What are the Best Tortoise Substrates [Indoor & Outdoors]

The selection of a tortoise substrate for the enclosure sometimes causes keepers anxiety since some are excellent while others are highly dangerous.

Knowing which substrates are suitable for your tortoise and which are not may alleviate any worries you may have.

Your substrate selection should be determined by the tortoise’s species, enclosure configuration, ambient humidity, and temperature.

An insufficient substrate might result in shell rot, respiratory infections, dehydration, and finally impaction in your tortoise.

As a result, providing your pet tortoise with the greatest tortoise substrate is critical to their health and well-being.

What are Tortoise Substrates?

When your turtle emerges from the egg, it is in continual contact with the earth, almost as if it were hooked to it.

A critical element to consider when selecting a substrate is that not all substrates retain the same amount of moisture.

For example, clay and woodland substrates hold more moisture than sand and dry substrates.

This feature affects your pet tortoise’s health since damp surfaces promote shell rot in species native to dry habitats.

Rain forest animals housed on dry substrates might get dehydrated, which is why it is critical to select the appropriate substrate for your pet species.

Additionally, it would be best to offer a dry environment for your tortoise to avoid shell rot.

Substrates employed by burrowing organisms should facilitate this behavior.

Burrowing is necessary for some self-regulatory activities, and placing your tortoise in a substrate devoid of this might result in health problems such as dehydration, resulting in bladder stones.

Temperature regulation and stability are other critical parts of your tortoise’s existence, dependent on the amount and kind of substrate used.

Due to the huge quantity of the substrate in nature, fluctuations in its temperature are small.

Therefore, you must offer ample substrate in their habitat to facilitate burrowing and hibernating.

The Best Substrate for Tortoises

In my opinion, the zoo med eco earth coconut fiber substrate is the greatest tortoise substrate.

It is an excellent solution if you like to provide a more natural environment for your pet.

It is beneficial not only to your pet tortoise but also to all reptiles, invertebrates, and amphibians.

It is adaptable and may be made moist to meet the needs of your tortoise, particularly little ones who require increased hydration.

Coconut husks are used to create this coconut fiber substrate. Apart from serving as a tortoise substrate, it may also be a filler for potted plants in gardens.

When you ask another pet owner for a recommendation for a suitable substrate that would be ideal for your tortoise, the most frequently recommended and trusted substrates are the following:

  1. Fibre of coconut

Coconut fiber is a naturally occurring fiber derived from coconut husk. Coir is the fibrous fiber between the coconut’s tough interior shell and its outer covering. It is naturally odor- and waste-product-absorbing and degrading.

  1. Cypress

Cypress mulch is composed of once-live plant materials and is placed on the soil surface to avoid erosion, weed germination, and dehydration.

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Cypress mulch substrates can absorb moisture, helping to keep the tortoise cage wet. This substrate is appropriate for tortoise species that live in tropical climates.

  1. The moss

Mosses are little flowerless plants that grow in dense green clusters or mats in wet or shaded environments.

They absorb water and nutrients mostly through their leaves and use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into food.

  1. Topsoil made entirely of organic matter

The topsoil is the soil’s uppermost layer (2-8 inches) composed of organic matter and minerals.

This is the soil layer that contains the majority of the plant nutrients.

Organic food does not include pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage, genetically modified components, or ionizing radiation.

  1. Shavings of Aspen

Aspen Shavings are odorless hardwood shavings that contain no fragrant oils.

The very absorbent shavings are perfect for reptiles with delicate respiratory systems.

  1. Bark of the Orchid

These substrates are easily available at your neighborhood garden center. As with coconut coir, they retain moisture effectively and are an excellent water source for your pet.

However, unlike coconut coir, they do not accumulate dust and are less prone to bother your pet’s eyes when dry.

Maintain sufficient moisture in them to maintain an optimal humidity level in the enclosure.

Best Tortoise Substrates

Tortoise Substrates Occasionally Used

Additionally, some turtle keepers utilize the following substrates that are not typically recommended:

  1. Carpets made of reptiles

While it may be OK to use this for a little while or as a temporary solution for your tortoise, it can get quite unclean and host a lot of bacteria.

Additionally, this eliminates the tortoise’s ability to borrow.

  1. Hemp Pillowcases

Although the material is mostly used as bedding for horses, it has lately been utilized with small animals and has grown in popularity.

Numerous pieces with extremely sharp tips and sufficient power to create deep-penetrating cuts are possible.

Additionally, we feel that its effectiveness in producing microclimates is subpar.

  1. Newspaper Pillowcases

You may use shredded paper instead of regular newspaper in their cage to allow them to hide.

However, as a substrate, we will say no, as they enjoy digging into the earth.

Additionally, it will become quite mushy if it is even slightly drenched in water.

If you have a sick tortoise, you may use shredded paper to replace it quickly and efficiently.

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  1. Substrate of hay

Hay is not an ideal substrate for tortoises since it molds rapidly when wet and does not survive long.

Some tortoise caretakers said they had had no problems utilizing hay as a substrate.

Hay may be incorporated into a varied diet.

Dangerous Tortoise Substrates

Following that are the harmful substrates to your tortoise and should be avoided.

One reason you should avoid these goods is that they can induce intestinal impaction, ocular irritation, are potentially poisonous, and cause injury:

  1. Bark/Shavings of pine or cedar

Pine and cedar have an aroma due to volatile oils, which may be extremely hazardous when burned.

They create poisonous vapors, which the tortoise cannot escape in a restricted environment.

These materials are mostly utilized in plant gardens due to their resistance to fleas, moths, and bacteria.

  1. Shells of walnuts

Ground walnut shells are a hazard to tortoises and other reptiles.

It’s composed of multiple little, sharp cubes, much like shattered safety glass.

It can become lodged in his digestive system and possibly injure his insides when swallowed.

  1. Pellets of Alfalfa

As these substrates feature a high protein content, ensure that your tortoise does not aggressively consume them.

When moist, materials of this class rapidly get moldy.

They degrade rapidly when exposed to dampness, collect a variety of “leaves” from your pet, and are typically difficult to clean.

Additionally, they can be extremely dehydrating and linked to fungal eye and respiratory infections.

  1. Ordinary Sand

Never put sand in your tortoise’s enclosure, as some tortoises consume these substrates and cause gastrointestinal problems as a result.

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Impacts can be challenging to address and are occasionally deadly.

Although this is not always the case, local pet stores frequently sell special substrates that are marketed as ‘perfect’ for tortoises and turtles. None of these ‘commercial’ substrates are recommended.

A Guide to Choosing a Substrate for Tortoises A Guide to Choosing a Substrate for Tortoises A Guide to Choosing a Substrate

I believe that when it comes to turtle substrates, they are frequently disregarded and do not appear to be as critical as lighting or sheltering a tortoise.

The incorrect substrate might be fatal.

According to some reports, utilizing the incorrect substrate might result in the tortoise’s death.

A Substrate That Is Compatible with Your Tortoise’s Species

Thus, it is important to select the appropriate substrate for the tortoise species you possess.

Because tortoises originate from all over the world, they come from various settings and diets.

There are tropical animals that live in an extremely humid environment and require a high-protein diet. Mediterranean species live in a relatively dry climate and require very little protein.

The substrate should be of the proper composition, much more so when blending common substrates with those not suitable for use alone.

The varied substrates provide varying degrees of moisture.

Because clay-based substrates retain more moisture than sand-based substrates, tropical tortoises require a more wet substrate than Mediterranean species.

The Appropriate Quantity of Substrate

When adding substrate to the floor of your tortoise habitat, ensure that it is sufficient to cover the whole surface and is at least half an inch thick.

This assures the safety and health of your pet.

Whichever setting you choose for your pet tortoise, be sure to keep their vivarium dry.

If they are wounded or unhealed from shedding, excessive moisture leaves them prone to infection. In general, the substrate you choose is determined by the species of turtle you have.

If You Own a Tortoise Baby

It is permissible to have more moisture when it comes to newborn tortoises.

It would be best if you attempted to soak them twice daily since they do require adequate moisture at this point.

When properly soaked, they consume part of the water, which helps keep them hydrated and healthy.

If your Tortoise Requires Moderate to High Humidity

You should select a substrate capable of retaining moisture for extended periods.

Sphagnum moss, coconut coir, and peat moss are all examples of such substrates.

Avoid using sand, pine shavings, and cedar ships as substrates since they become poisonous when heated, and sand can cause an impaction on your pet.

If You Wish to Keep Your Tortoise Outside

It makes no difference what sort of substrate you use.

This is because the natural outside environment will meet your tortoise’s requirements.

If you want to create a more pleasant and home-like atmosphere for your pet, adding some peat moss will help.

Ascertain that your surroundings are chemical-free and that the substrate is also chemical-free.

Substrate for Outdoor Tortoises

Many tortoise keepers also keep their pets outside in lawns and gardens, which are very damp and might cause shell rot in Mediterranean species; however, if you keep them outside, they will require grazing areas, which can be beneficial for species such as leopard tortoises and sulcatas.

Tortoises must also have the ability to dig shallow holes if they so want.

This contributes to creating a microclimate within their cage and helps avoid dehydration, which can result in health problems.

They dig down not just to regulate their temperature but also to manage their fluid loss, which is why you must locate bedding that enables them to do so.

The most critical aspect of any habitat is that it has the least amount of ground moisture possible; therefore, ensuring that the outside habitat has appropriate drainage to keep the ground dry should be a top priority.

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When deciding to design an outdoor tortoise habitat for your tortoise, you may save time by eliminating dirty bedding substrate and droppings.

Always keep an eye out for elevation changes within the ecosystem. Dirt piles can form if they are not already existing, so ensure that dirt is redistributed to create an uneven surface.

Given the diversity of tortoises, it’s evident that you’ll need various substrates for each species.

Additionally, ensure that the tortoise cage is free of ditches. Stones and boulders are other materials that may produce height variations.

As much as tortoises enjoy burrowing, they also enjoy climbing, so you may incorporate climbable elements throughout the habitat.

Substrate for Indoor Tortoises

The habitat’s bedding can be made up of various materials and requires more frequent care.

Daily examination and cleaning should involve the removal of indecent material and substrate replacement, as well as refilling the water dish and food.

This procedure can be repeated daily and several times a week for the whole enclosure.

To replicate the tortoise’s native habitat, you should elevate the bedding within the cage by pressing it into mounds.

In an indoor tortoise habitat, attempt to create one to three mounds, one of which should be adjacent to the heat light and serve as a basking spot.

Suggestions for Tortoise Substrate

Maintain an adequate level of heating with temperature ranges that permit thermoregulation.

Provide enough hydration within the enclosure via water bowls, spraying, and humid hides.

Utilize dishes to keep food off the substrate.

On a paper towel or reptile mat, place the babies/hatchlings.

Enhance natural activities like climbing, sunbathing, and foraging by providing furnishings.

Keep an eye out for mites and mold development on the substrate.

When bedding is used for horses or small animals, it should be filtered and sharp parts removed.

Questions Frequently Asked About Tortoise Substrates

Tortoises: Do They Require A Substrate?

Yes, they require something to burrow into to maintain their body temperature.

What Kind Of Substrate Should A Tortoise Have?

A tortoise’s recommended substrate depth is around 2 inches.

The quantity of sand in the mixture should be raised for desert tortoise species and lowered for humid tortoise species.

How deep should the substrate for tortoises be?

Anywhere between 2 and 12 inches is OK.

Is Sand A Suggestion For Tortoise?

If consumed, sand causes impaction and can be fatal to your tortoise.

If you must use sand, utilize digestible sand or a mixture of digestible sand and other suitable substrates.

Tortoises Can Survive On Sawdust

Sawdust is not a healthy diet for your tortoise because, like sand, it can induce impaction.

Additionally, it is very explosive and quite dusty.

Which Substrate Is Best For Hermann Tortoises?

Hermann tortoises are burrowers and require a substrate conducive to burrowing.

They thrive on orchid bark, shredded aspen, powdered coconut, and cypress mulch as substrates.

Consider the following when selecting a substrate: it should be easy to clean and ideal for digging.

Is it Possible for a Tortoise to Consume Substrate?

Yes, but there will be no impaction as long as he is well hydrated.

How To Create A Substrate For A Tortoise

While most people like mixing different substrates, the most typical method is to purchase some topsoil and some play sand and combine them.

Which Tortoise Substrate Is Sufficient For Hibernation?

When it comes to hibernating tortoises, coco coir is an excellent choice.

How Frequently Should I Replace My Tortoise Substrate?

As long as the substrate is spot cleaned, it may last an extremely long period without changing.


The usage of a substrate is critical for providing a safe and healthy habitat for your pet tortoise.

Because the tortoise’s lifestyle is adapted to its native habitat, presenting him with a comparable setting would increase his happiness and health.

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