Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why a tortoise should not roam your house freely

Allegra, our redfoot tortoise, gave us quite a scare a few weeks ago. You may remember that she came to us from a sub-ideal situation. The enclosure she came with was covered in dryer lint, dust, and dog hair, and she was very dry. I let her spend every day that was warmer than 75 degrees outside in a safe enclosure, and I misted her often throughout the day.  Good food and good hydration and warmth seemed to help her, but she spent a lot more time sitting around than I would have expected.

Allegra, alive and well, thankfully
Then, one day in early September, we had 104-degrees F weather (40 degrees C). I made sure she had some shade available, and I set up the hose to constantly mist half of her enclosure. She drank, grazed, and seemed to LOVE it. And all of a sudden, stuff started to come out of her back end.

That's right. I'm going to go there. Someone has to.

Soooooo. Are you curious what started coming out of Allegra's back end yet? No? Sorry, you get to find out anyway: DOG HAIR AND DRYER LINT

Now, to give you a visual, this wasn't just a little blob. It was GOBS and GOBS. Over the course of the afternoon, more and more and more just kept coming out. Because I wanted to be able to quantify it (and since I needed to pick it up out of her enclosure anyway so she wouldn't eat it again), I put it into a dixie cup. It FILLED the dixie cup. Keep in mind that Allegra is not quite 6 inches long, which means there really isn't a whole lot of room inside her. And yet, she had a whole dixie cup of dryer lint and dog hair inside her intestines. 

Are you getting a little bit of a gaggy feeling in the back of your throat yet? Sorry. Believe me, it was a lot more gross in real life than it sounds like in words... because I'm leaving out a description the smell that came with it. Just think of how terrible it must have felt for her to have that stuff inside her for weeks (or months) on end.
Much happier now!
Now, I am sure you are wondering why I am such a weirdo in the world I would share this with you.

Well, for one, because I am REALLY relieved that Allegra passed the intestinal blockage. She could have died - and I know that many tortoises do die from ingesting non-edible things. The other reason is that I want to help you prevent the same thing from happening to your tortoise(s).

Still lumpy and bumpy... but much more active!
People often ask me why I don't just let my tortoises roam the house during the cold season when I bring them inside. "Wouldn't they be much more happy? Just think of all the space they would have, and you wouldn't need to bother with all the tortoise tables all over your house!" My answer is always a resounding NO. 
In fact, except for very very rare occasions, I don't let my tortoises roam on the floor, even for a short time. There are several reasons:
1.) I have kids who like to be on the floor. I don't really want my floor to be contaminated with tortoise poop germs. 
2.) I don't want to lose one (or several) of my tortoises. 
3.) I don't want the tortoise to ingest a toy or other item left on the ground.
4.) I don't want the tortoise to get stuck or stepped on or kicked.
5.) The floor is very drafty, even in a well-insulated house. We keep our house heated to 68-70 degrees during the winter, but the floor is realistically probably closer to 50 degrees. If the floor is chilly enough to make me want to wear warm socks, it's definitely not warm enough for a tortoise. Even if I were to provide a heating pad or a basking light, the tortoise(s) would spend more time getting chilly than I want them to.
6.) Even if when I vacuum 2x per week, we end up with little furry dust bunnies and cobwebs and hair tumbleweeds under the dressers and in the corners. I would hate for a tortoise to eat that stuff, or breathe it, and become sick. 
7.) Our dog lives outside, but sometimes in the winter he gets to spend the night indoors if it is especially cold. I would hate for him to somehow get hold of one of my tortoises and chew on it. 
8.) Our home is all on one level, but if we lived in a house with stairs, I would worry that the tortoise(s) would crash to their death. 

There are surely many more reasons why not to let a tortoise (even a large one) roam your house. A tortoise belongs in a safe, enclosed area - a tortoise table, a tortoise garden, a greenhouse. If you have the space, you MIGHT be able to alter a room in such a way that your tortoise can safely live there... but the majority of us don't just have spare rooms, do we?

Now, even if your tortoise is kept in a tortoise table (which Allegra was), please make sure that it does not get covered in dog hair, dryer lint and who knows what else... tortoises are odd little creatures that like to taste test all kinds of things. Sometimes they will decide the oddest things taste good enough to re-visit and take a second (and third and fourth) bite of...

Anyway. I hope this blog post might save a tortoise or several... 

(Aren't you glad I didn't post a picture of that dixie cup, by the way?!)


  1. But if i clean my house and i don't have other pets then lil dude should be okay to roam around the house ?

    1. Well, as outlined above, possible dirt ingestion is only one of many concerns. Being stepped on, getting lost behind appliances, being too cold... not to mention the yuck factor of tortoise poop on the floor. It truly is best for them to have a) an amazing and safe outdoor habitat or b) an amazing and safe indoor habitat. :)


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