How to keep desert tortoises healthy: The Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to having them as pets

Local News

Tis’ the season to come out of brumation: As the temperatures warm up desert tortoises emerge from their burrows.

On Friday, students at Pinecrest Academy in Inspirada learned about the do’s and the don’ts of having a pet desert tortoise.

It’s the perfect time to educate the public about caring for these reptiles who are most at risk for disease in captivity.  Take Delta who’s awaiting surgery for a preventable health condition.

The students’ curiosity about 5-year-old Delta, a pre-historic animal, was welcoming news to Daniel Freeman.  

It’s the first time Freeman is fostering a desert tortoise and he has his work cut out for him.

“There’s a lot more to it than just buying a bag of dog food. Their diet is very specific and their housing, is very important,” Freeman said.

It’s important because a lack of education often leads to diseases and illnesses.  After taking in Delta, they took him to the vet and discovered he had a bladder stone the size of a pinball.

“We hear stories all the time of somebody feeding strawberries or cantaloupe or something like that,” said Kobbe  Shaw, executive director of the Tortoise Group.  “Simple rule: Go out to Lake Mead, go out to Red Rock. Do you see strawberries growing out there? No.” 

Shaw says between 30 to 32 percent of pet desert tortoises get bladder stones, compared to about one percent in the wild.  Another sign of a poor diet is a lumpy shell.

“Disease is very prevalent in the pet population because, in your backyard, the tortoise get a constant supply of food and water,” Shaw said.  “Whereas in the wild, that tortoise might go for an entire year without drinking water.” 

The group doesn’t know where delta came from, but they know he’s now in good hands.  The desert tortoise will have surgery next month.

The Tortoise Group is holding fundraisers to pay for Delta’s surgery.  You can learn more about the fundraisers here.

The non-profit is also looking for people who want to adopt or foster desert tortoises.  On average, they take in about 1,500 of them a year.

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