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WHEN DO I SEE A VET?

  • Annual wellness exam for physical exam, fecal, and bloodwork baseline testing
  • Not eating or pooping for over a week
  • Open mouth breathing or noise while breathing
  • Diarrhea, blood in feces, vomiting, or regurgitation
  • Retained shed, redness, swelling, or open wounds of the skin
  • Swollen eyes, swelling or bleeding of the mouth
  • Long beak or broken beak
  • Shell fractures or scute pyramiding
  • Any health concerns or questions

Husbandry

Enclosure Sizes

Babies: 40-gallon tank (36” L x 18” W x 16” H) or larger enclosure

Adults: (8’ L x 8’ W x 2’ H) indoor or outdoor terrarium or enclosure

Enclosures should have a basking light, UVB light, hide area, water source, and décor to provide enrichment for your sulcata. Sulcatas are terrestrial reptiles that require more floorspace space then vertical space.

Housing

Sulcatas can be housed in groups as babies in a 40-gallon enclosure or larger and as adults avoiding two males in one enclosure due to risk of injury and fighting.

Substrate/Enclosure

Flat surfaces with gradual slopes are ideal for a sulcata’s enclosure to avoid any area that can cause the tortoise to flip over. The entrance to their hide should be at least one and a half times the size of their carapace (Shell). Live nontoxic plants can be planted and for outdoor enclosures can supply additional shade. Plastic plants should be avoided due to risk of accidental consumption. A list of appropriate live plants is listed below. Appropriate substrates include “washed” playsand, Eco earth topsoil, or zoomed excavator clay. Outside enclosures can have a natural soil, but it is recommended to do annual fecal to control parasite loads when having access to outdoor enclosures. We recommend consulting your veterinarian for more information on establishing a safe bioactive enclosure.

Recommended Live Plants:

Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp)

Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia spp)

Aloe (Aloe spp)

Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylon)

Mulberry Trees (Morus alba or Morus nigra)

Lighting and Heating

Proper temperatures and lighting are essential for the development, growth, and maintenance of your sulcata.

Lighting: Sulcatas are a diurnal desert species most active during the day. They require a high output UVB lighting for proper vitamin D3 synthesis starting with their skin and shell. Ideal hours of daylight to nightlight are 12-14 hours of daylight to 10-12 hours of nighttime with no lighting. This can be achieved by a timer connected to their lights. UVB lights lose strength over time even though they may still emit light and should be changed every 6 months. It is important to note that windows and glass block UVB rays, screens and mesh can decrease the UVB strength to your sulcata. Avoid placing glass enclosures in direct sunlight as this can heat up much higher than anticipated.

 

Recommended UVB lights include:

T5 Strip Lights:

Arcadia T5 D3 Reptile Lamp 12% or 14% UVB 12”

Zoomed Reptisun 10.0 UVB T5-HO

Mercury Vapor Bulbs:

Zoomed Reptisun 100 or 160 Watt

MegaRay 100 or 160 Watt

Metal Halide:

Osram GmbH Ultravitalux 300W

Heating: Sulcatas are ectotherms or poikilothermous meaning they get their body temperature from the environment. This is key for proper metabolism and digestion of their food as well as overall health and function. During the day your sulcata should have a small basking area that reaches 90-95°F, avoiding 100°F or higher with a cool side having an ambient air temperature of 80-85°F. During the night ideal temperatures should remain between 70-80°F, avoiding any temperatures below 60°F due to risk of causing digestive issues and other illnesses. In outdoor enclosures provide a burrow or hind that maintains temperatures of 55°F or higher at nighttime due to risk for some individuals when temperatures drop below 55-60°F.

Humidity and Hydration

Humidity and hydration play several important roles in your sulcata’s health. Humidity assists in proper scute development, skin shedding, and rate of dehydration, but can cause respiratory issues if consistently too high. Ideal humidity for a baby sulcata around 70% humidity throughout the day and night during the first two years of development to encourage proper scute formation and hardening of their carapace and plastron. For adults maintaining 40 to 60 percent humidity with nighttime hide humidity up to 70 to 80 percent humidity is preferred. In outdoor enclosures this can be achieved inside deep burrows that can hold humidity well. Humidity should be monitored using a hygrometer inside the enclosure. Having low water dishes or water sources flush with the surface allows for safe access to water for soaking and hydration. Weekly to twice weekly soakings is recommended in baby and juvenile sulcatas to assist in shell development and encouraged in adults to maintain hydration.  Providing a consistent source of water for proper hydration and drinking.

Feeding

Nutrition is a very important part of allowing for proper growth and development of a sulcata. Understanding and knowing the appropriate food choices can help your sulcata stay healthy and avoid many medical complications. It is important to feed your tortoises on a flat or hard surface away from substrate to avoid any accidental consumption and this can lead to impactions or other health concerns. Baby sulcatas should be fed once daily, while juvenile and adults can be fed daily or larger amounts two to three times a week, or as needed to maintain desired weight. It is necessary to supplement your sulcatas food with calcium and vitamin dustings to provide additional nutrients. Consult with a veterinarian to discuss the possible need of adding vitamin D3 to your calcium dusting as in some cases it may be recommended. A list of recommended supplementations can be found below. Sulcatas are herbivores, but mainly eat a grass, hay, and vegetable-based diet with the occasional fruit snack. There are several appropriate methods to feeding juveniles and adults including offering Orchard grass, Bermuda grass, or Timothy hay daily with dusted leafy greens and tortoise pellets every other day. As well as offering the grass and hay every other day and leafy greens and tortoise pellets the opposite day to allow for food daily. Another option is offering large meals of a mixed variety every 2-3 days.  Babies and gravid females should be fed daily for appropriate growth and egg development. Maintaining a balance and routine diet is important to maintaining stable health in a sulcata.

Main Food Sources:

Grass/Hay: (30-40% of diet)

Orchard grass, Bermuda grass, or Timothy Hay

Greens: (30-40% of diet)

Greens include hibiscus leaves, dandelion greens, mulberry leaves, collared greens, mustard greens, or kale

Vegetables: (10% of diet)

spineless prickly pear patties, graded carrots, pumpkin, broccoli, or winter squash

Snacks:

Fruit Sources: (Only 5-10% of diet)

Sliced melon, strawberries, sliced banana with or without skins, cantaloupe, nonpitted apricots, or pears

 

Formulated Food Options:

Mazuri Tortoise Diet or Zoomed Grassland Tortoise Diet. (Soaking pellets can help assist in hydration and water consumption.)

 

Recommended Dusting Supplements:

Calcium:

Repashy Calcium Plus Reptile Supplement

Flukers Calcium without D3 and phosphorus free

ZooMed Repti Calcium without D3

Vitamins:

ZooMed Reptivite without D3

 

Enrichment

Enrichment is an important and stimulating part of a sulcata’s day to day life.

Several Enrichment options are listed below:

Toy Ball– Allows your tortoise to stay stimulated selecting bring red balls can stimulate their excitement.

Supervised Time Outside Their Enclosure – Make sure to have a clean, item free area where you can supervise the activity of your sulcata. Feeding snacks at this time can entice movement and exercise. Make sure no other pets including dogs, or cats have access to the tortoise when outside its enclosure.

 

Is My Sulcata a Male or Female?

Sulcatas are a dimorphic species, but as adults colorations are similar with a few physical characteristics that can help differentiate males and females. In addition, another reliable way in determining sex can be done by a skilled veterinary professional through several methods at a younger age including endoscopic sex determination, and ultrasound sex determination of hemipenes. Listed below visual characteristics to look for to help determine sex in adult sulcatas.

 

Plastron Shape – Male sulcatas have a distinct concave plastron that becomes more prominent as they mature that helps assist in mounting a female to mate. A visualization of the bottom of the plastron can help see this characteristic where females will have a flat parallel to the ground plastron. This is harder to visualize and not a great option of sexing babies or juveniles.

 

Anal Scutes – Another characteristic that is easier to visualize as the sulcata gets older is the curvature or flare of their anal scutes. Females tend to have more narrow anal scutes forming almost a “V” shape, where males have wider anal scutes forming more of a “U” shape

 

Contributor

Dr. Brandon J Louth DVM

Want this information in hand? Download the African Spurred Tortoise Care Guide below! 

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Research Boulevard Pet & Bird Hospital

Location

11679 Research Blvd Austin, TX 78759

Clinic Hours

Monday-Thursday: 7 AM to 6 PM Friday: 7 AM to 5:30 PM Saturday: 8 AM to 1 PM Sunday: Closed