Russian Tortoise Care Guide | Helpful Tips

There is a lot of incorrect information online about how to properly take care of a Russian tortoise. 

That is why I put this care guide together, with over 15 years of personal experience.

One of the best things you can do to make it easy on yourself is start off with the right products and equipment. 

See the best product for each category below:

While Russian tortoises are among the smallest and easiest animals to take care of, knowing how to properly care for them is incredibly important. 

Part of the reason is that Russian tortoise adapt very well to different climates and situations. Despite that, owners should work to create an ideal situation for them as pets. Russian tortoise are small for its species as females can grow up to 6-10 inches while males are between 5-8 inches.

To do, make sure you are buying a healthy animal. Then, make sure the habitat is comfortable in terms of size and temperature. Make sure to provide a good diet and constantly monitor its health and comfort.

Continue reading to find out more about how you can properly care for your Russian Tortoise.


Many of the Russian tortoises for sale are caught in the wild, so it might be a good idea to go to a veterinarian right away for a check-up. Usually they are healthy, but stress of a change in environment could have negative consequences.

In trying to buy a healthy a tortoise, the most common route is through the pet shop. That actually means the standards and the environment of the pet shop itself.

There may be some that hold animals in poor conditions, but others having caring owners and good employees who look after pets. A good idea about a pet shop is how clean it is and whether different species are housed together or separately. Ideally the answers would be yes and separate.

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Reptile shows have grown more popular, but they have the same issues at pet shops. Individual sellers could also be problems because the animals are unhealthy or sometimes don't even arrive. Online breeders are more reliable, but also may not have the healthiest of animals. The issue with online sellers is the inability to personally pick out tortoise.

In pet stores, that can be done and certain key indicators can help with the choice. Look at the tortoise cage and see whether it is overcrowded or not. Does the tank smell or look dirty? Hopefully, it isn't housed with lizards or aquatics. Does the tortoise look active?

Ask to hold it and see if it is heavy enough to be healthy. Listen to its breathe to detect rasping or gurgling. That could be an indication of respiratory problems. Check to see if the shell is smooth and doesn't have spots because lumpy shells are harbingers of later problems.

If it feels healthy and clean, then chances are better that it is healthy. However, do schedule a check-up with a vet to make sure that is the case.


The first decision may be whether or not to put your pet in a Russian tortoise enclosure or an outdoor pen. An outdoor pen does provide an option of it getting more exercise and prevent overeating which could lead to health problems.

russian tortoise housing

Also, tortoises can escape sometimes, so a firm barrier at least eight inches deep must be put to avoid such a situation. Above ground, a barrier at least a foot high is needed because these animals are surprisingly good climbers. Make sure the corners are especially tight. The pen shouldn't be on the edges of a yard to prevent predators from eating the pet. Be sure to add some sort of dry storage for the tortoise to occasionally escape to.

There are a number of indoor options. Many pet shops recommend aquariums with some water on the floor. However, air circulation isn't good with those type of containers. Managing temperatures, a key part of taking care of the tortoise, also can be difficult to manage. The animals also don't understand glass barriers and that causes further stress. If an aquarium is the choice, it must be at least 75 gallons with a fan and some visual barriers on the side.

A Rubbermaid storage pen could be fitted as a makeshift indoor pen. These items are light and easy to clean. It can be used for temporary housing, but water needs to be added on occasion. Prevent it from getting dry and dusty inside. Some dirt on the floor and hay is needed to make it more habitable.




Being herbivores, Russian tortoise prefer leaf plants, so a variety of weeds, leaves, and flowers would make for a comfortable for them.

The Russian tortoise diet tends to consist of eating a lot of food in a short period. This is partially due to their normal activity in the wild only last a few months. They are particularly hungry coming out of hibernation.

However, as a pet, Russian tortoise are in captivity. In comparison to the wild, they are more active throughout the year. That easily can create a situation where they may even overeat. Toss in the fact that if they are in a cage or pen, there will be less exercise for them. This leads to rapid growth, but also yields a shorter life span for these animals.

Because of this scenario, a restricted diet is needed when they are in captivity. Sometimes, moving them outdoors to allow them graze freely while supplying some supplemental food on occasion can provide a solid diet.

When they are indoors, there is a lot less exercise. However, decent methods can be to feed them as much as they can eat for 20 minutes on a daily basis or as much as they can eat for hour every other day.



As mentioned, Russian tortoise are herbivores who loves leaves and weeds. A particular favorite Russian tortoise food source for these species is the dandelion. That works fine in the outdoors, but if they are kept indoors then the grocery greens are needed.

Russian Tortoise Food

Some grocery greens which are effective include turnip and mustard greens, collards, kale, escarole, and the occasional romaine or green leaf lettuce. Try to vary the food as much as possible. Other food items which work can be ice plant, hibiscus, mulberry leaves, and cornflower.

Given that the Russian tortoise can eat a lot in a short period of time, the concern of overfeeding is prevalent. Creating a mix of grocery greens and chopped hay allows for larger volumes.

Tortoise owners need to be wary of too much of a certain kind of food. These can have anti-nutrients in plants that can hurt a tortoise's health if too much of this is eaten. That means avoid feeding them fruit, iceberg lettuce, grain, meat, and dog and cat food.


Substrate & Bedding

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Russian tortoise substrate and bedding is also an important issue. The substrate, or the layer of surface which it lies in its habitat, needs to be comfortable for them to live in. Despite living in arid climate, Russian tortoise actually like burrows that have some high humidity. Otherwise, their stress levels go up.

A good mix would be half sand and half garden loam. A substitute for loam could also be coconut coir or some peat moss. The sand also must be somewhat hard so tortoise can crawl upon. Otherwise, it could get into their eyes and cause irritation.

Cyprus mulch is a favorite for some because it retains moisture or dryness. It isn't dusty and provides a stable floor for the animals to crawl on.

Don't use newspaper, rabbit pellets, and alfalfa hay. In the latter's case, tortoise sometimes start eating them and start suffering from too much protein.


Having the right Russian tortoise temperature and lighting is also very important to taking care of a Russian tortoise.

In the housing of the tortoise, temperatures should be in the low 70s. During the night, temperature should be in the 60s, but if things get too cool then they don't digest food. If things are too warm, then they stop eating and may start thinking about hibernation. Without such a micro-climate, the animals can easily get dehydrated if not provided with enough drinking water.

Make sure whatever the housing is decided, keep a thermometer with a probe attached to it. Don't use heat rocks or tank heaters.

Rather a basking light that is in the lower 90s is preferably both indoors or outdoors. This keeps the tortoise active. Even then, dehydration becomes a concern. Soaking them in warm water on occasion helps alleviate these concerns.

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Russian tortoise come from a semi-arid environment, so they can extract water from some food. However, they still need some drinking water.

Keeping a shallow bowl of water in the pens provides them with a regular source to allow them to stay hydrated. They also use water to empty its bowels, leaving white deposits.

An indoor trick to keep them hydrated is to soak them in warm water every three days for approximately 15-20 minutes. This can actually keep them clean and healthy since they tend to empty bowels and bladders while soaking. Just be sure to throw out the soaked water after the bath is completed.


Health Issues

During the initial check-up of Russian tortoise as pets, ask for measurements and weights. Request a fecal to check for possible parasites. Worms are the most notable ones, but others to watch out for are ticks, mites, and internal parasites like protozoa.

Parasites can lead to serious health issues that can result in death. A wild tortoise can have parasites, but enclosed and captive environments creates stress which can magnify the health issues. Symptoms include acute diarrhea, dehydration, and chronic issues with the digestive tract. All of these can lead to damage to its immune system.




Russian tortoise hibernation is typically 3 - 5 months per year. Conversely, they can hibernate for as little as two months in captivity.

Make sure the tortoise is in good health before it does so. Get a check-up around that time to make sure that there are no parasites or if the animal is too light. Sometimes, it may not be wise to hibernate a tortoise as a pet given potential risks.

If it is in an outdoor pen, hibernation is more possible if there is a heated overhead house. These species need a sort of indoor retreat to get their extended rest. A Rubbermaid deck box with a heat emitter that is hooked to thermostat to keep the temperature in the low 40s is such an example.

The Russian tortoise in captivity tend to slow its eating habits in the fall. By December, they can dig in and then eventually come out of hibernation in March.


Russian tortoises are actual fairly ideal when it comes to starting a breeding program.

Usually a male Russian tortoise is more sexually active than the larger females. A good ratio would be to have three females for every one male. This can give the females breaks from the active male.

This ratio can help in observing how each female does. Sometimes, a female ignores the male. Other times, the female is infertile.

The mating process usually occurs most often about a month after coming out of hibernation. Males tend to circle and bob their heads at females. Occasionally, they bite at the forelegs to keep them from running away. Once the mounting begins, the male gapes and begins squeaking.

If fertilization takes place, the female shows signs of restlessness within a month. If indoors, help her by providing deep nest boxes about 6-8 inches deep. Fill it with sand and garden loam provide a substrate at least 3-4 inches deep, keeping the material moist. These same measurements apply to an outdoor pen.
Typically, a female lays between one to five eggs per clutch. At that point, set up a container with vermiculite with water mixed in. Once the eggs are laid, carefully dig them up with a spoon and place them in the container. Don't roll them in any way. Bury them halfway through the vermiculite, then place a lightly dampened paper towel over them. Don't wet the towel too much or else excessive moisture can cause mold, killing the eggs.

Then put the container into a preheated incubator. Temperatures should be between 85-95 degrees. If it is too hot, then less hatchings occur.

If everything goes well, hatching occurs in 8-12 weeks.



Russian tortoise may be durable and can live a long time, but they still need to be properly cared for if chosen as pets.

Key decisions during the process include buying a healthy one and making sure it gets regular check-ups, housing, whether to hibernate or not, and possibly breeding. All of these decisions, as well as its dietary habits and proper micro-climate, are important to successfully keeping the pet around for many years.