Last Updated on September 5, 2023 by Samantha Harris
Regular exercise is crucial to the health and well-being of tortoises. Not only is exercising vital for healthy bone and shell development and internal organs, but it also assists with weight management.
While tortoises are naturally slow movers and can’t run, there are other ways to exercise them.
You can allow a tortoise to walk freely around the yard or enrich the tortoise’s enclosure with plants and rocks to encourage exploration and climbing activities.
Exercising a tortoise is easier if you have a spacious enclosure with space to roam and graze. Walking a tortoise will require less effort and supervision if your yard is secure and free from dangers.
Although tortoises are known for being slow and moving sluggishly, they tend to be active when healthy.
Tortoises spend most of their time foraging for food, grazing, climbing obstacles, and digging burrows in the wild. This allows them to work out their limbs and bodies.
Captive tortoises are naturally active and require exercise to stay healthy. You must create an environment that encourages exercise to keep your tortoise active.
Some of the benefits of regular exercises include:
Captive tortoises are at high risk of shell problems, particularly shell pyramiding.
According to the Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, shell pyramiding is linked to inactivity and lack of exercise. So, ensure the enclosure is large enough to allow your tortoise to roam freely and keep active.
Exercise is essential for good respiratory health in tortoises. Regular exercise helps clear respiratory congestion due to cold weather and irritants like dust.
Regular exercise improves digestion and body metabolism in tortoises.
Consequently, tortoises that are active throughout the day have an increased appetite. They’ll eat more than those that don’t exercise frequently.
Tortoises need regular exercise to remain happy and mentally healthy. Unlike wild tortoises, which are active and free to roam, captive tortoises are more susceptible to boredom.
This is particularly true if they’re kept in tiny indoor enclosures. To avoid this, house your tortoise in a spacious enclosure with plenty of enrichment to encourage exercise.
There’s no exact amount of exercise that a tortoise needs.
At a minimum, you should allow your tortoise to walk for at least 1 hour daily. If this isn’t tenable, slot in an hour every few days.
Given their slow and delicate nature, tortoise exercises are limited to walking, climbing, and digging.
While these may seem like dull activities, tortoises enjoy them. They naturally engage in these exercises in the wild without any human intervention.
Here are ways to help your tortoise keep active at home:
Tortoises need an enclosure where they’re free to roam and graze. Confining your tortoise to a cramped, tiny enclosure will cause it to become stressed and aggressive.
Your tortoise’s enclosure should be at least 3 times the length of its shell and 4 times its width. Bear in mind that no enclosure is too large for a tortoise. After all, they roam freely in large outdoor spaces.
Most tortoise species are prolific borrowers, so ensure the bedding is conducive to digging.
Tortoises spend time burrowing for food and sheltering from the heat during the summer months. Also, digging gives tortoises the necessary exercise to remain healthy and strong.
Many owners recommend topsoil. Whatever substrate material you choose for your tortoise table, ensure it is dry and clean. Damp conditions are unfavorable for tortoises as they can cause eye irritation and respiratory infections.
Ensure your substrate bed is at least 10 inches thick to encourage digging.
Tortoises thrive in an interesting environment with objects to interact with. Wild tortoises encounter various geological features and naturally become accustomed to interacting with various environments.
So, even if they’re bred in captivity, they’ll flourish in a diverse and interesting environment. For this reason, make your enclosure as stimulating as possible.
Things to add to your tortoise’s enclosure to enrich it and encourage play include:
Climbing toys are the most popular enrichment items. They can be crafted from any sturdy material, but the best ones are constructed from materials that a tortoise might encounter in its natural habitat.
Examples of climb toys include:
- Large, flat rocks.
- Small pebbles.
- Chunks of wood.
- Tree branches.
If you choose synthetic toys, find ones with natural-looking shapes.
You can make DIY climbing toys for your tortoise from household items. Safe plastic boxes turned upside down, sturdy cardboard boxes, and even kitchen items are good choices.
According to the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, food stimuli enrich a tortoise’s environment and encourage activity.
Fill a small rubber or plastic ball with your tortoise’s favorite snack to create a simple treat toy. Punch a few holes and insert some food through them.
When your tortoise attempts to bite the treat, the toy will roll away, and the tortoise will run after it. This ensures that your tortoises get a good workout while snacking.
Outdoor vs. Indoor Exercise for Captive Tortoises
Outdoor spaces are ideal for exercise because they replicate the tortoise’s natural environment.
However, you need to ensure the environment is safe from toxic plants and predators that may threaten your pet tortoise.
Besides providing a natural environment for your tortoise to exercise, outdoor spaces allow a tortoise to bask in the sun to soak in the UVB light. However, you shouldn’t leave your tortoise out in the sun.
Outdoor exercises require more hands-on management and supervision due to the dangers that open outdoor spaces pose. For instance, it may escape if your yard is not properly fenced.