Home » How To Take Care of A Red-Footed Tortoise [A Complete Guide]
how to keep a red-footed tortoise

How To Take Care of A Red-Footed Tortoise [A Complete Guide]

The red-footed tortoise is a medium-sized tortoise with black skin, red markings, and bumpy shells.

The species hails from the forest regions of South and Central America, where they’re used to hot temperatures of 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Red-footed tortoises can live up to 50 years in captivity. They don’t bite unless threatened, but they prefer to be handled infrequently due to their shy, timid nature.

Where Are Red-Footed Tortoises From?

Red-footed tortoises belong to the exclusively land-dwelling Testudinidae family.

As mentioned, they come from the dry and wet forests and grasslands of South and Central Africa, covering a broad geographical range of Panama, Venezuela, Suriname, and Guyana.

What Do Red-Footed Tortoises Look Like?

Red-footed tortoises have black, grey, or brown shells that are bumpy and concave in shape.

Their skin is predominantly black, with red markings throughout the body. Juvenile tortoises have yellow or tan areas covering the area around their bumps.

How Big Do Red-Footed Tortoises Get?

Adult red-footed tortoises reach approximately 10 to 16 inches from head to tail. Females average 11.25 inches (28.5 cm), while males are slightly larger, growing to 13.5 inches (34 cm) long.

Adult red-footed tortoises weigh between 30 to 40 pounds on average.

How Long Do Red-Footed Tortoises Live?

Red-footed tortoises have long lifespans, living up to 50 years in captivity.

However, this depends on the tortoise’s overall health, diet, and care. While 50 years is a long-term commitment, it’s not as extreme as leopard tortoises, which can live around 60-75 years in captivity.

how to look after a red-footed tortoise

Red-Footed Tortoise Tank Setup

The best tank setup for a red-footed tortoise is a sturdy outdoor enclosure that it can’t escape from. The walls must be 16 inches high and a few inches below ground to prevent the tortoise from digging.

They should also be made with wood or opaque plastic that the tortoise can’t see through. Tortoises don’t understand the concept of glass or see-through materials and hurt themselves by bumping into them to get to the other side.

Provide a shaded area with vegetation to keep your red-footed tortoise cool. You may also want to provide a shelter that it can sit under to escape the heat.

Red-footed tortoises enjoy using muddy puddles to cool off. You can create this by placing a shallow water pan into the ground, ensuring your tortoise can get in and out easily.

If you live in a cold environment and need to house your tortoise indoors, you’ll need a large enclosure measuring at least 4 by 8 feet.


Natural sunlight is best for red-footed tortoises, so they thrive when kept outdoors.

Indoor tortoises require a full-spectrum UV light to replace natural unfiltered sunlight. The Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery explains that vertebrates, such as tortoises, use UVB rays to stimulate the photo biochemical synthesis of vitamin D, which enables the body to absorb calcium. 

As a result, your indoor enclosure should have a 10% fluorescent UVB tube light featuring a reflector that spreads the UVB rays down towards the tortoise.


Red-footed tortoises need to be able to thermoregulate their body temperature.

Whether they’re kept indoors or outside, they require a daytime temperature between 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking spot that reaches 95 degrees. They also need a cooler end maintained at 77 degrees.

Nighttime temperatures must remain above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Any lower and your tortoise will need to go into an environmentally-controlled indoor enclosure to prevent respiratory infections or hypothermia.

Enclosures that drop below 80 degrees Fahrenheit need a heat source to help increase the temperature. The best sources of heat include mercury vapor lamps. During the cold winter months, frequently check your tortoise’s enclosure to prevent dangerous temperature dips.


Because red-footed tortoises hail from a tropical climate, they need a humid environment of around 70-80%. This is vital in promoting healthy growth and preventing them from drying out.

Setting up a mister or sprinkler can increase the humidity levels. You’ll also need to provide a pan of water that your tortoise can submerge itself in and a dig box containing 6 inches of organic dirt of sphagnum moss. Place a humidity gauge or hydrometer in your red-footed tortoise’s cage to monitor the levels.


Red-footed tortoises are digging animals, so they benefit from a substrate lining at the bottom of their enclosure. Suitable choices include:

  • Cypress bark
  • Orchid bark
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Newspaper
  • Astroturf

Whichever substrate you choose, make sure your tortoise can’t eat it in case of dangerous blockages.

As advised by the Royal Veterinary College, you must clean the enclosure out once a week using a suitable disinfectant while carrying out daily spot cleans to prevent disease.


Like all tortoise species, red-footed tortoises need enrichment to keep them entertained while preventing stress and boredom.

Simple but essential forms of enrichment include:

  • Rocks
  • Pebbles
  • Woodblocks
  • Bathing dishes

Red-footed tortoises also need hides placed at the warm and cooler ends of your tortoise’s enclosure for security. Excellent examples include:

Then there are more challenging forms of enrichment to explore, such as:

  • Alternating foods
  • Mazes
  • Physical interaction
  • Puzzles and rewards
  • Pushing toys
  • Ramps and climbing objects

Keep rotating your tortoise’s playthings to keep it engaged.

What To Feed a Red-Footed Tortoise

Red-footed tortoises are omnivores.

They eat a broader range of foods than other tortoises, with fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens making up their primary diet. Their food must also be high in protein and fiber but low in phosphorus.

A healthy nutritional breakdown is as follows:

  • 60% grasses and dark leafy greens
  • 15% vegetables
  • 15% fruit
  • 10% tortoise pellets or animal protein

Healthy leafy greens include:

Kale, broccoli, and spinach can also be offered in moderation. Red-footed tortoises are more tolerant of animal protein than other species.

Low-fat moistened cat food, lean meat, and live insects are good options. However, don’t feed them more than one ounce of animal protein every two weeks.

When feeding your red-footed tortoise, aim for the same time each day and provide an amount it can eat within 15-30 minutes.

Include a calcium supplement in your tortoise’s diet to prevent deficiencies.

What Not To Feed a Red-Footed Tortoise

We’ve mentioned how red-footed tortoises can eat a more varied diet than other tortoise species.

However, lettuce, cucumber, and bananas are low in the nutrients they need, offering few health benefits. You must also avoid feeding your tortoise the following poisonous flowers:

  • Buttercups
  • Begonias
  • Daffodils
  • Ivy

Water Requirements

Red-footed tortoises receive most of the water they need through food, so they only drink small amounts throughout the day.

However, they must always have access to fresh water. Provide it in a large container so your tortoise can submerge itself in the water and change it every day.

Do Red-Footed Tortoises Like To Be Handled?

Red-footed tortoises have a docile and easy-going temperament, but they’re naturally shy and prefer to hide themselves to be safe from danger. For that reason, they prefer not to be handled.

Another thing to be careful of is that red-footed tortoises (like all reptiles) carry salmonella, which they can pass onto humans. Overall, over-handling will stress your tortoise out, so you mustn’t do it too often.

Are Red-Footed Tortoises Aggressive?

Red-footed tortoises aren’t aggressive, although females protecting their eggs and breeding males often become defensive and territorial.

Other common reasons for aggression include:

  • Hunger
  • Boredom
  • Lack of stimulation
  • Poor enclosure setup
  • Incorrect temperatures

If your tortoise displays signs of aggression, look for reasons why so you can fix any issues.

Do Red-Footed Tortoises Bite?

Red-footed tortoises only bite when threatened. They also bite when:

  • Confused
  • Scared
  • Establishing dominance

Even though they don’t have teeth, they have strong beaks, meaning their bites hurt. They sometimes even draw blood, risking infections.

Do Red-Footed Tortoises Like Company?

As naturally solitary animals, red-footed tortoises are happiest alone. Red-footed hamsters don’t get lonely, and they don’t require the company of humans or other tortoises.

Not only are they adapted to living alone, but caring for more than one is difficult. However, if you can cope with caring for more than one red-footed tortoise and have the space to do so, you can house them in single-sex groups of up to five.

Do Red-Footed Tortoises Shed Their Skin?

Red-footed tortoises shed skin from their limbs, head, and tail.

It can be alarming for first-time owners to see, but shedding in tortoises is entirely natural. Once the skin flakes off, the tortoise is left with fresh flesh and scales, but not before producing a dusty appearance.

Let your tortoise’s skin come away by itself. Never attempt to peel or pull it off, or you’ll risk painful infections. Instead, use soaks to help the process speed along naturally.

Common Red-Footed Tortoises Health Problems

The following are the most common health problems red-footed tortoises face:

Hind Leg Paralysis

Red-footed tortoises on a strict vegetarian diet without animal protein can develop hind leg paralysis. While they don’t need high amounts of protein, they need more than other tortoise species. They also develop low fertility rates without it.

Tortoises with hind leg paralysis cannot maintain full use of their back legs and begin dragging them around behind them.

To prevent this condition, add healthy sources of protein to your tortoise’s diet, such as:

  • Chopped hard-boiled eggs
  • Live snails, worms, and beetles
  • Steamed or boiled chicken
  • Plain cooked shrimp

Respiratory Disease

Red-footed tortoises are prone to runny nose syndrome, which is a term used to describe a respiratory disease in tortoises.

Red-footed tortoises are susceptible to respiratory problems, many of which are caused by bacterial, parasitic, viral, or fungal infections. Incorrect temperature and humidity are also to blame.

The main symptoms of respiratory disease include:

Respiratory infections are contagious and can infect other tortoises.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiencies (hypovitaminosis A) are common amongst red-footed tortoises fed nutritionally incomplete diets.

Vitamin A is present in leafy green vegetables and orange and yellow vegetables. Tortoises fed too much lettuce, protein, or poor quality foods are most at risk.

The main symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency include:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sore, raw-looking skin
  • Secondary bacterial infections

In the worst cases, the tortoise can’t open its eyes because the swelling is so severe.

Parasitic Infections

Internal parasites infect the gastrointestinal tract and make pre-existing health conditions worse. Red-footed tortoises pick up parasites through their food, environment, and other tortoises.

You can prevent internal parasites, such as worms, with yearly veterinary check-ups and by maintaining good husbandry throughout the enclosure.

caring for a red footed tortoise

Red-Footed Tortoises Shell Problems

Tortoise shells are strong and tough, but they’re susceptible to the following problems:

Shell Rot

When bacteria enter the shell through cuts and scrapes, shell rot occurs.

This is when the shell begins to rot and pit, with holes forming underneath the shell. As a species that sometimes likes to dig, red-footed tortoises are more at risk than some other species of developing the condition.

If you don’t treat the condition quickly enough, fatal blood poisoning can occur.

Shell Pyramiding

During the early stages of a red-footed tortoise’s life, shell pyramiding (a form of metabolic bone disease) can occur. The condition is characterized by raised scutes on the tortoise’s shell, forming a pyramid-like shape on the shell. It’s caused by:

Sadly, the damage caused by the condition is impossible to reverse.

Soft Shell (Metabolic Bone Disease)

Healthy red-footed tortoise shells should be strong, smooth, and durable.

Shells become soft, springy, or leathery due to a calcium deficiency of surplus phosphorus. Poor light conditions is another cause.

Symptoms of metabolic bone disease include:

  • Soft or misshapen shell
  • Inability to lay eggs (in females)
  • Deformed limbs and jaw
  • Broken or fractured limbs
  • Cloacae prolapse
  • Lack of movement
  • Temporary or localized paralysis
  • Poor coordination

Providing optimum lighting conditions and improving your tortoise’s diet is the best way to prevent or slow down the effects of soft shell.  

Do You Have To Hibernate a Red-Footed Tortoise?

Red-footed tortoises don’t hibernate (brumate).

They may slow down over the cold winter period, but they remain active all year round. As a result, they need a steady supply of warmth throughout the night and day to stay strong and healthy.

Providing a warm environment with plenty of light is essential to prevent the tortoise from becoming sick and its body shutting down. The latter often leads to death.

Caring for a red-footed tortoise can be tricky to get started with. But once you have the correct enclosure setup, optimum light and heat conditions, and a nutritionally complete diet, you should have a happy, healthy tortoise.