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How to Keep a Tortoise Happy: Best Toys to Entertain Them

keep your tortoise happy

A tortoise is a great pet, just like a dog or cat. And like any pet owner, you want your tortoise to be active and happy. Though you would not think it, there are many different toys and activities that can contribute to your tortoise’s mental and physical wellbeing. Having a healthy and curious tortoise can lead to having your exotic pet for a long time (which, incidentally, can be quite a while, given their average lifespan). 

In addition to toys and activities, tortoises need a rich environment that will encourage physical activity and inspire mental health and agility. Some of these things include:

  • Climbing and pushing toys
  • Hiding places
  • Water features
  • Hunting for treasure
  • Digging
  • Exploring plants
  • Figuring out food-based puzzles

There are so many things that you can do to promote healthy activity for your tortoise. The number and variation are limited only by your intuitiveness and a few cautionary items. Read on to see what you can do for your tortoise.

Give Your Tortoise Climbing Toys

A healthy and happy tortoise is a playful tortoise. Playing keeps your tortoises physically fit and inspires curiosity and problem-solving. It engages their minds and can help prevent depression and anxiety. Climbing is a great example of tortoise play.

Remember tortoises play in the same manner they do everything else:

  • Slowly
  • Gently

When they climb they will do so in a calm and investigative kind of way, but that does not mean that they are not enjoying a fun time on the rock feature. The question is, what kind of climbing do tortoises like to do?

When looking for a climbing feature or materials that will substitute as one, remember that climbing for a tortoise needs to involve gentle changes of grade and level that are achievable for your favourite reptile’s legs and feet. Ladders and cat-centric climbing structures are out of the question. So what works for your tortoise?

There are a variety of climbing toys that you can buy, as well as a variety of ways to improvise climbing toys. Read on to get some ideas.

Climbing Toys for Your Tortoise

Tortoises love to climb and explore. It is their primary way of getting around. If you think about their natural environment, it is dry and has a lot of dirt and rocks. So a climbing toy does not have to be fancy. It can be made of readily available items in your backyard:

  • Rocks
  • Small logs
  • Wood planks
  • Branches or sticks

When it comes to rocks, it depends on the shape and size and the effort you are willing to set it up:

  • You could find the right shaped rock that has a gentle slope for your turtle to climb
  • You could line up several rocks to form different sized platforms for your tortoise to climb on
  • You can simply put a pile of rocks in the enclosure and see what your tortoise does with them

All of these are workable solutions. In fact, allowing your tortoise to manipulate its environment is always great for enrichment. You can take the same approach as the other materials listed above.

The advantage to sticks and branches is that your tortoise can get a lot of use out of them and you can simply replace them with different varieties when it comes time to clean the enclosure. And different sizes of wood in different arrangements will only swerve to keep your tortoise mentally active.

Store-Bought Climbing Features

There are some store-bought climbing features that are worth considering. You can find bridge-shaped features that have turf and branches woven in.

Another option is this suspension bridge made of equally sized wooden sticks that are secured together. This gives your tortoise a simple and safe climbing feature to use. 

Pushing Toys

A pushing toy can be anything large enough that the tortoise can push along the floor of the enclosure. This is another great toy for your tortoise that can be put together simply and cheaply from repurposed items. Just be sure your tortoise cannot swallow it. Also, tortoises have a powerful beak, so it needs to be material that they cannot bite through.

Small rocks, pebbles, woodblocks, even a solid rubber ball are all great pushing toys. Here are some items you may have lying around that you can repurpose for your tortoise’s push toy:

  • Racquet balls (make sure they are the hard variety)
  • Rocks from the yard
  • Skateboard wheels

Tortoises are well adapted to push objects around with their head or feet. They have even been known to pile up items to organise them. Giving your tortoise the chance to create or modify its environment is very good for mental health and acuity.

Related Reading: Tortoise Enrichment: The Most Complete and Up-To-Date Guide for Owners

Tortoise the Excavator

Your tortoise can have even more fun pushing when you modify the game by giving your tortoise a bunch of pebbles. Now watch your tortoise play excavator.

Tortoises like pushing things around, as mentioned above, and it is especially pleasing for them to gather up a bunch of pebbles and scoot them across the floor of the enclosure.

Of course, if you are going to give your tortoise a pile of pebbles to push, then you need to have the room for it. Some tortoise owners have large tables or outdoor enclosures, and others may even have some extra space to provide a run.

Hiding Places

Tortoises hide for many reasons. Environmental factors like keeping cool are one reason. Sometimes a tortoise can be shy, or scared of something in the enclosure. These things are not necessarily bad unless your tortoise refuses to leave the shelter.

Generally, though, hiding is a sign of a happy healthy tortoise taking time to be alone. 

Giving your tortoise a hiding place contributes to its health and wellbeing, and you can do this in a variety of ways. Sometimes just an old, repurposed box can provide your tortoise with a sense of comfort and relief from a stressor. You can accomplish this by removing one of the sides of an old packing box and turning it upside down.

If you decide to go with a makeshift or repurposed shelter for your tortoise be sure to:

  • Use something that is well made
  • Construct something that is sturdy if that is the route you want to go
  • Do not stack some rocks, put a board on top and call it good–that could fall on your tortoise

A hiding place can be a makeshift cave made out of some wooden material or a hollowed-out plastic rock from the pet store. Anything that gives your tortoise a sense of security will work.

Store-Bought Shelters

There are, of course, some store-bought solutions that you can get for your tortoise. The advantage of buying something is that you can be sure that it will be well made and safe for your tortoise to use. So if you have any doubts about something that you have put together, then consider a store-bought option.

One of those options is the reptile rock. This can go in an enclosure and is for reptiles in general, but tortoises can certainly make use of it. It is made to look like a natural setup of rocks that create:

  • Steps and a ledge on the outside
  • A cozy little cave on the inside

The look of this is really cool and primordial, but also well designed so that your tortoise has an opening into the cave with a kind of upper window for you to check-in easily on your reptile. Make sure you get one big enough for your tortoise.

Water Feature

Tortoises and turtles are different. In general, tortoises do not like to be in the water all the time. They do like to cool off and get a little wet from time to time, so it is a good idea to have a decent size water feature for them to get into once in a while.

A water feature sounds elaborate, and it certainly can be, but it can also be simple. You can take a 9 x 13 pyrex dish and put it in the enclosure with a little bit of water in it. If you want you can put some rocks in it for a climbing feature. This kind of setup provides your tortoise with:

  • Provides your tortoise with a water feature to play in
  • Gives your tortoise a way to cool off
  • Is easy to clean up

If you have a large tortoise like our redfoots, then I use a garden tray designed for use with a grow bag. Big Red likes to wade in and then lay out in it (and he often poops in it). You can also decorate this with rocks and even some vegetation (more on that later).

tortoise happy
Big Red in his outdoor pool!

If you keep your tortoise in a terrarium or a tortoise table, then you can make the water feature as elaborate as you want. Depending on the size of your terrarium and how elaborate you want to be, you can:

  • Create an enclosed area with a bed of rocks
  • Set aside a portion of the substrate for a dish option and arrange things around it to make it look natural
  • Construct a narrow creek

Whatever you decide to do, creating a water feature for your tortoise gives their environment a fun, playtime option.

Hunting for Treasure

Hiding some random objects in your tortoise’s living space can be entertaining for you and your tortoise. Tortoises may not observe out-of-place items immediately but they are curious and will eventually discover a bright or unique object that they have not seen before. You can try this with a brightly coloured pebble just make sure it’s too big for them to try and eat.

Just a reminder though, tortoises can be easily scared, so you should probably remove the object if you:

  • Notice your tortoise hiding in the shelter for longer periods than usual
  • Observe your tortoise displaying anxious behaviour

You can try the treasure hunt with a different one after your tortoise is more comfortable.

There is one thing that tortoises are likely never to be afraid of and that is the food they eat. Trying the treasure hunt idea with food is a great way to engage your tortoise and it is a fun event, especially when it discovers the treat you have hidden.

The Treasure Hunt for Food Variation

You can also try a fun variation on the treasure hunt by making it for food. Take two samples of the food your tortoise normally eats and wrap them up in lettuce or kale.

Next put them at separate locations in the enclosure. Now see which one your tortoise goes for. It is a fun little activity and an opportunity for your tortoise to engage in some discretionary decision-making.

I like to hide their favourite food in leaves and then stuff it in a holee roller.

Digging Areas

Tortoises love to dig. It is an instinctive action for them that provides:

  • A way for them to cool off by digging down to the cooler part of the dirt
  • A fun activity
  • A self-made hiding spot

If you have the space in the enclosure or terrarium (maybe on the other side from the pond you just made) try making an area of soft dirt for your tortoise to practice this instinctive behaviour.

If you do this, be sure and monitor the dirt for a couple of things. You simply want it to be moist so that your tortoise can form it into a cave. You do not want it to be:

  • Muddy so that it makes a mess of everything, including your tortoise
  • Dry with the consistency of sand

It is fine for your tortoise to dig in dirt that has these kinds of consistencies, but your tortoise would not be able to form it into anything.

Of course, if you have an outside enclosure that may be a perfect way for your tortoise to practice digging. You can simply take your tortoise to its outside enclosure for a time and then take it back inside with no worries about cleaning up the mess.

Give Your Tortoise Plants and Vegetation

Plantlife in your tortoise’s enclosure can serve a couple of purposes by being a source of both:

  • Food
  • Entertainment

But it can be more than that. Plants that flower can give your tortoise stimulation with the olfactory sense. A variety of strong and pleasing scents can spark your tortoise’s curiosity over the smell. Just before your tortoise eats.

To that point, you want to put plants in your tortoise’s enclosure that are edible for your tortoise and stay away from those that are not. Plants that are safe for your tortoise are:

  • Geraniums
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hibiscus
  • Clematis
  • African Daisies

You can also offer your tortoise rose petals, but not the thorns. Of course, there are many plants that you want to not give your tortoise, including:

  • Sweet pea
  • Poinsettia
  • String of Pearls
  • Nightshade
  • Foxglove
  • Hydrangea
  • Holly
  • Columbine

You also want to keep your tortoise away from Larkspur, Daffodils, Dianthus, Bird of Paradise, Begonias, and Amaryllis.

READ NEXT: 15 Easy Plants to Grow for Tortoises they will Love

The Classic Feedball

The hol-ee roller has been a classic toy for dogs and cats for quite some time. You can actually adopt this for use by your tortoise if you want to. The same idea applies, but your tortoise may not be as vigorous about it as your golden retriever. But it will be no less fun for your reptile provided it does not cause stress.

Here is how you can make it work for your tortoise:

  • Put some food that you normally give your tortoise into the holes in the feed ball
  • Let your tortoise roll the ball around while trying to get the food out

You do not want this to become too hard for your tortoise. If you see your tortoise display signs of stress, then just the food to it. It should be pleasant and mildly challenging for your tortoise. Not annoying. Who is to say that tortoises cannot be playful like dogs and cats. They are just slower about it.

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Should Your Tortoise Have a Playmate?

Generally speaking, tortoises are not good playmates for one another. Some species have been known to tolerate one another, but that can change when mating instincts kick in. Males in particular are not good combinations. They can fight and have been known to hurt one another, flipping each other over. A tortoise cannot stay on its back for long.

Females are not as eager to roll up the sleeves but they are not companionable either. Tortoises are typically happy being on their own, only-pet, as it were. If you do have two tortoises you will need to keep these things in mind:

  • Monitor them closely to be sure they do not fight
  • Only consider having more than one tortoise if you have the space to keep them separate

So, in general, your tortoise will not be happy or remotely entertained by having another tortoise around. Tortoises do not play well with others.

Fortunately, they have a great time by themselves, and you have an entire list of options for play activities and toys to keep your tortoise physically active and mentally engaged.

Show Us Your Happy Tortoise

You have taken on the responsibility of caring for a tortoise. They are amazing creatures that deserve every opportunity to be happy and healthy. I’ve provided some ideas in this blog post about what you can do to keep your pet feeling content, but it is important to remember they will also need care from you as well.

Make sure their habitat stays clean with fresh water and food at all times. Do not forget to change their bedding often too because even though tortoises may seem like they don’t move much, they still produce waste like any other animal! If you try these ideas we would love to hear how things go for you so don’t forget to tag us on social media with #lifewithpets. You never know, we may feature your on our pages!

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