Home » What Can You Use for Tortoise Bedding? [Safe + Unsafe Options]
what kind of bedding does a tortoise need?

What Can You Use for Tortoise Bedding? [Safe + Unsafe Options]

There are several good tortoise bedding options. Not only must a tortoise be able to burrow into its bedding, but it should hold its shape and provide moisture to hydrate them.

Topsoil is the best bedding for tortoises as it’s natural, retains moisture, and has good structural integrity. Coconut husk, sphagnum moss, and straw pellets are quality substrates.

Tortoises need 2-3 inches of bedding for burrowing.

When choosing a type of bedding for your tortoise, ensure that the risk of impaction is minimized as tortoises are bound to ingest their materials accidentally.

Why Do Tortoises Need Bedding?

Tortoise bedding is the layer of material that lines the bottom of their enclosure.

Tortoises need substrate because it:

  • Retains moisture, allowing tortoises to absorb water through the bedding.
  • Enables tortoises to dig, which they have a strong desire to do.
  • Provides a comfortable environment to walk on.
  • Provides a soft landing if your tortoise falls after climbing or flips over.

The best bedding for your tortoise is one that it can easily digest if it inadvertently consumes any. It’s normal for tortoises to ingest small parts of their bedding.

However, a tortoise can become impacted if it can’t digest it. The bedding forms a hard mass in the gastrointestinal tract, preventing food from moving through the gut and feces from exiting the body.

Some bedding can be unsafe for tortoises, so avoid bedding that causes irritation or allergies.

What Kind of Bedding Does a Tortoise Need?

Many tortoise substrate options are available, but they all have pros and cons.

Here’s a table of the different types of bedding for tortoises:

Bedding TypeAdvantagesDisadvantages
Topsoil:– Cheap
– Natural
– Excellent at retaining moisture
– Good structural integrity.
– Needs sterilizing
– Dusty when it’s dry
– Musty smell
– Can contain unwanted materials or insects.
Shredded Paper:– Cheap
– Easy to mix with other bedding materials
– Simple to replace.
– Rots in hot, humid conditions
– Fire risk under lighting
– Poo for burrowing
– Visually unattractive.
Straw:– Safe and affordable
– Good for burrowing.
– High maintenance
– Prone to rot in humid conditions.
Compost:– Visually appealing
– Absorbent
– Maintains tunnels
– Inexpensive.
– Harmful preservatives and additives
– Cold and heavy
– Difficult to maintain
– Mold can grow.
Hay:– Good for digging
– Layer of warmth
– Cheap
– Edible
– Dust-free
– Prone to rotting
– Collapses after burrowing
– Non-absorbent
Mulch:– Produces humidity
– Absorbs odors
– Cleanable and reusable
– Affordable
– Carries mold spores
– Contains sharp pieces
– Impaction risk
– Difficult to burrow into.
Sphagnum Moss:– Highly absorbent
– Excellent moisture absorption humidity
– Easy to rewash
– Safe for tortoises to eat.
– Expensive
– Becomes flaky when dry.
Hemp:– Dust-free and natural
– Highly absorbent
– Can be mixed with other bedding materials.
– Expensive
– Can splinter and cause injuries.
Coconut Husk:– Retains moisture
– Absorbs odors
– Lightweight
– Good for digging
– Safe for consumption
– Can absorb moisture when dry
– Dusty when it’s dry
– Spongey when wet
– Doesn’t maintain its structure.

Soil is the best bedding for holding your tortoise’s burrows and tunnels, but you can mix some of the lighter bedding materials to create heavier and sturdier bedding.

Here’s a more in-depth look at each bedding material:

Can You Use Topsoil for Tortoise Bedding?

Soil is a natural material that’s a good bedding for tortoises. It closely resembles their natural habitat and allows tortoises to dig and burrow, which is essential for survival in the wild.

According to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, burrows protect tortoises from predators and extreme environmental conditions. While captive tortoises don’t need the same protection, soil replicates wild conditions, making tortoises feel more comfortable in their surroundings.

Not only is topsoil found in a tortoise’s natural habitat, but it’s cheap and can be mixed with other materials. It’s good at retaining moisture, allowing tortoises to remain hydrated, and Tortoises can also tunnel through it easily.

However, topsoil can be dusty when dry, has a musty smell, and contains critters. Safe topsoil should be free from fertilizers, compost, and added nutrients.

Can You Use Shredded Paper for Tortoise Bedding?

Shredded paper is a popular bedding material for many animals, but it’s not the most suitable for tortoises.

In the hot, humid conditions that tortoises need, shredded paper rots or can be a fire hazard under UV lights. Shredded paper isn’t very thick, so getting a quality layer of bedding for your tortoise to burrow through isn’t easy.

Some owners use shredded paper when their tortoises are ill because it’s easy to replace. Tortoises with sickness or diarrhea soil their bedding, so it can be a good substitute for their regular bedding while they recover.

Can You Use Straw for Tortoise Bedding?

While some owners claim that tortoises scratch themselves on straw, they’re hardy creatures that can cope.

Compacted pellets are a safer straw bedding for tortoises, preventing impaction. Tortoises also love to dig through them, and they’re completely safe, remaining stable while tortoises burrow.

Whether in its standard or pellet form, straw is prone to rotting. It’s hardier than shredded paper, but you’ll need to replace it more often than topsoil and compost.

Although straw’s a quality bedding, it takes more maintenance. You’ll need to keep your tortoise’s straw bedding dry to prevent it from rotting or going moldy. If this happens, it can make your pet sick and attract bugs into the enclosure.

bedding for tortoise enclosure

Can You Use Compost for Tortoises?

Compost is a combination of natural materials that decompose, becoming organic matter. You can use compost for your tortoise if it hasn’t been treated beforehand.

One of the main advantages of compost is that it looks visually appealing and is inexpensive to buy. It’s also absorbent and holds tunnels well.

However, there are several drawbacks, including:

  • Messy. Compost will make your tortoise and all accessories in the tank dirty.
  • Cold and heavy. It’s much higher maintenance than other bedding materials to clean and replace.
  • Kept moist. Compost must be kept moist so that tunnels don’t dry and collapse. Mold may form.

Avoid potting compost, as it contains pesticides harmful to tortoises. Also, most composts available at garden centers contain chemicals and additives.

Can You Use Hay for Tortoise Bedding?

Hay is similar to straw, but wet straw quickly becomes moldy.

Tortoises usually eat hay as part of their diet. They also use hay as a burrowing material, but they struggle to tunnel in hay alone as it’s a lightweight material that can collapse. Hay pellets are easier for tortoises to dig and burrow through.

Hay isn’t absorbent, but it keeps your tortoise’s enclosure smelling fresh because it has a pleasant scent. It’s also warm, so it can provide extra heat to keep tortoises comfortable.

Most owners mix hay with other bedding materials to bulk it out, making it better for burrowing.

Can You Use Mulch for Tortoise Bedding?

Mulch has several uses and benefits, including:

  • Providing moisture that benefits tortoises.
  • Absorbing odors, keeping the enclosure clean and fresh.
  • You can reuse mulch by boiling and drying it.

However, mulch isn’t the best bedding for younger tortoises, as younger animals have trouble walking over it.

It’s also an impaction risk. So, if your tortoise accidentally consumes mulch, the body can’t digest it. Also, sharp pieces can pierce the intestinal walls.

Some tortoises find mulch difficult to burrow into because it doesn’t keep its shape.

Can You Use Sphagnum Moss for Tortoise Bedding?

Sphagnum moss is one of the best bedding materials for hatchlings and juvenile tortoises.

It’s useful for moisture absorption, humidity, bad odors, and keeping the enclosure fresh.

Tortoises enjoy eating sphagnum moss. So, place a handful of sphagnum moss under any hides, as younger tortoises prefer to spend their time there.

However, high-grade sphagnum moss is expensive outside of New Zealand.

Peat moss is a cheaper alternative because it’s harvested from a different part of sphagnum moss. However, it contains acidic tannins, which can eat into the tortoise’s shell over time.

You can reuse sphagnum moss by submerging it in boiling water and drying it.

Can You Use Hemp for Tortoises?

Hemp is capable of absorbing four times its weight in liquid.

The bedding’s odorless, but it controls odors well.

Hemp bedding has other benefits as it’s:

  • Dust-free
  • Completely natural
  • Soft and fibrous
  • Biodegradable

Unfortunately, there have been numerous tortoises that have died after eating hemp.

Some varieties contain sharp splinters, causing significant injuries internally and to the cloaca, tail, and eyes. Some pieces become embedded in the nare, throat, and mouth tissues.

Can You Use Coconut Husk for Tortoise Bedding?

Coconut husk has similar moisture retention properties as soil and remains moist for a long time.

You can get two different varieties: coconut peat and coconut fiber. Coconut peat is more finely ground, while coconut fiber is coarser with the fibers intact.

Coconut husk can absorb moisture as well as odor. You can buy it in bulk, as it comes in compressed bricks that expand to 3-4 times its original volume in warm water.

Coconut husk is lightweight and easy to burrow into but doesn’t hold its structure well.

It can also stain your tortoise’s skin an orange or dark red color. It’s harmless but can look worrying.

Coconut husk bedding becomes spongey when wet, making it difficult for tortoises to walk on.

Coconut husk works as a good alternative to topsoil, as tortoises can consume it safely without the risk of impaction.

What Bedding Is Best for Different Tortoise Breeds?

Tortoises have different bedding requirements, depending on the species, because they hail from different regions. Some come from deserts, while others are native to cooler or humid environments.

The best bedding materials for pet tortoises include:

Tortoise BreedMost Suitable Bedding
Hermann:Reptile (orchid) bark, shredded aspen, pulverized coconut
Russian:Coconut fiber, aspen shavings, moss, organic topsoil
Leopard:Hay, hemp, topsoil, and sand mix
Mediterranean Spur-Thighed:Reptile (orchid) bark, topsoil
Egyptian:Shredded aspen, topsoil, and sand mix

What Bedding Is Unsafe for Tortoises?

There are types of tortoise bedding that should be avoided, including:

Cedar Bedding

Cedar bedding is made from oils that are poisonous to many reptiles, including tortoises. The scent of cedar’s volatile oils is toxic once heated, and they also emit toxic fumes.

Bedding containing cedar shavings or bark can kill tortoises.

Walnut Shells

Ground walnut shells are an impaction risk. Because the pieces are so sharp, they can cut your tortoise’s insides, causing internal damage. Ground corn cobs are dangerous for the same reasons.

Newspaper

In the hot and humid conditions they need, newspaper rots, meaning you must change it frequently to prevent health problems for your tortoise.

how much bedding does a tortoise need?

Alfalfa Pellets

Alfalfa pellets contain high levels of protein, which tortoises shouldn’t eat in high quantities.

They also get moldy when wet, breaking down quickly when exposed to moisture. Alfalfa pellets have been linked to fungal eye and respiratory infections.

Sand

Even though sand is naturally found in a tortoise’s environment, it’s a known cause of impaction. Tortoises frequently ingest sand, but the body can’t digest it.

How Much Bedding Does a Tortoise Need?

Your tortoise must be able to burrow into the bedding. In the wild, they protect themselves by digging burrows to escape into.

If captive tortoises can’t burrow and have no way to hide from what they perceive as a threat, they’ll inevitably become stressed and agitated.

Tortoises’ bedding should be at least 2-3 inches deep.

When setting up your tortoise’s enclosure, embed rocks into the bedding. According to Behavioral Ecology, juvenile tortoises place themselves near rocks to camouflage themselves.

How Often Should You Change Tortoise Bedding?

How often you change your tortoise’s bedding depends on the material you use.

However, a deep clean every 2-3 weeks is recommended. A deep clean is where you remove and replace the bedding and sanitize your tortoise’s enclosure, rocks, stones, and hides.

Some owners place a plastic cover at the bottom of the enclosure to make cleaning and removing bedding easier. If the plastic’s damaged when you come to perform the deep clean, you can bin and replace it.

While you only have to deep clean every few weeks, you can perform daily spot cleans. This involves removing poop and urates to prevent harmful bacteria and keep out bugs.

Avoid bedding materials that cause impaction, and find one that allows your tortoise to burrow. You can’t go wrong with topsoil, but you might want to mix it with other materials to provide the best environment.