California Breeders Union California Breeders Union

Leopard Tortoise Care Sheet

Leopard Tortoise hatchling care sheet


Much like a young dog, bird or human baby tortoises require a little more pampering than an adult.

For the first 2-3 years you want to house your new tortoise indoors. Sunning outside in good weather for a few hours is ok (with adequate protection from predators and from overheating). Never leave a baby tortoise outside overnight or in extreme cold or heat. Never leave a baby tortoise outside unprotected from predators (including birds) or without adequate reprieve from the sun.


Keeping your hatchling tortoise in an enclosure with 78-84° fahrenheit as an ambient temperature is ideal. Much cooler than this, even overnight will invite problems. 

You will also want to provide a localized basking area of around 95-100°F.

Remember thermostats and temperature guns are your friend and worth the money.

Humidity & hydration

Tortoises spend the bulk of their younger years in burrows, leaf litter and detritus. These are all humid microhabitats and absolutely necessary for proper hydration which is a prerequisite for healthy shell formation.

You want to use minimal ventilation in your enclosure, so as to retain humidity. Finding a balancing act of 75%+ sustained humidity while having fairly dry surface areas is the sweet spot. If your substrate is soggy, wet or saturated your tortoise will suffer. Avoid materials in the enclosure prone to fungal and bacterial growth (like grapewood for instance). Stick with coco fiber, cypress mulch or peat for the substrate choices.

A layer of leaf litter, a drainage layer below, live plants etc …. Are all optional.

Giving your tortoise a dark, small area with slightly elevated humidity is ideal. Hide boxes with sphagnum moss, cork bark flats set as lean to's can accomplish this.

Soaking your tortoise in shallow tepid water, ideally in direct sunlight as frequently as every day will aid in hydration as well as defecation. This should be done at an absolute minimum twice per week regardless if natural sunlight is an option due to weather. A soak on the kitchen counter is superior to a skipped hydration session. A consistent schedule of twice per week will result in less than ideal growth and condition. So don't consistently lean into the minimum. Daily is ideal.


The days of glass cages with screen tops are behind us. They may be suitable for some species, but drafty dry cages are a big reason why so many Tortoises developed pyramided growth. Chronic dehydration is going to happen, despite your best efforts to combat it in this kind of cage. So don't fight the wind, instead choose a suitable cage.

Plastic cages handle the humidity best, and most plastic cage manufacturers will accommodate a request to make a cage without ventilation.

If you're repurposing a plastic cage with ventilation, simply cover it. Something as simple as packing tape will work, albeit not particularly attractive.


Heat can be provided by under tank or radiant heat panels for ambient warmth.

Basking is best done with an incandescent heat bulb, zoomed makes a reliable product.

UV: uv radiation is necessary for proper calcium uptate. A T5 10.0 bulb is in my opinion the best option. There are newer products which may, in time, prove superior… but I'll let other people prove those manufacturers right or wrong before gambling with my animals. I've done this long enough to see many new and exciting developments in husbandry and nutrition prove to be less effective than projected all the way down to harmful.


Constant access to calcium is necessary. A cuttlebone is an inexpensive, easily accessible option for most people. I go through a substantial amount of calcium so I make my own calcium blocks. There are tutorials online for this. Its simple and inexpensive.

Multivitamin and mineral supplements. There is a medley of options on the market, few scientifically backed or tested. I suspect most vitamin supplements are safe and effective. I do know that repashy has a real animal nutritionist on his team assisting in development. I routinely rotate between options so as to not lean into any one supplement which may be lacking or including a potentially problematic ingredient. I supplement my tortoises food with multivitamins weekly as adults and twice per week for hatchlings. I would personally suggest buying 3 options and just rotating between them.


Feed daily. Remove yesterday's food daily. Keep the enclosure clean and tidy.

Weeds are your friend. Grass, dandelion, clover etc… are all good nutritious food for a tortoise. So long as the source hasn't been sprayed with pesticides feel free to use as much as you like.

Store bought produce: spring mix, romaine, green leaf and red leaf lettuce are all fine staple ingredients. Focus on dark leafy greens. Occasional parboiled root vegetables and winter squashes are fine. Opuntia is a good nutritious staple as well.

Things to avoid: no fruit ever, spinach, iceberg lettuce and things like broccoli should never be fed.

Foods I personally wouldn't suggest feeding, and may cause long term health problems if fed often... But won't necessarily kill your tortoise are brassica vegetables: kale, mustard, broccoli, brussel sprouts etc...

Manufactured food: i use mazuri once per week. It is supplemented and safe to use, but a bit rich in protein to feed more often than once per week. Soaking it in cold water until soft is the best way to use it. It will turn to mush in hot water.

Dry grasses: once large enough dry timothy and orchard grass can be a suitable long term staple food.