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As busy and possibly gigantic animals, many Tortoise species need quite large enclosures, with some of them being utterly impossible to feasibly house indoors when they get older. Tortoises are among the most intelligent and responsive reptile pets that you can own. They have a demeanor and dietary needs that easily add to their allure. Many potential tortoise owners prefer to design an enclosure for their coming pet. This is the preferred method because more than likely this animal be with you the rest of you life, and you want to give is a space where you won’t feel the need to be worried about it’s safety. Many tortoise owners allow their pets to roam around the house, but this can be a mistake after learning how “curious” these animals tend to be. When you do consider building an enclosure for the tortoise to be outside in there are a range of options available. These may be either full time or part time quarters for the animals, based on the native climate, species, and the tortoise’s size.

As well as providing sufficient space for healthy activity levels, outdoor homes also provides tortoises exposure to natural, unfiltered sunlight, in addition to fresh air and the chance to graze on organic plants and weeds. Sunlight is necessary for almost every reptile, as they have a much harder time regulating their internal body temperature without it. While many tortoises do prefer shade, the ability for a tortoise to sun itself is considered humane.

Listed below are a few guidelines for tortoise enclosures, in addition to some time-tested recommendations that will help insure that both the keeper and your pet benefit mutually from the arrangement. When tortoises are young, it is easiest to buy a pre-made tortoise enclosure for your pet, with the only downside being many species will eventually outgrow such an enclosure. This will at least buy you a year or two of care-free tortoise housing while you figure out to do once your pet grows larger. See this great video from Zoo Med which talks about a suitable home for baby and young tortoises:

First consideration:


The type of tortoise which you choose will greatly effect how successful you’ll be in housing it outside. This is of extreme importance. Temperature changes are frequently tolerated by species but often underestimated how powerful and destructive they can be. The last thing you want is to leave a hot-weather tortoise in the frigid cold weather. This can go both ways as there are many tortoise species which are adapted to more temperate climates, so are very sensitive to excess heat.

Along with the future projected size of the tortoise, considerations must made in relation to the animal’s native climate. For instance, mediterranean tortoises kept in the UK and other northern European countries will normally require a combination of outdoor and indoor facilities to receive the proper habitat. Please see the information pertaining to each species of tortoise for more information.


A future owner should consider whether or not the species in question will brumate (hibernate). It does have a fair number of risks as brumation is a survival-strategy employed by several kinds of reptiles. While a species is brumating outside, make sure to research their requirements and fully understand the risks involved if you’re planning an enclose for them to be in. They may have special requirements to properly hibernate, such as sand/soil they can bury themselves in, or something they can crawl into (like a doghouse of sorts).

Fundamentally, choose wisely when buying a tortoise. It is highly recommended that people in urban areas should not get tortoises. These animals need access to move around, and while some of the smaller species could technically do well in a smaller apartment in the city, most of them grow larger than a foot and need a decent sized space to roam around. Because you cannot walk them like dogs (you can take them to the park though) it is highly recommended they have the proper space (preferably outdoor) while you leave them alone. Outdoor habitats should be used as often as the weather allows.

Dimensions & Age

Baby tortoises shouldn’t be housed outdoors. Until they are large enough to fend for themselves outdoors they need to be kept indoors under controlled conditions. These conditions include the proper amount of heat, “sun”, environmental and dietary needs. I put sun in quotations because many tortoise owners use heat lamps to create an artificial sun while their tortoises are young.

If a tortoise is estimated to get so large that it simply cannot be housed inside, please consider this when deciding to keep this species as a pet. A tortoise that is 24 inches in length may need to be kept outside permanently for many people who do not have the required indoor space for such an animal.

When estimating whether it’s time to move an animal outside, think about trying it first on only the nicest of days. Then try a couple of days in a row, then a couple more making the transition if all seems well. It’s very important that you monitor behavior and the animals health in this change to make sure that no negative impacts are being had. You need to also be aware that it doesn’t get uncomfortably cold at night, which is a risk for tortoises not used to this climate.

Indoor Tortoise Houses

An example of an indoor tortoise enclosure for a medium-size tortoise.

In standard, indoor enclosures tortoises seldom make the record as accomplished escape artists. However escapes don’t seem

common, but they may be attempted from time to time.¬†Perimeter walls should constructed to the sufficient height to prevent your tortoises from climbing out. Some species are capable of that, and while tortoises as a group aren’t typically considered expert climbers, all species are capable of surprising you with a personality-driven talent.

Along with the actual height of the enclosure walls, the material used shouldn’t provide a lot of tempting footholds. Use a surface that would seem challenging to climb.

Using a top for enclosures home smaller animals is highly suggested. Display, chain-link, or hardware cloth all can be utilized so long as they are sturdy enough to resist predators and still allow to pass through. Many of these reptile encloses can be purchased pre-made, and will serve the purpose for a while until the tortoise slowly outgrows it.

These shelters should be gently heated to maintain a normal temperature of approximately 80 degrees via ceramic heat emitters or heavy duty pig blankets. Some people use heat lamps that are out of reach from the tortoise possibly knocking into it. The shelter can be filled as insulation with a layer of hay, but be sure the hay and any exposed heating elements not poses any fire dangers.

See here for some pre-built examples.

Security & Outdoor Housing

Example of a good outdoor Tortoise pen. Suitable for the proper climates.

In the most temperate regions, a secure and heated shield needs to be made accessible to any tortoise housed outdoors. These may be a dog home, or something as straightforward as an plywood box that is appropriately sized.

If your tortoise enclosure is constructed right on the floor, you need to assume that at some stage your animals will attempt to dig out. This escape isn’t always intentional, but contributes to a pet. To stop this be sure that all fences or walls are buried into the ground deeper for animals, and a foot. This makes maintenance less challenging and reduces the threat of injury, although some keepers advocate using a solid or mesh floor if it try to dig through this barrier.

Remember that the existence of a built shelter doesn’t ensure that your animals will use it. You’ll need to watch them carefully to be sure it is used by them . You may need to quarantine your tortoise to it’s dedicated outdoor space for a while if it tends to wander off into other parts of your yard or patio (wherever this enclosure may be outside).

Maintaining your tortoises within the enclosure is just half of the battle. Additionally you must insure that other animals (dogs, snakes, raccoons, birds) do not enter your enclosure. With tortoises these creatures pose little danger, but a smaller species may be abducted neighborhood cat or by a opossum.

Here are some ideas of pre-made outdoor shelters that can be used for smaller tortoises.

Planning Your Artificial Habitat

While the above may seem like plenty of work, in all actuality, keeping tortoises outside is simpler than it seems, definitly if you have a yard for it to roam around in. Go to any zoo and I guarantee they will have large tortoises that have a large plot of land to move around in, even if it is enclosed. But because each situation is unique, and as there are unknowns, it’s vital that the keeper know all of the aspects before making a determination about housing.

Always research the requirements of the species you’re working together, and make sure you’re doing all you can to keep them correctly, both inside and out. Keep in mind that although the methods outlined above are successful in most circumstances, they won’t work for everyone them being not and guidelines directions.

If you would like to house your animals outdoors you’ll need to be prepared to try a few different items to discover what works best, and be ready to make compromises. But in the end, the advantages are much greater than any inconvenience caused to you and all of the work will be worthwhile. Tortoises are extremely beautiful and unique creatures.

Because of the varying nature of the subject matter covered above, we have to suggest that you use your best judgment when determining when and where your tortoises could be safely kept. If in doubt, consult with with a veterinarian or local specialist who might be able to assist you.