Health and Well-being of Sulcata Tortoises: Essential Care Tips!

Health and Well-being of Sulcata Tortoises
Health and Well-being of Sulcata Tortoises

When it comes to the health and well-being of Sulcata tortoises, there’s a lot to consider. You must carefully manage their diet, habitat, and overall lifestyle to ensure they thrive throughout their long lives. I’ve spent time caring for this species and researching their needs. Here, I have gathered valuable information that can help anyone looking to properly care for these beautiful creatures!

Ensuring the health and well-being of Sulcata tortoises is an essential responsibility that you have to master as a pet owner. With proper care, these gentle giants can live for more than 100 years. So, here are some essential care tips that you should know!

How long does a Sulcata Tortoise live?

Health and Wellbeing of Sulcata Tortoises
How long does a Sulcata Tortoise live

Sulcata tortoises, also known as African spurred tortoises, boast a remarkable lifespan that ranges between 50 to 150 years! According to a known record, the oldest Sulcata in captivity was 54 years old, located in the Giza Zoological Gardens, Egypt, in 1986. In the wild, they can exceed 70 years. I can assure you that these creatures are cherished as pets due to their handleability, availability, hardiness, and impressive longevity.

Several key factors play a crucial role in determining their lifespan. First, Sulcata tortoises require a diet that primarily consists of high-fiber, low-protein plants. These tortoises also need a spacious and natural environment to thrive. Adequate heat, humidity, and substrate can make a significant difference to the health and well-being of the Sulcata tortoise. Regular check-ups, along with careful handling, all contribute to the longevity of your Sulcata tortoise!

Why is my Sulcata Tortoise squeaking?

Why is my Sulcata Tortoise squeaking
Why is my Sulcata Tortoise squeaking

One reason why your Sulcata Tortoise’s squeaking is due to respiratory issues caused by debris or foreign objects blocking their nose. It could also be due to low temperature, causing breathing problems. Another possibility is that the tortoise is startled. Sulcata Tortoises are naturally quiet animals, but they can make noises when they feel uneasy. Sulcata tortoises could also squeak when experiencing a respiratory infection. They’ll look lethargic and have no appetite.

If your Sulcata is squeaking, try to do a gentle nose clean. If the squeaking persists, it’s probably best to consult a professional for further examination and potential treatment. A squeaking noise could also be a sign of mating season for adult Sulcata. If that’s the case then it’s pretty much harmless. Keep in mind, that these are just suggestions, and consulting a veterinarian is always the best course of action if you are unsure.

How often should you soak a Sulcata Tortoise?

Health and Wellbeing of Sulcata Tortoises
How often should you soak a Sulcata Tortoise

You should soak your baby Sulcata tortoises once a day, for juveniles at least three to four times, and once or twice a week for adult ones. During this time, I ensure the water is shallow, with a depth reaching just above the line where the carapace meets the plastron. The water temperature should be slightly warm, around 95 to 100°F. I typically let them soak for about 15 to 20 minutes or longer for older ones. Use only plain water, with no oil or soap!

I let them hydrate and brush their shells if they look dirty with a soft brush. Hydration plays a crucial role in maintaining their skin, shell, and the proper functioning of their internal organs. In the wild, Sulcata tortoises occasionally soak themselves, but in captivity, they rely on our help. During the soaking process, your tortoise may defecate, secreting white stuff, which is normal!

Age GroupFrequencyDurationBenefits
Hatchling (0 to 1 year)Once a day10 to 15 minutesIncrease humidity, prevent dehydration, stimulate pooping
Juveniles (1 to 5 years)Three times a week15 to 20 minutesAiding the shedding process
Young adult (5 to 15 years)Twice a week20 minutesAvoid kidney stone, soak more in the summer, and less in the winter
Adult (15 years+)Once a week or lessAround 30 minutesAdult soaking is optional if it has access to plenty of water and high humidity

Why does my Sulcata Tortoise poop white?

Why does my Sulcata Tortoise poop white
Why does my Sulcata Tortoise poop white

Your Sulcata tortoise poop is white because it is excreting urates, which is a waste product resulting from the breakdown of proteins in your Sulcata’s diet. It’s a solid form of uric acid and is generally harmless. A properly hydrated tortoise will pass urate that is smooth and pasty, while a dehydrated tortoise may pass lumpy or granulated urate. It is an indication of inadequate water intake!

If you notice that your tortoise is pooping hard urates, please make sure that you level up its water intake. Frequent dehydration can cause urate to turn into gallbladder! It’s best to consult a vet if your Sulcata keeps pooping hardened urate. Excessive consumption of calcium-rich foods, like cuttlebone, can lead to white, grainy poop in your Sulcata Tortoise. This isn’t necessarily harmful, but too much calcium is also unhealthy!

How cold can a Sulcata Tortoise survive?

Health and Wellbeing of Sulcata Tortoises
How cold can a Sulcata Tortoise survive

An adult Sulcata tortoise can survive in a temperature as low as 45ºF, but you should never expose your young Sulcata, especially the babies to cold weather! A frigid temperature could be fatal, as they are reptiles that can’t regulate their body heat. When it comes to special care considerations during colder months, it’s essential to provide a suitable indoor enclosure to keep your tortoise warm! The temperature range should ideally be between 85 to 95ºF.

Ambient temperature can drop around 70ºF at night, though it is best to maintain it above 80ºF, especially for hatchlings and juveniles. Provide a basking spot too! Use a highly insulated room or closed chamber to maintain a steady temperature in the winter. Install a heat lamp and ensure proper humidity levels of around 75-85%. Keep an eye on the temperature using a digital thermometer to avoid underheating.

What is Too Hot for a Sulcata Tortoise?

What is Too Hot for a Sulcata Tortoise
What is Too Hot for a Sulcata Tortoise

A temperature above 115+ºF under the direct sun will be too hot for your Sulcata tortoise. You can keep your Sulcata outdoors in the summer when the temperature reaches 115ºF, provided that there are plenty of shades, water, and moist soil. Nevertheless, extreme heat can be harmful, so it’s better not to exceed the ideal 85 to 95ºF range. This species can tolerate such high temperatures because its native habitat is the Sahara desert! 

Sulcata will burrow itself in the ground when it’s getting too hot. During the hot summer months, it’s crucial to lightly mist the tortoise and their enclosure with water to help maintain humidity. Provide ample shaded areas in their outdoor enclosure, using plants or man-made structures. Ensure they have access to fresh drinking water at all times.

Why does my Sulcata Tortoise sleep so much?

Health and Wellbeing of Sulcata Tortoises
Why does my Sulcata Tortoise sleep so much

Your Sulcata tortoise sleeps so much when it feels cold, as they are ectothermic animals that rely on the environment to regulate their body temperature. They look for a warm place to sleep so they can conserve energy. This can lead to up to 16 hours of sleep per day in colder conditions. Another reason for their extensive sleep schedule is dehydration. If a tortoise is not drinking enough water, it simply won’t have the energy to be awake and active. 

I’ve noticed that adult Sulcata tortoises tend to sleep anywhere from 10 to 12 hours each day, on average, while babies will sleep up to 22 hours per day! The time of the year can also affect their sleeping schedule. In winter months, a Sulcata will sleep more, while in the spring and fall, they’ll be most active. On hot summer days, they may try to hunker down from the heat but sleep less.

Age groupSleep HoursPatternReasons
Hatchling (0 to 1 year)18 to 22 hoursWill only be awake to eat food and drinkRapid growth, softer shell so they tend to hunker down
Juveniles (1 to 5 years)16 to 18 hoursGetting more active during the day with napsBegin to explore during the day
Young adult (5 to 15 years)12 hoursActive during the day with napsOptimum metabolism, actively grazing 
Adult (15 to 20 years)10 to 12 hoursActive during the day, consistent scheduleMay be awake at night especially in the hot summer
Senior (20+ years)14 to 16 hoursNap more often as they get oldMay sleep more as the metabolism slow, especially in the winter

Why is my Sulcata Tortoise not moving?

Why is my Sulcata Tortoise not moving
Why is my Sulcata Tortoise not moving

One of the most common reasons why Sulcata Tortoise are inactively move around is temperature change. If the ambient temperature falls below a tortoise’s natural body temperature, it will become inactive to conserve energy. Please note that Sulcata does not hibernate in the winter! They may not move a lot but it’s not hibernation. Stress and dehydration can cause the tortoise to become sluggish and unresponsive as well. 

Moreover, a wrong protein-rich diet may cause gout that inhibits movement. In some cases, a tortoise may become inactive due to constipation. It’s important to provide enough water for your Sulcata tortoise to prevent gallbladder that may paralyze it. A balanced diet will also help prevent constipation and keep your tortoise healthy.

How does a Sulcata Tortoise flip over?

Health and Wellbeing of Sulcata Tortoises
Source: Pinterest (@Dreamstime)

Sulcata tortoises can flip over upside down if the ground is uneven or when they fail to climb a wall and fall on their back. In the wild, a tortoise that cannot right itself is in a vulnerable position. Predators may take advantage of an exposed underside. Ii can become malnourished if it’s unable to reach food sources. Plus, when a tortoise is flipped over for too long, it may experience difficulty breathing because its vital organ is misaligned.

Fortunately, Sulcata can use their strong and long limbs, as well as their snout, to create a rocking momentum to flip back when they are upside down. They’ll flair around them to generate the force necessary to turn themselves over. If you notice your Sulcata is upside down, you can also help it correct its position.

Why is my Sulcata Tortoise Shell darker?

Why is my Sulcata Tortoise Shell darker
Why is my Sulcata Tortoise Shell darker

High humidity and low temperatures can cause your Sulcata tortoise to have a darker shell color. Genetic also plays a role in the shell coloration. Moreover. dark patches on the shell could result from poor shedding due to low humidity.  Maintain 70 to 80% humidity so the shell does not flake off.  New shell growth typically is darker as well, but please note that with sun exposure, your Sulcata tortoise’s shell color will get lighter!

To promote healthy shell growth and coloration, make sure that you give your pet Sulcata enough sun time and UVB lighting for indoor enclosure. Ensure that you also provide it with enough calcium and vitamin! A darker shell may indicate a health issue like shell rot or a parasitic infection. If I notice darkening along with other concerning symptoms, contacting a veterinarian is the best course of action.


The health and well-being of Sulcata tortoises require careful attention to various factors, encompassing diet, habitat, and overall lifestyle. These remarkable creatures can live for an extended period, reaching up to 150 years with proper care. Ensuring their longevity involves providing a balanced diet, maintaining a suitable habitat, and addressing specific health concerns!

Ultimately, the journey of caring for Sulcata tortoises is a rewarding responsibility that requires dedication and knowledge. Happy tortoise keeping!

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