How To Care For A Sulcata Tortoise

The Sulcata tortoise, otherwise known as the African Spurred Tortoise, is one of the world’s most popular pet tortoise species. Unlike some of the smaller varieties of pet tortoise that grow less than 10 inches and a few pounds, Sulcatas can weigh over 100 lbs and grow to 30 inches long. They can do very well as pets when they receive the proper care and attention. Therefore, you should understand essential elements of Sulcata tortoise care, including diet, habitat, and health considerations. 

How To Care For A Sulcata Tortoise
How To Care For A Sulcata Tortoise

Caring for a Sulcata tortoise is an important responsibility, as these tortoises require special care to ensure they live healthy, happy lives. If you have ever been interested in a tortoise as a pet and you want to own one of the friendliest species, here are some of the primary care instructions for new owners; find out how to care for a Sulcata tortoise!

About Sulcata Tortoise

Before we get too far into care instructions, it is essential to recognize the identifying traits of this species. Knowing the way the species looks can give you an indication of their markings for the future and the size and space requirements as they grow. They are the third largest species of tortoise.

The species is native to North Central Africa, and many of the Sulcata Tortoises that you can find in North America come from breeding programs that are several generations old. Sulcata tortoises’ colors are light brown, and town and they have oval-shaped shells.

How To Care For A Sulcata Tortoise
About Sulcata Tortoise

A few decades ago, the breed was rare in the USA, but they are incredibly adaptable pets. Their easygoing nature and friendly personalities have made them famous, which is why the number of breeding programs has risen over the past few decades. Therefore, they make great pets for first-time tortoise owners.

Please remember that their lifespan is some of the best among tortoises. In fact, this species can live for over 70 years. Many pet owners may even have to create arrangements for care for their tortoises as they age!

Behavior and Temperament of Sulcata Tortoises

Behavior and Temperament of Sulcata Tortoises
Behavior and Temperament of Sulcata Tortoises

Sulcata tortoises are larger than many other domestic tortoises but are also known for having some of the most curious personalities. They can regularly get stuck in areas they want to explore or flip themselves over. They are generally shy and docile creatures and do not get aggressive or show territorial instincts. Moreover, they don’t enjoy being handled as it causes them excess stress, especially when they are younger and more fragile.

In addition, Sulcata tortoises are pretty strong and sometimes show burrowing behaviors when kept outside or presented with areas where they can dig. They can climb to explore, and this is often when they overturn themselves. They are attracted to colorful food items, which can often pose a risk with items left in their enclosures or small plastic that could be left unattended near them. The species can be pretty food-motivated, requiring grasses and hay regularly to maintain their growth.

The Diet of Sulcata Tortoises

The Diet of Sulcata Tortoises
How To Care For A Sulcata Tortoise

Sulcata owners are often impressed by the grazing and forging their tortoises carry out daily. As such, Sulcata tortoises require a balanced diet that provides all their essential nutrients, including fiber, calcium, and vitamins. Therefore, they need to dine on grasses and weeds grown without pesticides. As a pet owner, you should understand the guide to the diet of Sulcata tortoises. Some common foods for Sulcata Tortoises include:


Grasses and hay are essential for providing fiber and minerals to Sulcata tortoises. The best kinds of grasses and hay for them are Bermuda grass, Timothy hay, and oat hay. In fact, 90% of the diet comes from grazing, and it is recommended that their grass supply is not treated with any pesticide.


Leafy greens like kale, mustard, dandelion greens, and some vegetables are excellent supplements to their diet. Most owners feed veggies like carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, and more as a treat or 10-15% of the diet.


Fruits are a guilty pleasure and treat for tortoises and should be served sparingly. Because of their high sugar content and lack of availability in their native setting, small treats of fruits like bananas, strawberries, or cantaloupe can be given as a special treat. These should make up less than 5% of the diet.


Many vets recommend supplements as tortoises age, including a calcium supplement and multivitamins. Sulcata tortoises require a diet supplemented with vitamins and minerals to help ensure a healthy, active lifestyle. Their diet in the wild consists mainly of grass and other vegetation, which is only sometimes nutritionally complete. Supplementation helps to provide the additional vitamins and minerals essential for proper growth, shell formation, and overall health.


The diet of Sulcata tortoises needs water because it helps keep them hydrated, aids in digestion, and helps with the absorption of nutrients. Water is also vital for the health of their shells, as it allows the tortoise to keep their skin and shell moist.

Notes for fussy feeding: Sulcata tortoises will respond well to bright colors when feeding, so topping a pile of grass or hay with a strawberry will help them to see it faster and eat more efficiently.

Housing and Shelter for Sulcata Tortoises

How To Care For A Sulcata Tortoise
Housing and Shelter for Sulcata Tortoises

Sulcata tortoises are some of the most popular pet tortoises out there. They’re easy to care for, require minimal upkeep, and can live long and healthy lives when given the proper housing and shelter. But, when it comes to providing suitable accommodation and shelter for a Sulcata tortoise, there are some essential things to consider.

1. Find a Secure Outdoor Enclosure

Adult Sulcata tortoises often can’t be housed inside because of their size, and outdoor building enclosures are often what owners will need to do. So, we recommend you choose a location with plenty of sun and shade. Ensure the enclosure is large enough to provide the tortoise with plenty of space to roam and exercise. 

Any enclosure for this tortoise should include a fence at least 2 feet tall and extend underground for at least one whole foot. A shelter, including a small shed or dog house, can protect the tortoise from the elements, and temperature control is essential in one area of the enclosure.

2. Choose The Right Size of Enclosure

When it comes to housing Sulcata tortoises, size matters. Because of their size, Sulcata Tortoises require larger enclosures and potentially outdoor shelter as they grow older. Adult Sulcata tortoises often can’t be housed inside because of their size, and outdoor building enclosures are often what owners will need to do.

Ideally, you should choose an enclosure at least 2-3 times the size of your tortoise, as this will provide them with plenty of space to move around. The enclosure should also be escape-proof and have a secure lid that will prevent your tortoise from getting out.

3. Provide Plenty of Substrates

The substrate is an important part of the housing and shelter for Sulcata tortoises. A substrate is a material placed in the enclosure that your tortoise can dig into and burrow in. This can be a combination of soil, sand, and other materials that provide a comfortable and natural environment for the tortoise. 

You can choose common substrates for Sulcata tortoises, including soil, sand, and peat moss. Make sure to select a substrate that is safe and not toxic.

4. Add Warm Hiding Spots

When it comes to shelter, your Sulcata tortoise will need something to hide in and keep warm during cold nights or when they’re feeling scared or threatened. A large dog house or a sturdy plastic box can provide the perfect hideaway. 

Make sure the shelter is large enough for your tortoise to turn around and can provide warmth and security. Moreover, wooden logs, rocks, and other items can provide your Sulcata tortoise with places to hide and explore.

5. Install A Water Dish or Mud Area

Enclosures should also include an area with mud or water for the tortoise to soak. The species generally prefer to defecate in these areas as well. In addition, make sure to keep the water clean and provide your Sulcata tortoise with plenty of water to drink and soak in. 

Outdoor heat for a shed is a requirement for climates that grow cold. If you live in colder weather, dedicate an indoor room to the tortoise to keep the temperature hospitable.

6. Provide your Sulcata Tortoise with Healthy Meals

Providing your Sulcata tortoise with the proper housing and shelter is vital for its well-being. It needs a burrow to hide away in and feel secure, as well as a spacious habitat with plenty of vegetation, sunlight, and fresh air. By ensuring your Sulcata tortoise has all the nutrition, housing, and shelter it needs, you can ensure that it lives a long and healthy life.

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Sulcata Tortoises Habitat Requirements

Sulcata Tortoises Habitat Requirements
How To Care For A Sulcata Tortoise

Sulcatas require specific and dedicated care to live long and healthy lives, including a habitat that closely mimics their natural environment. These gentle giants can thrive in captivity and make excellent pets with the proper habitat requirements. Here are some habitat requirements for Sulcata tortoise you should know:


Because the Sulcata Tortoise is from a hot climate, they require hot temperatures to stay active and feel healthy. They thrive in temperatures from 90-100 degrees as long as they can have a spot to cool off. If you live in an area where temperatures at night fall below 60 degrees, you will need to include a heating lamp.


Controlled day temperatures should be 68-80 degrees f for your Sulcata tortoise with a basking lamp area that can rise above 90 degrees. Temperatures at night between 60-80 f are perfect for your tortoise to thrive. Regularly letting the temperature dip below 60 degrees can increase the risk of poor appetite or illness.


Moreover, the ideal humidity range for Sulcata tortoises is between 40 and 55 percent. They are essential when they are young, and keeping 75% humidity can help them stay healthy. A reptile fogger can keep the humidity high and keep them hydrated. 

Lowering the moisture when they age past 24 months old will ensure they can remain healthy and not develop shell rot. An excessive amount of humidity can cause fungus infections and other problems. If necessary, spray the tortoise’s enclosure once or twice daily to increase humidity.


It is often best to choose a full-spectrum light that includes UVB sources. Sulcata tortoises require UV lighting in their habitat because they need it for their health. Without UV lighting, the tortoise can become sick and suffer various health problems.

In the wild, they would be exposed to natural sunlight, which contains UV rays essential for producing vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 helps with calcium absorption, vital for healthy bones, shells, and growth.

Health Issues for Sulcata Tortoises

Health Issues for Sulcata Tortoises
Health Issues for Sulcata Tortoises

Although the species can live for over 100 years in excellent health, they are susceptible to various health conditions like other reptiles. Taking steps to prevent and treat these health issues is essential to ensure the well-being of your Sulcata tortoise. Some of the common health concerns of Sulcata tortoises include:

Respiratory Issues

Sulcata Tortoises can develop respiratory problems when they are kept in too humid environments. Respiratory issues can be caused by various factors, including poor husbandry, environmental stress, and inadequate nutrition. These issues can lead to serious health problems, such as pneumonia, and can even be fatal if left untreated. 

For this reason, it is essential to closely monitor your Sulcata’s respiratory health and take steps to prevent or treat any respiratory issues that arise. It is crucial to monitor the humidity as they grow and keep it below 70% when they get past 24 months of age.

Shell Rot

Shell rot is another common problem caused by too much moisture exposure to the skin. It can occur when a tortoise is exposed to damp and wet conditions, such as when its shell remains wet for too long or when the substrate it is kept on is too wet. This can cause the skin and shell to become soft and susceptible to infection. Bacterial or fungal infections can continue to spread, which can continue to apply without a veterinarian’s intervention.

To clean your tortoise’s shell and kill bacteria, we recommend using a chlorhexidine solution. Hydrogen peroxide is another option, but it will slow the healing process down even further because it might harm good, healthy cells.

Metabolic Bone Disease

This disease can be prevented with proper diet and supplements. This is a severe ailment in reptiles where the phosphorus and calcium ratio is out of balance. If left untreated, it can cause bone deformities. The best way to prevent MBD in Sulcata tortoises is to provide them with a balanced diet that includes plenty of calcium-rich foods, plenty of UVB lighting, and regular visits to a veterinarian to check for signs of MBD.

Regular veterinary visits are essential if you own a Sulcata tortoise. By going for yearly appointments or when you spot the signs of trouble, you can often treat the main medical conditions that affect Sulcata tortoises with over-the-counter medication prescribed by vets.

How To Choose A Sulcata Tortoise To Take Home

When choosing a Sulcata Tortoise, you must find a breeder in your area that can tell you about the health and history of the species and that has a proven track record of selling healthy tortoises. As this species is prevalent in the USA, you can expect to pay $50-250 for your tortoise.

Check for any signs of illness, such as runny eyes or nose, mucus in the mouth, or labored breathing. The tortoise should have no signs of dehydration, such as sunken eyes or wrinkled skin. Besides, it should also have a good body weight and a clean shell.

How To Choose A Sulcata Tortoise To Take Home
How To Care For A Sulcata Tortoise

Moreover, healthy tortoises are constantly grazing, and if a young Sulcata tortoise is having problems taking food, it could be a sign of illness. If you can see a parent or even a photo of a parent, you can get an idea of what the final size of your tortoise may be as they mature.


The Sulcata tortoise is a beautiful pet for first-time tortoise owners and an excellent reptile to keep as a family pet. With their curious personalities and gentle nature, they can be the perfect companion. Remember that taking on a Sulcata tortoise for a pet can be quite a commitment. They are pets that could easily outlive you and large animals that require regular care. You need to have a plan for your tortoise as they grow and for someone to care for your tortoise if you are leaving it for several days. If you are ready to commit to these great pets, you can enjoy a lifetime of fun memories with your tortoise.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How quickly does a sulcata tortoise grow?

Sulcata tortoises can grow up to 10 inches in their first two years. After 15-20 years, they will reach their adult size with a carapace between 25-32 inches. A Sulcata baby is born at a size of about two inches. Their development rate will vary significantly depending on their nutrition, environment, and enclosure.

Can sulcata tortoises live with dogs?

No, Sulcata tortoises should not live with dogs. Dogs are natural predators and can cause stress and injury to the tortoise. It is usually best to keep them separate from your tortoise in a different room. Sulcata tortoises are very flexible but may be intimidated by a dog’s body language and smells.

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