Can You Own A Pet Tortoise or Turtle? Is It Legal?

Do Tortoise and Turtle make good pets? A lot of individuals think that Tortoise and Turtle are an easy choice when it comes to pet animals. These lazy, laid-back reptiles don’t seem dangerous and, therefore, a common choice amongst pet enthusiasts. But is it really a good idea?

Tortoises and Turtles make good pets but only for the right individuals. For pet enthusiasts who are well aware and prepared, they can prove rewarding. However, for novice pet keepers and irresponsible individuals, keeping Tortoises and Turtles isn’t a thoughtful decision. Small turtles are often mistreated and mishandled, which leads to untimely death amongst them. Therefore, until and unless you are sure and ready, do bring home a pet Tortoise or Turtle out of fun. You might take it an easy way, but making the poor animal suffer is extremely inhumane.

Difference between a Tortoise and a Turtle

All Tortoises are Turtles, but not all Turtles are Tortoises. Confusing? Come, let’s learn more about it.

Tortoises and Turtles are reptiles that confuse humans the most. A lot of individuals use their names and references interchangeably. They do have a similar appearance but a different classification.

Both Tortoise and Turtle belong to the same kingdom, phylum, class, and order but different families, genera, and species. The former belongs to the Testudinidae family, while the latter span an array of families.

Upon looking and studying closely, one can observe how distinct the behavior of these reptiles possess. There are multiple critical differences that classify Tortoise and Turtle as different reptiles. Come, let’s shed some light on the same.

  • The Tortoise is an exclusive land creature. In contrast, Turtles can be Box Turtles, Wood Turtles, Water Turtles, Land Turtles, or more.
  • Tortoises are herbivorous and vegetarian, whereas Turtles are omnivorous.
  • Tortoises are found in Asia, Africa, and America, whereas Turtles are found in Africa and America only.
  • The shells of tortoises are large and dome-shaped, whereas turtles have mainly flat, streamlined shells.
  • Tortoises have a long life span of 80 to 150 years, whereas Turtles live 20 to 40 years.
Can You Own A Pet Tortoise or Turtle

Tortoise and Turtle Species Taxonomy

NameTortoiseTurtle
Other NamesTurtle, Chelonian, Cooter, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Slowpoke, Snapper, Terrapin TestudinalTortoise, Chelonian, Cooter, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Slowpoke, Snapper, Terrapin Testudinal
Scientific NamesTestudinidaeTestudines
KingdomAnimaliaAnimalia
PhylumChordataChordata
ClassReptiliaReptilia
OrderTestudines (a.k.a., Chelonii)Testudines (a.k.a., Chelonii)
FamilyTestudinidaeCarettochelyidae (pig-nosed turtle), Dermatemydidae (Central American river turtles), Emydidae (pond/water turtles), and more
HabitatLandLand and Water both
DistributionAmericas, Africa, and AsiaAmerica and Africa
ClimateTropical and sub-tropicalTropical and sub-tropical
Size15 to 60 cm in length and 100 lbs or more in weight (depending upon species0.3 feet to 6 feet in length and 100 lbs to 2000 lbs weight (depending upon species)
Lifespan80 to 150 years20 to 40 years

Is It Legal To Keep Tortoise/ Turtle as A Pet?

The rights of keeping a Tortoise or Turtle as a pet vary from State to State and Country to Country. Different authorities have different sets of rules for possessing or trading a Tortoise or Turtle. The authorities that even allow it would make the responsible individual go through a licensing process.

Also, for keeping pets like Tortoise or Turtle, the owner must have a certificate of ownership. This document will help in case of traveling or presenting the animal in front of any authorities.

Is Tortoise/ Turtle legal in Canada?

Under provincial and federal law, posing, capturing, harming, harassing, killing or trading Tortoise/ Turtle is strictly illegal. The Canadian government ban’s any kind of possessing of the following Turtles:

  • Leatherback Sea Turtle
  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle
  • Spotted Turtle
  • Blanding’s Turtle
  • Western Painted Turtle
  • Eastern Musk Turtle
  • Wood Turtle

Is Tortoise/ Turtle legal in Australia?

It is illegal to capture or possess a Tortoise/ Turtle in Australia, except in the states of Tasmania and Western Australia.

Even everywhere else in the country, except in the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia, individuals have to obtain a license from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) first before bringing home a pet Tortoise/ Turtle.

Besides that, capturing a Tortoise/ Turtle from the wild in Australia is strictly restricted. Even the export of reptiles is only allowed for dead specimens from approved sources.

No one can trade live reptiles outside of the country in any manner. In addition, pet shops and private parties can neither engage in a reptile (Tortoise/ Turtle) trade nor can they advertise about the same.

Is Tortoise/ Turtle legal in the United Kingdom?

In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to sell or import any wild-caught protected species of tortoises and turtles. One can only sell or buy captive animals bred from parental stock in their care. Besides that, an Article 10 Certificate is required from Defra for engaging in any activity regarding these reptiles.

Is Tortoise/ Turtle legal in the U.S.?

Regulations for posing, capturing, or trading Tortoises/ Turtles in the United States are managed by federal, state, and local laws. In some States and Counties, the authorities may allow keeping these reptiles without any license. Whereas in other, possessing them in any way might land you in legal trouble. 

For instance, in South Dakota and North Carolina, no individual can own, capture, sell, offer to sell, harm, harras, or kill Tortoises/ Turtles. Whereas in many other U.S. States, humans can involve in any kind of activities for Tortoises/ Turtles, given the reptile’s shell measures more than 6 inches. 

Do Tortoises/ Turtles Make Good Pets?

Tortoises/ Turtles are a popular choice amongst pet enthusiasts, given these reptiles make good pets. They are cute, quiet, and shy and do not cause any trouble for their owner. Someone who have already kept fishes before can manage it the very easy way with Tortoises/ Turtles. 

Can you have Tortoises/ Turtles as pets?

Yes, if it is legal in your country, you can definitely keep a pet Tortoise/ Turtle. However, since these hearty and easy-to-care-for reptiles have a longer life span, having them is a huge commitment.

Before you bring them home, ensure you are ready to keep a Turtle along for at least 20 years. And in the case of Tortoise, be ready to have them around until life. Your pet Tortoise may even survive double your lifetime.

However, in case Tortoises/ Turtles are illegal in your region, avoid possessing them, or you may end up in legal trouble, possibly jail.

Tortoise/ Turtle Housing Needs

Tortoise: A Tortoise is a strictly land animal that needs a significant area to explore, bathe, eat, relax, and sleep. There is a common misconception that these reptiles do not need much space, but the reality is far different.

For housing smaller Tortoise, an 8ft X 4ft (244cm X 122cm) enclosure is a perfect fit. However, as and when the reptile gets bigger, increasing the enclosure size becomes crucial.

(Some Tortoises grow extremely slow or not at all). There are several Tortoise enclosures available in the market you can invest in. Also, Tortoise must live in a temperate environment; thus, it is necessary to maintain that in their enclosure.

NOTE: Avoid allowing your pet Tortoise to roam around in the house freely. Temperature too hot or too cold makes the poor reptile suffer.

Turtle: Your pet Turtle’s enclosure must contain both dry land and aquatic space. Their enclosure must hold at least 40 gallons of water. You can also add some small plant features, given they are not poisonous.

Tortoise/ Turtle Temperature and Humidity Needs

The ideal temperature for housing a Tortoise is 65- and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (for Nighttime) and 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (For daytime). The ideal Humidity level for most Tortoises is 50% to 60%. However, some of them might also enjoy humidity between 70% to 100%.

Whereas the ideal temperature and humidity for housing Turtle,

Eastern: 75 to 85 Degree Fahrenheit (for daytime) and above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (for nighttime). Humidity between 60% to 80% 

Ornate: 70 to 90 Degree Fahrenheit (for daytime) and above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (for nighttime). Humidity between 30% to 60%.

Three-Toed: 70 to 90 Degree Fahrenheit (for daytime) and above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (for nighttime). Humidity between 50% to 80%.

Gulf Coast: 70 to 90 Degree Fahrenheit (for daytime) and above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (for nighttime). Humidity between 70% to 90%.

Florida: 70 to 90 Degree Fahrenheit (for daytime) and above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (for nighttime). Humidity between 70% to 90%

Malayan: 70 to 80 Degree Fahrenheit (for daytime) and above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (for nighttime). Humidity between 75% to 90%. 

Chinese Three Striped: 68 to 82 Degree Fahrenheit (for daytime) and above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (for nighttime). Humidity between 75% to 90%

Keeled: 72 to 85 Degree Fahrenheit (for daytime) and above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (for nighttime). Humidity between 75% to 95%

Flower back and Yellow Margined: 68 to 82 Degree Fahrenheit (for daytime) and above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (for nighttime). Humidity between 75% to 90%; Substrate: moist; Water: shallow wading area.

Tortoise/ Turtle Dietary Needs

Tortoises are interesting pets but with few challenging dietary habits. Their diet should focus on high Calcium, high fiber, low sugar, low fat, low protein, low phosphorus, and low oxalate.

The main bulk of their diet must contain greens, flowers, vegetables, and fruits. You can also add other leafy greens like dandelions, mustard greens, or even hibiscus flowers as well. 

Depending upon their size, some tortoises might need a large amount of food. For more specific dietary information, do consult your nearest Vet for the specific species you own.

On the other hand, Turtles are slightly easier when it comes to dietary needs. You can feed them a variety of food items, including cooked turkey, cooked chicken, beef, etc. Or they can also digest live moths, crickets, shrimp, krill, feeder fish, and worms. Mostly all Turtles are Carnivorous, and the crucial part of their diet should include Calcium. 

Tortoise/ Turtle Cleaning Needs

A lukewarm water bath for both Tortoise and Turtle once in a while is a must. It helps in cleaning dust and bacteria from their skin and ensuring hydration. A bath also helps these reptiles in passing waste.

In addition, cleaning the reptile tank at least once in 20 to 30 days is a must. Allowing the pet to live in a dirty enclosure can result in their bad health and reduced life span.

Common Health Problems with Tortoises/ Turtles

Tortoises are prone to a number of health conditions. Some of the common health problems these reptiles suffer from include,

Malnutrition and Dehydration, Respiratory Ailments, Parasitic Infections, Vitamin and other Mineral deficiency, and Bone diseases.

On the other hand, Turtles may suffer from common health problems like parasite infection, vitamin A deficiency, respiratory diseases, abscesses, shell infections, and shell fractures.

How Much Does a Tortoise/ Turtle Cost?

A pet Tortoise may cost you anywhere between $250 to $1000. The purchasing cost likely depends upon the reptile species, size, age, and from where you are buying. 

On the other hand, a pet Turtle may cost you $10 to $40 (from a pet shop or adoption shelter). Or, in case you go to a breeder, the reptile may cost anywhere between $50 to $100.

Where To Buy a Tortoise/ Turtle? Where To Find a Tortoise/ Turtle Breeder?

There are plenty of pet shops and breeders in the United States who deals in the Tortoise and Turtle trade. The most common amongst them is PetSmart. Or, in case you want to choose from a variety of options, Arizona Tortoise Compound is one excellent place to checkout. The Turtle Source, too, have an array of choices for pet Tortoise and Turtle. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of owning a pet Tortoise/ Turtle

List of Advantages

  • Tortoises/ Turtles are quiet and do not need much attention.
  • Tortoises/ Turtles are slow, and thus unlike many exotic pets, they would be less likely to escape.
  • Tortoises/ Turtles are hypoallergenic.
  • Tortoises/ Turtles are non-demanding, and keeping them is just a side hustle.
  • Tortoises/ Turtles do not make any kind of noises or mess.
  • With a healthy life given, both Tortoises/ Turtles do not fall ill easily.

List of Disadvantages

  • Tortoises/ Turtles need a huge space for their habitat/ enclosure.
  • Tortoises/ Turtles need a climatically controlled enclosure.
  • Tortoises/ Turtles have a long life span, and thus they are not good as short-term pets. 
  • Tortoises/ Turtles are not meant for holding and cuddling.
  • Teaching any kind of tricks and habits to them is the most difficult part.
  • Tortoises/ Turtles are not the ideal pet for keeping along with dogs and cats.

Fun and Interesting Tortoises/ Turtles Facts

  1. Turtles and tortoises aren’t the same reptiles.
  2. An adult Turtle can weigh even more than 1000lbs.
  3. Turtles live all over the world in different climatic conditions and varied ecosystems.
  4. Tortoises have very small brains.
  5. Tortoises have been around the world for over 55 million years.
  6. Turtle shells can consist of 60 interconnected bones.
  7. Turtles can hold their breath for long and even empty their lungs.
  8. It is difficult to find the gender of Tortoises and Turtles.

Frequently Asked Questions

 Do Tortoises bite?

Whenever a Tortoise feels threatened or is ready to mate, the reptile might bite. Their bite, under some circumstances, can prove extremely painful and even break through the skin.

Can I kiss my tortoise/ turtle?

No, avoid kissing your pet tortoise/ turtle since this can spread Salmonella germs to your face and mouth. Even after handling these reptiles, it is better to wash your hands with soap nicely.

Can I let my tortoise/ turtle walk around my house?

Never allows your pet tortoise/ turtle to roam around freely in the house. Besides spreading diseases, the poor reptile might get hurt, stuck, lost, or sometimes too cold or hot.

Do tortoises know their name?

Yes, like many pet animals, Tortoises can recognize their name and even their owners/ keepers.

What are some best Tortoise Species for keeping as pets?

  1. Pancake Tortoise
  2. Marginated Tortoise
  3. Kleinmann’s Tortoise/Egyptian Tortoise
  4. Russian Tortoise
  5. Red-Footed Tortoise
  6. Hermann’s Tortoise
  7. Indian Star Tortoise
  8. Sulcata Tortoise/African Spurred Tortoise
  9. Leopard Tortoise
  10. Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise/Greek Tortoise

What are some best Turtle Species for keeping as pets?

  1. Red-eared sliders
  2. African side neck turtles
  3. Eastern box turtles
  4. Western painted turtles
  5. Mississippi map turtles
  6. Common musk turtles (Stinkpot)
  7. Spotted Turtles
  8. Yellow-bellied sliders
  9. Reeve’s turtle
  10. Wood turtle

Wrapping up…

Can I keep a pet Tortoise/ Turtle? Given these reptiles are legal in your region, you can definitely have them as pets. However, before bringing them home, make sure you do detailed research on their lifestyle, daily needs, and more.

Also, do check whether you have any Vet around who is able to and is willing to treat reptiles like tortoises/ Turtle if needed. 

Besides all of that, remember Tortoise/ Turtle is a long-term responsibility. If you are someone who gets bored with commitments easily, these aren’t the right pet for you.

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