Something that is often overlooked by tortoise owners is the need for their tortoise to have access to fresh, well ventilated air.
Tortoises require ventilation for exactly the same reasons we do: stale air harbors potential air borne parasites, dust and other irritants to the tortoises eyes and lungs. Poor ventilation also traps humidity and encourages the growth of mould and fungus in the tortoise enclosure.
Having said that, providing ventilation whilst maintaining heat and humidity can be challenging, especially with tropical tortoises. Whilst you take steps to ensure your tortoise enclosure is adequately ventilated, you should consider how doing so may adversely affect your heating and humidity strategies.
Ventilation in Vivariums
Vivariums are a very popular way of housing tortoises, however of the two types of indoor tortoise enclosure commonly used, they are the more enclosed design. You should therefore keep in mind a few important caveats if you do choose to use one.
Firstly you shouldn’t experience any issue with a commercially made vivarium that is specially designed for tortoises, as this will be built with adequate ventilation in mind, typically in the form of vents in the walls.
Tropical tortoises in particular are suited to vivariums because they favor hotter and more humid conditions, both of which are easier to achieve in the enclosed space of a vivarium.
Sub tropical and mediterranean species can survive perfectly well in these conditions too, however they require less generalised heat and humidity, instead benefitting from the temperature gradient of a heat lamp in an open enclosure, and something like moss placed within their hide to provide a humid enclosed space, much like their burrows in the wild.
If you do use a vivarium it is good practice to open it once or twice a day (as you would normally to provide food and water anyway) as this effectively ‘flushes out’ any stale air in the tank and replaces it with fresh air.
You should also pay particular attention to the cleanliness of the tank, because, as mentioned previously, the enclosed space traps humidity and potentially encourages the growth of mould that can cause the tortoise health issues if left to grow.
Ventilation in Tortoise Tables
For the sake of the slight reduction in the health risks associated with poor ventilation, I would recommend a tortoise table be used for sub tropical tortoises, as again they do not require the same degree of heat and humidity that a vivarium is apt to provide.
Of course if you have young inquisitive children, or other pets such as cats, an open topped tortoise table isn’t a great idea, in which case a vivarium or tortoise table with a removable lid is going to be more suitable option.
With a tortoise table you don’t need to worry about ‘opening up’ the enclosure at points throughout the day to introduce fresh air, as the enclosure is effectively in such a state permanently.
This isn’t to say you can be lazy about cleaning out a tortoise table however, the same rules apply with regard to cleanliness with tortoise tables as vivariums.
Of course the best place of all for your tortoise to reap the benefits of a well ventilated environment is the great outdoors. Not only does living outdoors inevitably mean your tortoise has more room and will feel more satisfied with life, but it also means they have access to the freshest air of all.
Being outdoors is the most natural place for a tortoise to be, so an outdoor enclosure coupled with an indoor section, complete with heating and a humid hide, will provide optimal conditions for almost any tortoise.