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Small Tortoise Breeds You Can Keep as Pets

Updated on January 13, 2019

Some may see tortoises as a low maintenance pet, but this does not mean you can easily get one and you will have no problems in raising it.

Tortoises require a variety of things to be happy and healthy. These include the following:

  • Lights for basking
  • Adequately-sized enclosure
  • Plants
  • Rocks
  • Substrate
  • Heater
  • Sprinklers

It is because of these requirements that some people prefer to get small tortoise breeds as their pets. These breeds do not require a big area for their enclosure, which would not require too much space from their home.

Furthermore, these smaller enclosures mean there would be less expenses for heating, cooling, or humidifying it. Here are some small tortoise breeds that you can keep as pets:

Warning - Most tortoise breeds are vulnerable in their natural habitat. Make sure to only get your pet tortoise from legal and responsible breeders. These breeders do not poach from their habitat, which results to the deterioration of their local population.

Aside from environmental concerns, getting a tortoise not bred in captivity increases your risk of disease exposure. These tortoises were illegally acquired and, therefore, have not been screened by the respective government authorities.

Russian Tortoise

The Russian tortoise is widespread in the Central region of Asia. Other names for this breed include the steppe tortoise, the Afghan tortoise, and Horsfield’s tortoise.

Its shell usually has a black or ruddy brown color that fades to yellow on its sides. Its body has a straw yellow and brown coloring. The males have longer tails and claws, while the females have fatter claws.

It has a maximum size range of five to ten inches (13 to 25 centimeters). The females of this breed can grow up to six to ten inches (15 to 25 centimeters). Those raised in captivity have a life span of 20 to 40 years.


  • Vibrant
  • Friendly
  • Responsive

Take note that they can be defensive and shy at first. This is natural as they need some time to get used to a new owner and environment.

Its diet should consist of plant matter that are high in fiber and low in fat. Ideal food choices include dandelions, figs, geraniums, grass, lettuce, plantains, sweet peppers, and violets. It can occasionally feed on chards, carrots, carrot tops, and tomatoes. It mainly gets the water it needs from its diet but there should still be a constant supply in its enclosure.

It requires an indoor or outdoor enclosure of at least around 10 square feet. The enclosure should have walls.

A mixture of hay, sand, soil, gravel, and wood chips closely resembles its natural environment. These materials should not be packed as Russian tortoises have a natural tendency to burrow.

Placing rocks on the sides of the barrier will provide a visual barrier to reduce stress and a climbing area for exercise. If you’re using a glass terrarium, the first five inches should be painted or taped to prevent them from walking through the glass.

The Russian tortoise will do well as long as temperatures do not fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). You can add plants that provide shade. These will give the tortoise areas where they can hide from the sun or basking lamp, and keep themselves cool.

This breed naturally hibernates for two to four months. Because of this, you can only keep it outdoors if you have a winter season. If you plan to keep it indoors, you have to construct a box that will keep it dry, cool, and safe during hibernation.

Russian Tortoise Breed
Russian Tortoise Breed | Source

Greek Tortoise

Greek tortoises are native to North Africa, Southwest Asia, Middle East, and parts of Mediterranean Europe. They are mainly found in grasslands, open forests, rocky hillside, scrub lands, coastal dunes, and fields. This type of tortoise is also known as the common tortoise or the spur-thighed tortoise.

It has a high-domed carapace with an overhead shape between an oblong and rectangle. The shell has markings similar to that of a Greek mosaic at the top with a dark fleck at the center of the underside. Its front legs contain large scales, while its head has large symmetrical markings at the top.

The Greek tortoise can grow up to five to eight inches. However, there are rare sub-species of the tortoise that can grow to 11 inches. It has a life-span of 20 years. If kept and fed well, it can live up to 60 to 100 years.


  • Potential to be aggressive
  • Mellow
  • They prefer to be left alone since handling is stressful for them. If stressed due to handling or inadequate care, their common response is to bite.


Like any tortoise, the Greek tortoise is a herbivore. It prefers a diet of high protein plants like collard greens, fresh parsley, and dandelion greens. It also requires high fiber, which can be obtained from Timothy hay.

You can occasionally feed them with chopped fruits such as apples, raspberries, and strawberries. These should not exceed a tenth of their daily food intake.


The tortoise will do well in outdoor enclosures with a size of 3x6 feet. These enclosures should have edible plants spaced adequately for the tortoise to get sun exposure. For indoor enclosures, the same area will do, but there should be adequate vegetation to reduce stress and encourage a natural behavior.

The Greek tortoise thrive in temperature ranging from 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (35 to 38 degrees Celsius). Since they require a humid environment, you have to periodically spray the enclosure with water on hot days.

The substrate for their enclosure should be a mix of equal parts top soil and play sand. Grass bedding of cypress mulch and grass would help in retaining humidity. However, avoid bedding of cedar and pine because these are toxic to their breed.

Greek Tortoise Breed
Greek Tortoise Breed | Source

Indian Star Tortoise

The Indian star tortoise is native to the dry zones and scrub forests of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Its shell has a high-domed and convex shape. It has yellow or beige markings coming from its chutes that create the characteristic star-like patterns on its black or dark brown shell.

It has a medium-sized head with a hooked beak. Its legs are short and thick. Males have longer tails than the shorter and stubbier tails of female Indian star tortoises.

Females grow up 7 to 8 inches (18-20 cm) in length while males grow only up to 5 or 6 inches (13-15 cm). However, the Indian Star tortoises from Sri Lanka grow up to 15 inches (38 cm) for females and 9 inches (23 cm) for males.

These tortoises generally have a lifespan of 30 to 50 years. But, those in captivity and well-taken care of have been reported to live up to 80 years.


  • Calm
  • Non-aggressive
  • Shy

They do not exhibit territorial behavior. However, handling should be avoided as it causes them stress that can negatively affect their health.

The Indian star tortoise is an herbivore that ate the weeds, flowers, and grasses found in its natural habitat. You can replicate this diet by feeding them fresh salads like florette classic crispy lettuce, Mediterranean lettuce, and lamb’s lettuce. However, never feed them with gem, iceberg, or round lettuce since these are low on nutrients and can easily cause diarrhea.

Broccoli, cabbage, and spinach should never be fed as these can cause kidney, bone, and shell problems. Fruits and herbs can also cause health problems and should be avoided as well.

For older tortoises, you can feed them with fresh grass or moistened hay. You can add up to 20% of their total feed for the day.

Ideally, the enclosure should be outdoors and should have an area of 8 square feet. It should have a wall (which also serves as a visual barrier) of at least 8 inches in height. The enclosure should have shrubs, tall grasses, or bushes that will let them hide and rocks where they can bask.

However, if you do not have the ideal temperature for the tortoise, you can place them in a stock tank or plastic tub enclosure. It should have an area of, at least, 6 square feet. These should also have the proper lighting for basking and the plants for their sense of security.

Indian Star Tortoise Breed
Indian Star Tortoise Breed | Source

The ideal temperature for its enclosure ranges from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 32 degrees Celsius). If you plan to place the enclosure outdoors, nighttime temperatures should exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees C) and should never drop at 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees C) and below.

Its natural habitat experiences a wet and dry season every year. If you live somewhere that has a natural wet season, this should provide an adequate habitat for the Indian star tortoise. But, if not, you can easily replicate a wet season by placing sprinklers in its enclosure. These sprinklers should run for five to ten minutes twice per day.

For its dry season, you can place a heated hide box in an outdoor enclosure. Indoor enclosures should be dry and have low humidity at the ideal enclosure temperature.

Which Tortoise Is for You?

Have you found the right tortoise breed for you? Tell us in the comments below.

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