Guide to Red Footed Tortoises as Pets

Red foot tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria), close-up
Red footed tortoise crawling on a rock outside. Frank Siteman/The Image Bank/Getty Images

About Red Footed Tortoises

Geochelone carbonaria is the Latin name but these tortoises are also known as red foot (or redfoot) tortoises, red leg (or redleg tortoises), Savanna tortoises, and red-footed tortoises. There is also a slightly smaller variety called the cherry head (or cherry headed) red footed tortoise that is very popular.

Red-footed tortoises typically live up to 50 years in captivity but they could possibly live even longer.

Like other tortoises, they are definitely a long-term commitment pet. They often reach a length of 10-14 inches but sometimes they can be larger (16 inches or more) and can weigh up to 30 pounds. The smaller cherry head red footed tortoise only attains a length of 10-12 inches as an adult.

Feeding Red Footed Tortoises

In the wild, red footed tortoises are omnivores and eat a wider range of foods than many other tortoises do. It is very important to not overfeed these tortoises with animal protein though. One very small serving of moistened low fat cat food or lean meat (e.g. one ounce for a full grown red footed tortoise) every other week is plenty of animal protein if you feel the need to offer it to your tortoise. A variety of fresh, dark, leafy greens such as dandelion greens, endive, mustard greens, and escarole (but monitor the calcium to phosphorous ratios of these greens). Other vegetables and fruits should also be fed (red footed tortoises also tolerate fruit better than many other tortoise species) and a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement should be used a few times a week on the food.

Housing Red Footed Tortoises

This species is native to tropical areas and prefers a humid climate. A sturdy, escape-proof enclosure can be provided outdoors and a sprinkler or mister can be used to increase the humidity if needed. A muddy wallow will be used by the tortoise as will a pan of clean water.

An area densely planted with vegetation provides a cool retreat. A doghouse-type shelter can be used for adult red footed tortoises and  it should be heated if night time temperatures drop below 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit (18-21 degrees Celsius). Daytime temperatures can safely reach up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (32-35 degrees Celsius). The walls of the enclosure should be about 16 inches high and also go a few inches below the ground to prevent your red footed tortoise from digging and escaping.

If you choose to house your red footed tortoise inside then you'll need a large enclosure (roughly one that is four feet by six feet or larger). Cypress bark as a substrate helps retain humidity although paper will also work and is easy to clean. A UVA/UVB light is necessary for an indoor enclosure since your tortoise won't be exposed to unfiltered sunlight in a house and the enclosure should also be heated using special heat bulbs. A basking spot of 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsisu) should be provided with the daytime thermal gradient getting no lower than about 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit (27-32 degrees Celsius). Nighttime temperatures can drop to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) but if the enclosure gets any cooler than that you will be putting your tortoise at risk for developing a respiratory infection and/or hypothermia.

A pan of water should be provided at all times for your red-footed tortoise to walk into and the enclosure should be kept humid. A hide should be placed at the cool end of the enclosure for your tortoise to retreat into.

Hibernation

Red footed tortoises do not hibernate but they may start to slow down during the colder months, even if they are housed indoors.

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT