Home » Can You Keep A Tortoise in A Fish Tank or Aquarium? [Safety Factors]
can you use a fish tank for a tortoise?

Can You Keep A Tortoise in A Fish Tank or Aquarium? [Safety Factors]

You may be considering repurposing an old fish tank for your pet tortoise.

Don’t keep tortoises in fish tanks or aquariums because they lack space, have poor ventilation, retain bad odors, and lead to bacterial growth.

Tortoises grow distressed by the high glass walls and confused by their own reflection. Also, it’ll be difficult to maintain a temperature gradient.

It’s better to get a spacious tortoise enclosure as the wooden walls will keep the tortoise from becoming stressed and anxious while keeping it safely contained.

Enclosures make attaching lights and heat lamps much easier. Also, they’re easy to clean and promote good airflow, keeping pet tortoises healthy.

Can You Use a Fish Tank for A Tortoise?

Even the largest glass fish tanks will be too small and poorly ventilated for tortoises. Also, bigger tanks are difficult to maintain and transport.

Tortoises require a significant amount of floor space to explore and forage. However, the sides must be high enough so that the tortoise cannot escape by crawling or climbing over them.

A large glass tank fixed in place may seem like the ideal solution. However, in a glass tank, ensuring proper temperature balance for a tortoise is difficult as glass loses heat. Also, there’s unlikely to be enough room to have a thermal gradient so that the tortoise can adjust its temperature.

Tortoises prefer non-transparent walls and are likely to feel vulnerable and exposed in glass-sided aquariums. They would spend a lot of time attempting to get through the glass panes, so you may find a tortoise pacing back and forth.

Can You Put a Tortoise in A Fish Tank?

Keeping a tortoise in a fish tank isn’t recommended.

Fish tanks are made of glass, and the glass absorbs and traps in heat, making it hard to maintain an even temperature. Moreover, air and gas exchange is reduced in glass tanks, leading to respiratory issues and poor shell/skin health.

Most tortoises grow to be ten or more inches long, so they need room to forage and explore to avoid getting stressed, irritable, bored, and depressed.

Fish tanks provide one temperature across the full space, although glazing gradually loses heat. Tortoises are ectothermic, relying on their environment to regulate their body temperature. So they need to change position when they get too hot or cold.

In fish tanks, the glass walls are high, making it difficult to attach the necessary lighting in the right positions for tortoises. Tortoises must absorb these rays for physical growth and stay healthy.

Can You Keep a Tortoise in An Aquarium?

It’s natural to wonder if an aquarium is more suitable than a classic fish tank. In truth, there’s no real difference between the two regarding how it suits your tortoise.

Aquariums, like fish tanks, are made of glass and pose the same issues, such as:

Poor Ventilation

If you place a cover on the aquarium with your tortoise inside, it’ll run out of oxygen and die from suffocation. Aquariums work for fish because they glean their limited oxygen from the water. An oxygen pump is almost always necessary in these cases.

Adding water to the tank won’t assist your tortoise as it cannot swim or breathe in water. Tortoises aren’t like turtles, so they don’t need a water pool in their tank. In fact, they can accidentally drown.

The air will circulate a little, but it’ll grow stagnant. Since tortoises need a warm environment, basking areas turn into breeding grounds for germs, bacteria, fungus, and parasites.

can you keep a tortoise in an aquarium?

Build-Up of Bad Smell

That limited circulation means that unpleasant odors and bacteria will build up.

Ammonia will build up in the aquarium as your tortoise urinates. The smell of ammonia can be reduced with proper ventilation, but that’s less likely to happen in an aquarium.

The excess ammonia will aggravate your tortoise’s respiratory system, leading to respiratory infections. Regular spot-cleaning reduces the smell, but not entirely.

Maintaining Humidity

According to the Journal of Thermal Biology, humidity affects how they digest food.

Aquariums make it difficult to maintain a consistent humidity level. Although many tortoise species are accustomed to dry locations, they do not thrive when humidity levels fluctuate wildly.

Too much humidity can cause shell rot, while too little humidity can make shedding skin difficult. Oscillating between ranges can lead to illness, lethargy, and depression.

The standard aquarium lids tend to trap air inside, resulting in a greenhouse effect when you fill your tortoise’s water dish. Although screens can be beneficial, the inherent limitations for ventilation can still lead to humidity concerns.

According to the Journal of Zoology, this can lead to reduced activity and behavioral problems.


Tortoises have surprisingly good memories, so they’ll soon become bored of walking back and forth. They want to explore new terrain and search for food/water like they do in the wild.

Anxiety And Distress

Tortoises like to roam their territory and expand their foraging spots, so a glass cage will cause agitation. They can see the outside and want to explore it, but they run into an invisible barrier.

Glass is incomprehensible to tortoises, so your tortoise will constantly try to reach that new location and repeatedly hit the illusory glass wall.

Sometimes, your tortoise will mistake its reflection for another tortoise and show aggression.

Lack of Exercise

A lack of space makes it more difficult for tortoises to get the exercise they need to stay healthy. While tortoises are slow-moving animals, they still need to walk, dig, and climb.

Lack of Space

The most significant drawback of fish tanks and aquariums is their limited space.

Terrestrial animals like tortoises love to wander and explore their surroundings. They require enough floor space to allow the kind of pacing behavior they’re accustomed to in the wild.

It can be difficult (and expensive) to find a large tank to adequately house your tortoise; even smaller species need several feet to roam.

While using an old fish tank or acquiring a second-hand aquarium online may seem like the perfect home for your new tortoise, they have various drawbacks. Your tortoise needs a spacious wooden enclosure.