Russian Tortoise Substrate and Bedding

Russian Tortoise substrate bedding

Russian Tortoises are excellent pets for both adults and kids, though it is incredibly important to understand the types of bedding and substrate that they need so that they can live long and prosperous lives. 

Russian Tortoises tend to live on tightly-packed sand and dirt that is dry. This is why you must get dry, desert bedding to best match their natural environment!

If you have loose bedding with moisture, your tortoise may experience many problems such as indigestion from it sticking to their food, irritation in the eyes, and worst of all, rotting of the shell know as ‘shell rot’!

Let’s take a look at some of the best bedding and substrate so that your Russian Tortoise can remain in paradise, even at home!

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  • Perfect For Creating a Natural Dessert Environment!    
  • Made With 100% Ground English Walnut Shell 
  • Comes In 5, 10, and 25-Quart Sizes 
  • Easily Digestible For All Kinds Of Reptiles! 
  • Made With 100% Natural and Biodegradable Alfalfa
  • Comes in 5 and 15 lb Sizes
  • Highly Absorbent Bedding For Adult Desert Lizards or Snakes! 
  • Made of Lab-Grade Aspen Wood Chips
  • Comes in 10 and 24-Quart Sizes 

The Top 3

Zilla Desert Blend is perfect for creating a natural desert environment that is both dry and aesthetically pleasing. 

Thanks to the 100% natural ground English Walnut shell design, you also get bedding that conducts heat, keeping your Russian Tortoise nice and warm.

Many users say that their Russian Tortoises love to dig around and burrow in their Zilla bedding, as it packs well and doesn’t irritate their eyes.

Ground English walnut is much lighter than sand as well, making it a far more comfortable environment for your Tortoise to live in. It is also much softer than sand, meaning you won’t have to worry about the inside of your glass cage getting scratched!

From comfort, to cleaning, to keeping a healthy home, Zilla Ground English Walnut Shells is our #1 choice!

Zach Lackey Customer

I originally purchased this a few years ago for my Russian Tortoise and then decided to try some other things out due to the price.

The honest truth is, no other bedding has beat the English Walnut shell in terms of odor control, softness, and cleaning. 

It’s well worth the price!

If you’re looking for a substrate that is both easily digestible and safe for all kinds of reptiles, including those who are carnivorous, look no further than Zilla Alfalfa Substrate.

It is great for Russian Tortoises, as it helps to keep harmful bacteria out of their cages. 

The best thing about Alfalfa is that it isn’t harmful if your tortoise accidentally eats and digests it.

This means that you won’t have to worry about your Tortoise’s health if you see his or her food everywhere.

This Alfalfa Substrate comes in at #2, as it is both safe and easy to clean, though some feel the overpowering Alfalfa smell is too much to bare.

Zoo Med Repti Chips are lab-grade Aspen wood chips that are excellent for all types of adult desert lizards, tortoises, and snakes.

This means that a general reptile lover can use it for all his or her pets!

One of the best thing about these Aspen wood chips is that they absorb water really well.

When they get wet, they clump up, making it easier to spot the portions of your Tortoise’s cage that need to be cleaned out.

Unlike many cheaper chip-style beds, the Zoo Med Repti Chips comes free of any unexpected materials such as slivers or shavings of other types of wood.

It is also 99% dust-free, meaning you won’t have to worry about it irritating your Tortoise’s eyes. 

The reason the Repti Chips come in last place is that, while they provide a clean, odor-free environment, they do stick to just about EVERYTHING, and they are a bit more difficult to burrow under.

More Information & How-To


When setting up a habitat for your Russian tortoise, it is important to consider whether your pet will be kept outdoors or indoors. In either situation, it is important to include bedding material which will provide your tortoise with footing and temperature regulation.

Bedding can include the following:

  • Grass
  • Alfalfa
  • Hay
  • Timothy hay
  • Wood chips
  • Sand
  • Soil
  • Gravel
  • Pine bark mulch
  • Cypress mulch
  • Aspen bedding

It is best to mix several of these types of bedding together and important to note that picking just one type is not recommended. These supplies may be purchased from a pet store, landscaping supplier or home improvement retailer.

Buying from a professional establishment will ensure you have high quality product.

These supplies may also be found in nature, but use caution if you choose to acquire the bedding for a tortoise this way: contamination of the materials with animal excrement, pesticides, chemicals, and debris is highly probable.

If you choose to include bedding from nature, make sure to examine it carefully and wash it thoroughly.


Outdoor Habitat

The most important part of any habitat is that it has minimal ground moisture, so ensure the outside habitat has adequate drainage to keep the ground dry. This will both replicate the natural habitat of the Russian tortoise, as well as prevent issues arising with the plastron (bottom of the shell) or respiratory problems.

A benefit of choosing outdoor housing for your Russian tortoise is that it requires less cleaning to remove soiled bedding substrate and droppings. Cleaning can occur on an as-needed basis; simply scoop out the soiled material and replace the substrate.

Be sure to address elevation change within the habitat. Dirt mounds can be formed if they are not already present. This can be done using a shovel or rake to redistribute soil to make a more uneven terrain. Each dirt mound should be 7-20 cm high and have a gradual slope so that your pet will be able to climb up and down with ease.

 Ensure that there are no ditches within the enclosure. Another material that can be used to create elevation changes are rocks. Russian tortoises love to climb, so you can include other items throughout the habitat that can be climbed on.

Use caution when including these items to make sure that the height and slope are not so extreme as to cause your tortoise will not be injured or roll onto his back.


Indoor Habitat

As mentioned above, the bedding of a habitat can be a combination of several materials. For indoor habitats, one additional example that can be used as part of a mix is shredded newspaper.Indoor habitats require more frequent maintenance.

Daily inspection and cleaning should include removal of soiled material, and replacement of bedding, as well as refilling water and food. This may be done every second day at the maximum. In addition, several times a week the entire enclosure should be cleaned with a disinfectant, including the water dish and food area.

To simulate the tortoise's natural habitat, create elevation changes by pushing the bedding into mounds, ensuring the slopes are not too extreme. In an indoor enclosure, try to do one to three mounds, including one next to the heat lamp which will act as a basking spot.

To see the indoor habitat we recommend, see our Russian tortoise enclosure page. 

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  • Perfect For Creating a Natural Dessert Environment!    
  • Made With 100% Ground English Walnut Shell 
  • Comes In 5, 10, and 25-Quart Sizes