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Caring For an Outdoor Tortoise

Caring For an Outdoor Tortoise

Creating a Home for Your Tortoise in an Outside Enclosure

Even if you keep your pet in an inside enclosure most of the time it will appreciate some time spent outdoors (depending on the climate). If you live in a climate similar to the natural habitat of your tortoise you will be able to keep your it outside all year round providing you have a secure enclosure.

Outdoor Enclosure

As with an indoor home the size you need to provide will depend on the species of tortoise and how big it is, or will be. A 12 inch specimen will require a 3 square yard enclosure, approximately 9ft x 9ft.

Construction of an Outside Enclosure

If you choose a wooden structure firstly dig a trench at least 6 inches deep and 6 inches wide. The height of the walls should be at least twice the length of the tortoise. There should be a base of chicken wire fixed to the bottom of the structure and then buried. If you do not fix some form of base your pet will eventually burrow and may dig under the wooden walls and escape! Some keepers use concrete for the walls but you will still need to fix an escape proof bottom.

Don’t build your enclosure using only chicken wire or your tortoise will be constantly trying to escape. Always provide a cover for the enclosure as protection from predators such as your dog or cat.

A Tortoise House

Your tortoise will need a house to live in inside the enclosure. This could be a wooden box elevated from the ground slightly. A good choice is to use a plastic doghouse as they don’t leak or rot and they do hold the heat relatively well. Make sure the doorway does not have too pronounced a ‘lip’ or this may hamper him from entering and exiting. It may take some time for your tortoise to get used to being put into this new house. Keep placing him back inside and at night place inside and block the exit as there is more chance of predators at night. Your pet will soon learn to go into his new house voluntarily. Remember to unblock the door in the morning or he may overheat.


Again you have a choice of materials to choose from for this job but remember you will have to clean it out regularly so choose one you feel happy buying or changing regularly. Bark is a very good substrate for outside enclosures as it is a natural product and is easy to clean and replace.


Supplemental heat for the outside enclosure is important if you live in a climate that is not similar to the tortoise’s natural habitat. Place an incandescent light with a red bulb (for heat not light) over the top of the tortoise house.

Other Elements to Include

Water: All tortoises require water but make sure it is in a shallow dish that will not cause him to tip over.

Hiding places: You will need to provide places for your tortoise to hide away so that it does not become too stressed. Plant pots on their side (cleaned with no residue of fertilizer) Safe non-toxic plants and flowers will also provide some food as well as shade.

Rocks/Logs: Your tortoise will like to climb so place some rocks and logs inside the enclosure but make sure they are not too close to the enclosure walls as the tortoise may be able to gain escape if they are! Don’t place anything made of plastic such as dogs chew toys or children’s toys as the tortoise will bite on them and may become ill.

Burrowing: Provide something for your tortoise to dig and burrow into. He will be less likely to try to dig his way out under the walls if he has some material in which to dig. You will have to provide some soft sandy soil for your females to lay their eggs if you want to breed your tortoise?

Cleaning the Enclosure: You must keep your outside enclosure clean to prevent disease and parasites. Clean the waste food and excrement daily. Rake out the bark that may have been carried into the tortoise house. Provide clean water daily.

Above all if you are planning to care for an outdoor tortoise you should ensure the home you provide will be the best possible and safe environment for your pet. If you live in an area of the world conducive to your particular species living outside then this is all to the good. You still need to think very carefully about what sort of enclosure to build but if you do it properly you will have a very happy tortoise!