Soak the Creep

When people think about tortoises, they often picture a desert creature living in an arid landscape... a thing of sand and sun and scrub.

a desert tortoise strutting his stuff in the sun and sand and scrub

They're not really wrong, but they're also not strictly right. Tortoise hatchlings live in quite humid conditions for the first year or more of their lives, and often longer thanks to the tunnels and burrows they inhabit. 

When captive tortoises grow wrong, it all too often has to do with them not having enough water in their environment, their diet, and their routine.
  • a closed enclosure for hatchlings can make it easy to keep them at an acceptable level of humidity in their early year (aim for 80%), by soaking the substrate and/or misting the tortoise a few times daily
  • spraying the greens they eat, hydrating any kibble they get, and in hot/dry weather giving them water-heavy foods like cucumber or aloe or cactus pads
  • making regular soaking a part of their care
four of my torts enjoying their waterbowls as a pool

I start off hatchlings that I live with daily soaks in Tupperware containers, then gradually move towards three times, then two times, then eventually one time a week. I soak them in warm water and although some of them aren't crazy about it at first, eventually they grow to like it... even seeking out the water bowls I leave in the indoor and outside enclosures between my planned soaks.

Chili getting a babyfood-soak spa treatment

A few of the rescue tortoises that have come to live with me have come in sad shape, as the result of parasitic infections or poor diet or neglect or too much heat in their enclosure... the most common issue all of these poor beasts share is dehydration.

The best way to deal with severe dehydration in a tortoise is a series of long soaks in a warm mixture of water and baby food. I prefer organic babyfoods with one or more of the following ingredients as a principle ingredient: carrot, sweet potato, mango, and banana. Those tend to have a nice balance of vitamins and minerals for the tort to soak in; the hope is that they will drink some and maybe absorb some through their skin (or even their cloaca).

The soaking bath should be warm and just above the join between their plastron and carapace (lower and upper shells). Instead of worrying about how to keep the bath warm enough for them, I just put the whole container in the tortoise's enclosure, near the warm end.

With most tortoises, 30-60 minutes of this type of daily soaking should make a difference in a week. I had one very sick tortoise who just didn't seem to improve... until I increased the length of the soaks to between six and eight hours a day. A few weeks of that and he began eating like a horse and trotting around his enclosure.

Once you're done soaking your tortoise in the water:babyfood mixture, remember to rinse all of the soaking solution off before returning the tortoise to its enclosure to avoid stickiness, mold, or infections.