13 Year Old Sulcata in Need of TLC

Thor's Mommy

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I have a Sulcata I got as a tiny baby. I used to take care of him really well, but then I had a couple of kids and now he doesnt get nearly as much attention. I really need to take better care of him, but I am lost on a few things. He is 13 years old, about 30 pounds and we litve on the central coast of California.

1. I used to "feed him too well" I was told by an expert once and his shell started pyramiding. I fed him almost all store bought veggies as much as he could eat. He grew really fast and started getting bumpy until he was about 2 or 3 years old. Then I realized he needed more fiber. I started letting him graze on grass as much as possible then gave him a bunch of store bought veggies once per week. This slowed down his growth and made his poops look better (all grassy). Then we moved to a house when he was about 6 years old and he got a nice big backyard. We put in a lawn for him, a prickly pear cactus, and a fig tree. He ate the lawn down right away, the prickly pear cactus is still really small so he doesnt get to eat it much, but he does get a fig ocassionally. I also still supliment with a weekly feeding of veggies...usually 1 head of romain lettuce, 2 heads of broccoli and a cucumber. This is how it's been for the past 7 ish years.

My problem is he doesn't have enough to eat since his grass can't grow (he probably gets a little bit but he keeps it so short), and I am afraid to feed him too many veggies from the store because of the pyramiding. We have him fenced in his area and give him the lawn trimmings from the other areas but this is only about 2 cubic feet of grass every 2 or 3 weeks...and less right now since it's winter. I tried giving him some course grass hay bails. He ate some, but didn't seem really interested. He has a huge appetite but I don't know where to get more grass.

I have been told grass should be the bulk of his diet, is this correct? and where can I get it? And is weekly store bought veggies still a good idea?

2. Question two, is there anything I can do about the past pyramiding? Does it hurt him now?...don't think there is anything I can do but thought I would check.

3. Question three, can I get him a friend? He loves company, but as i said, i dont get to spend much time with him anymore. He is a male, however he had to get his penis amputated a couple years ago. :-( He used to drag it in the dirt and it tore once. The vet tried to repair it but ultimately ended up removing it completely. Do you think it would frustrate him if I put a female in there with him? I'm worried they will fight if I give him a male friend. Or is he better off alone?

Thank you all so much for your help! I want to be a better Thor Mommy. :-(
 

yillt

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Hello and welcome. It's great that you've come as their are a few improvements to be made. First of all, I would say a definite no to adding a female as fighting is inevitable even when he has had 'an amputation.' If you're finding there is not enough food with one tort, then if you buy another they will be two VERY hungry tortoises living with you. Secondly, the pyramiding doesn't hurt him and if he lives outside and is fully grown there's not much you can do now. Grass is very important but there are many other veggies he can also eat. I'm so glad you've come and very soon lots of other people will come with plenty more advice. Good luck to you and your sully.
 

SarahChelonoidis

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You are in luck, as this forum has some incredibly knowledgeable sulcata keepers as part of the active membership.

Have you read through the 'stickies' pinned at the top of the sulcata section? Some of your questions are answered there. Many people supplement adult sulcata diets with hays of various kinds. It sounds like your diet needs an overhaul. There are lots of great ideas for diet in this section though.

He sounds small for his age. Photos of the tortoise will help experienced keepers gauge the degree of pyramiding.

What are your winters like? Are you in a climate that requires winter heat? How do you manage that?
 

Markw84

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Welcome to the forum. You have come to the right place.

First, please take the time to read the postings pinned to the top of the sulcata section as mentioned above. I think most all your questions and more will be answered there.

I also live in Central Calif, but in the central valley - winters colder, summers hotter. As you will find here, ti has been shown the pyramiding is a result of lack of humidity especially in their first year or two combined with the constant 80+ degree heat they need. You will read all about that - so it was not necessarily diet.

My sulcatas keep their grass very short too - they have about 1000 sq ft of lawn in their area. And since I've moved last year and its a newer enclosure, it is not as overgrown with weeds and plants yet as they used to have. I supplement their grazing with Mazuri Grassland tortoise food. I have found most feed stores will be able to order it for you if they don't have in stock and a 25 LB bag is only about $30. That is in addition to a bale of ORCHARD, or PASTURE hay I get there too. Its much softer than the stiff regular hay that perhaps you have tried. If your guy is used to grazing grass mostly, he should have no problem wanting to go after that. Mine took to it immediately. I actually keep a bale in the corner of their enclosure partially torn apart, and they spend a lot of time tearing into it. Not sure what part of C Calif coast you are, but lots of horse areas over there - so you shouldn't have any problem finding a good feed store. I also have grape vines for them to keep trimmed. This time of year - no leaves for them, but You're in wine country - plants 4-5 grape vines. Great food and he'll keep them trimmed up as high as he can stretch. You'll get other ideas from the posts.

If you could post a picture of your tortoise and his enclosure and where he sleeps at night, we could give some additional more helpful feedback.

Good reading - You'll find it very helpful.
 

Yvonne G

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Hi, and welcome to the Forum!

Look up "Feed Dealers" in the yellow pages. That's a store that sells horse and cattle food. Call them up and ask if they sell grass hay. The best kind would be Bermuda grass or orchard grass. Then fence off some of his yard so the grass can grow, rotating back and forth after a couple weeks. This gives one side a chance to grow while he eats the other side. Don't feel bad about feeding grocery store foods. It's ok, especially if you feed him the dark, leafy greens along with the grass hay. I'd love to see pictures too.
 

Thor's Mommy

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Thank you all for your help. I was told the pyramiding was due to too much protien from dark leafy greens?? Also, isn't humidity bad for these guys and makes their shells soft? I bought three Sulcata books from different authors and have gone to reptile shows. Part of my problem is I keep getting conflicting advice which makes it hard to figure out what to do.

I have also been told to leave some poops in their enclosure to help raise the heat and humidity...is this true?

He has always been very strong, alert, curious, and a good eater but his shell is a little funky.

I have attached some pictures. That is a standard size soccer ball to show scale.

Thanks again for the help!
 
M

Maggie Cummings

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Got no pix, but Sulcata come from a Savannah. With grass and trees. When it's hot they are in a burrow, when it's nice even raining they are out. The babies hatch in the rainy weather. But your guy needs a better diet. He needs his poop picked up daily and you need to read all the info at the beginning of the Sulcata section. You said Central Coast...Pismo? Oceano? Lompoc, around there, or Napa? You don't have to be detailed, just trying to picture your weather....
 

Tom

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Hello and welcome. Glad you found us.

Before I answer your questions, I think some background will help… For the last 30 years the advice and info given for sulcatas has been incorrect and it was/is based on incorrect assumptions about the area where they come from and how they live. You can read all about it all over this forum, but in short: Sulcatas are not desert animals. They are grassland, forest edge animals. They have an annual monsoon season where it is very hot, humid, rainy and there are puddles, marshes and green growing food everywhere. During the annual dry season, its also very hot and they stay in their underground burrows most of the time. Heat, humidity, wetness and hydration simulate their rainy season and all are VERY good for them. Protein and grocery store foods do NOT cause pyramiding, and water and humidity does not make their shells soft or harm them in any way. Pyramiding is caused by growth in conditions that are too dry. Read this: http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/the-end-of-pyramiding.15137/

All of this is new info. This forum has been on the forefront of these new discoveries and most of the rest of the tortoise world is still reading those same books you talked about. Even most of the sulcata breeders have not clued in yet. Its really sad.

Okay. On to your questions:
1. Sulcatas are grazers. They should be able to graze as much as they want all day long. You should be feeding him every day if there is not enough grass to graze on in his enclosure. Few sulcatas will just walk up to a pile of dry hay and eat it when they first see it. You will need to introduce him to hay, his new best friend, gradually. You can keep feeding him his grocery store greens, but feed him on a bed of hay when you do. Also, cut up some dry hay and soak it in warm water for an hour. Then mix the chopped up rehydrated hay with the greens of the day. Start with only a little at first and gradually add more as he learns to like the hay/greens mix. I also like either orchard grass hay or bermuda hay for feeding sulcatas. In addition to hay, there are lots of other things you can grow or scavenge to feed them. Here is a list: http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/for-those-who-have-a-young-sulcata.76744/
I'll bet your friends, family and neighbors have lots of these things. Its time to start growing your own. Sulcata owners also need to be small scale farmers. :)
2. Nothing you can do about growth that has already happened. He really doesn't look bad at all. I would not give it another thought. THis will not hurt him in any way.
3. They do not want or need other tortoises in their area. They are happiest as the sole king of the castle. Another tortoise would be seen as an intruder and a struggle to win and dominate the territory would likely ensue.

I see a serious problem that you did not ask about. Those infrared heat lamps are going to damage his carapace. In looking at the photos, I think the damage has already begun. Those get the top of the carapace too hot, while not warming the rest of the tortoise, the air or the ground enough. I think your night house is way too big and not insulated well enough. Maybe you could make that one corner into a smaller heated area? Here are two ways that I do it: http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/another-night-box-thread.88966/
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/double-door-night-box.129054/

Come back with any questions have to you read these threads. I'd be happy to help you achieve your stated goal.
 

Thor's Mommy

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Thank you so much Tom! That is great advice and makes sense to me. I read all the posts on this thread and the referenced care sheets and came up with a Diet Spreadsheet. I will figure out how to post it in the morning. My husband and I thought of a way we can modify the night enclosure to meet you suggestions.

Another couple questions:

1) Is the poop in the enclosure ok? I have been told they poop in their burrows on purpose to raise the humidity and heat where they sleep.

2) I understand the high fiber foods (grasses and weeds) should be the biggest part of the diet and given daily or available at all times, then there are other foods high in calcium, plant proteins, and Vitamin A, (the garden veggies such as the Collard Greens, Prickly Pear, Turnip Greens) etc. How often should these be given? Every other day? Still every day?

I am already feeling like a better Thor Mommy :)
 

Tom

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Thank you so much Tom! That is great advice and makes sense to me. I read all the posts on this thread and the referenced care sheets and came up with a Diet Spreadsheet. I will figure out how to post it in the morning. My husband and I thought of a way we can modify the night enclosure to meet you suggestions.

Another couple questions:

1) Is the poop in the enclosure ok? I have been told they poop in their burrows on purpose to raise the humidity and heat where they sleep.

2) I understand the high fiber foods (grasses and weeds) should be the biggest part of the diet and given daily or available at all times, then there are other foods high in calcium, plant proteins, and Vitamin A, (the garden veggies such as the Collard Greens, Prickly Pear, Turnip Greens) etc. How often should these be given? Every other day? Still every day?

I am already feeling like a better Thor Mommy :)

1. I provide humidity in the "burrow" with tubs of water. Some poop in the night box is not the end of the world, but I try to keep it reasonably clean.
2. Here is my strategy for feeding adults: I leave out a flake of grass hay all the time. This alone could sustain them. Once Thor is introduced to it and eating it regularly, this will work for you too. Then I try to feed some of all that other stuff once a day. No big deal if I skip a day or two, because they have all the hay they can eat every day. I try to do mulberry leaves one day, then opuntia pads the next, then my Testudo seed mix plants mixed with lawn grass clippings, then Mazuri, then grape vine leaves, then homegrown alfalfa and broadleaf plantain mixed with grass, etc… I will throw in all sorts of other odds and ends that I find too like gazania or hibiscus flowers and leaves, sunflower leaves, whole pumpkins, other squash leaves and blooms, African hibiscus leaves, various succulents like "elephant bush", ice plant, de-spined organ pipe cactus, or "red apple", branches of lavatera, and anything else I can find. In winter they eat tons of mallow and wild grasses. In spring more mallow and lots and lots of other weeds like filaree, hawksbeard, sow thistle, dandelion, wild garlic and wild mustard, etc… In June all the weeds are dried up and dead and its back to mulberry leaves, grape leaves and cactus pads again. I have too many large tortoises to be able to feed grocery store greens. I could feed out 75 heads of grocery store stuff in one day, and it wouldn't be enough. It takes about four five gallon buckets a day to feed my herd now.
 

Thor's Mommy

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Thank you for the specifics! That helps a lot. Sounds like you have your hands full. :)

I have placed an order for a couple hays and will purchase some additional plants and grocery store stuff until I can get the garden up and running. I have a Horticulture degree so this should not be a problem. Now I know what to plant! Most of that stuff should grow well in my area. Also, my husband and I will be modifying Thor's night house next weekend and fixing the heat lamp problem.

I am feeling much better, and hopefully Thor will be happier soon too. :) :)
 
M

Maggie Cummings

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His carapace is starting to look like Bob's. Bob got burned. So listen to Tom about the red light, and I clean poop daily.
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Big Charlie

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Hi Thor's Mommy!

When I first got Charlie, we lived near the central coast too. I bought him at a pet store in Paso Robles over 16 years ago. The only instruction I had was on the one sheet of paper I got when I bought him, telling me to soak him every day. I think I remember there being a large sulcata at another pet store and when I mentioned at how big Charlie was getting, I was also told I was feeding him too much and it wasn't good for him to grow too fast. Back then we didn't have a lawn but we lived on a ranch and I gathered lots of weeds for him to supplement the grocery store food. When he was 5 we moved to the central valley and I let him loose in the backyard. Since then, he has lived almost entirely on the grass and plants in the yard. I'm sure he is close to 100 pounds now, so 30 pounds for a 13 year old sounds lightweight. I don't think our lawn is exceptionally big but he doesn't come close to eating it all up. The gardener still comes every two weeks to mow.
 

Yvonne G

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I use the 250 Watt red brooder bulb to heat my tortoise sheds at night, however, my ceilings are about 5' high and the lights hang down only about a foot from the ceiling. It heats up the air inside the shed just fine, and it's not close enough to the top of the tortoise to cause a burn spot.

I also pick up poop daily and I rake out the shed daily. You keep the parasites better under control if you keep the poop picked up.
 
M

Maggie Cummings

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I am a native Californian, and will be in Clovis and a ranch at the top of the Grapevine at the end of the month. Just call me the Sulcata Express.
He needs more than just grass, he needs weeds, blooms, leaves etc. Altho I imagine the drought has taken care of a lot of food he might have enjoyed.
 
M

Maggie Cummings

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I am a native Californian, and will be in Clovis and a ranch at the top of the Grapevine at the end of the month. Just call me the Sulcata Express.
He needs more than just grass, he needs weeds, blooms, leaves etc. Altho I imagine the drought has taken care of a lot of food he might have enjoyed.
What a dumb A**. This goes on another thread, I apologize.
 

Thor's Mommy

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Big Charlie, that is a really big difference. Just curious...how much do the rest of you say about Thor's Age to weight and measurements ratio? Just to recap what I have said in the previous posts:

13 yrs
30-40 pounds (he was 26 lbs at age 10 in 2013 so maybe I am guessing too light by saying 30 lb?)
13.5" W x 20" L x 9.5" H (it's hard to measure him with a tape measure but this should be close)

There is also a picture of him above sitting next to a standard size soccer ball. Is he really so much smaller than he should be?

Also, just to update you all on our progress, I bought Thor a large bowl to put in his house, since it has been raining a lot over here, and every morning around 9-10am I fill it with some grassy hay. I bought a few different kinds from what you all suggested to see what he likes best. Then I also add some other "Calcium rich" foods mixed in so he has to hunt through the hay to get to "the good stuff." Then I check his bowl at about 3pm ish and refill it to the top with more grassy hay. I gave him the hay dry a couple times and soaked it in water a couple times to see if he preferred it one way over the other. So far there is still something left in his bowl every time I check but he does seem to be eating a bunch.
 

Thor's Mommy

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Also, my husband built a wall inside the night house to make his corner more enclosed and keep the heat in better. We are going to add a top too. I will post pictures when we are finished.
 

Tom

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Big Charlie, that is a really big difference. Just curious...how much do the rest of you say about Thor's Age to weight and measurements ratio? Just to recap what I have said in the previous posts:

13 yrs
30-40 pounds (he was 26 lbs at age 10 in 2013 so maybe I am guessing too light by saying 30 lb?)
13.5" W x 20" L x 9.5" H (it's hard to measure him with a tape measure but this should be close)

There is also a picture of him above sitting next to a standard size soccer ball. Is he really so much smaller than he should be?

Also, just to update you all on our progress, I bought Thor a large bowl to put in his house, since it has been raining a lot over here, and every morning around 9-10am I fill it with some grassy hay. I bought a few different kinds from what you all suggested to see what he likes best. Then I also add some other "Calcium rich" foods mixed in so he has to hunt through the hay to get to "the good stuff." Then I check his bowl at about 3pm ish and refill it to the top with more grassy hay. I gave him the hay dry a couple times and soaked it in water a couple times to see if he preferred it one way over the other. So far there is still something left in his bowl every time I check but he does seem to be eating a bunch.

Hi Thor's Mom. I'll answer your questions, but first and foremost, don't worry about his size. They all grow at different rates for a wide variety of reasons. Their health is what matters, not their size.

Yes Thor is on the small side. Most males are around 90-100 pounds by 13 years old. I've seen bigger than Thor and I've seen smaller than Thor at his age. I have a 50 pound female that just laid eggs that is only 5.5 years old. I think your weight estimate for Thor might be a little off. If that is a standard size adult soccer ball, I would guesstimate his weight around 50 pounds now. Have you got a bathroom scale? Have hubby hold him while standing on the scale, then subtract hubby's weight without Thor. I'll bet he's close to 50.

You are feeding him well and hopefully keeping him hydrated and that is what matters most.

I'm still very concerned about his carapace with those lights. Have you come up with an alternate heating strategy yet? Its time. He's too big for those lamps and I'm afraid damage is already being done.
 

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