nearly all of them probably die because they haven't been cared for properly and there's no vets available.  Tortoises are very tough and it can take a long time for poor diet to have an effect, but sooner or later they will get sick.  So please make sure your tortoise gets an adequate enclosure and the right diet.  Ask if you have any questions, but the website I posted has very good, indepth information and should be very helpful for you.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hey Jeannie..

Thanks a lot for your advice. I changed his diet a suggested by the site you posted but he is not eating any of it. I tried mixing his old diet with the new diet but he ignores the grass, dandelions and eats the cucumber. How can i get him to change his diet. ? Also i am in process of building an outside enclosure for him, what do you suggest i should do to protect him from the heat (since its really hot outside at this time in India) and the rainy season as i read somewhere that tortoises dont really do well in rainy season. Please Suggest.

Thank You.

Stop feeding the cucumber entirely.  Tortoises can go for quite a while without food, and he won't starve himself.  When he gets hungry enough, he'll eat.  Feeding cucumber is almost the same as giving no food at all, so don't worry.  If you have access to any dandelion flowers, try those.  Most tortoises love them.  I would give him a few days with no food at all to get him a little hungry, though, before you try feeding him again.

For an outdoor enclosure, make sure it has plenty of deep shade, lots of plants/shrubs, etc.  Direct sun should be limited.  There should be a large, shallow water dish big enough for him to get into to soak (in the shade), and one area of the enclosure should be kept moist to muddy (this can be where the water dish is).  Make the enclosure as large as possible---10' x 10' is a good size, or even bigger if you have the room.  

I would bring him inside during the rainy season.  I think that would be safest.  There's a risk of drowning if there are heavy rains, plus cool and rainy can lead to respiratory infections.  

Let me know if you have any other questions.  


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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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