Desert Tortoise Enclosure

The desert tortoise is one of the most popular species of tortoises that are kept as pets. They are relatively active and tend to have playful personalities. If you want to have one as a pet, it’s important that you have the right desert tortoise enclosure. They key is to mimic their natural habitat. This article will cover the necessities and potential desert tortoise enclosure ideas.

How to Build a Desert Tortoise Enclosure?

For a Desert Tortoise enclosure, you will need a lot of open space, loose dirt, shade, a water bowl, and most importantly a burrow.

For starters, let’s look at the overall space.

Desert tortoise outdoor enclosure

outdoor desert tortoise enclosure

When it comes to the space, a desert tortoise needs ideally 16 square feet. This will allow it enough space to explore and exercise, it will help prevent your tortoise from getting stressed.

An easy way to make a perimeter is to use cinder blocks. People usually stack two cinder blocks on top of each other for the perimeter. If you use this method, make sure to dig at least 6 inches into the ground of the perimeter before you lay down the blocks. This will put the perimeter 6 inches below ground level, which will help prevent your tortoise from digging underneath and escaping.

Lastly, you will want to have some sort of mesh or covering to protect your tortoise from predators. Make sure that sunlight is still able to get through the covering.

Desert tortoise indoor enclosure

Ideally, you should keep your desert tortoise outdoors. This is because desert tortoises thrive on natural sunlight. While you can keep your desert tortoise indoors, you will need a large UVA/UVB light to help mimic their natural environment. If you fail to do this, it can cause vitamin deficiencies and diseases including tortoise pyramiding.  

Can desert tortoises live in enclosures?

Enclosures can accommodate a young desert tortoise that is still under 4 inches. I would still recommend keeping these enclosures outside since your tortoise will experience natural environments. If you are interested in enclosures, I recommend this one.

Substrate for a desert tortoise

As desert tortoises naturally come from areas with dry substrate, they love to dig. In the wild, digging is essential to escaping the summer heat and cooling down their body. To help support your turtle’s natural instinct and to help them regulate their body temperature, it’s important that their substrate is easy to dig through. While it doesn’t necessarily need to be a dry dirt substrate, it needs to be easy for your tortoise to dig their paws through.

Now let’s talk about another essential thing that your tortoise will need to regulate their body temperature.

Burrow for desert tortoise

burrow for desert tortoise

A proper burrow is probably the most important component of your desert tortoise enclosure. It gives your tortoise a place to feel safe and rest, and also helps them regulate their body temperature.

There are a bunch of different ways to make a desert tortoise burrow, but essentially you just need to make sure there is a large, covered space that is securely covered and has room for your tortoise to dig. In the summer this let’s cool down their body, and in the winter your tortoise might hibernate in the burrow. However, to be safe it is best for desert tortoises to hibernate indoors where you can make sure the temperature doesn’t get too cold.

Below is a great video that gives you two different ways to build your desert tortoise’s burrow. The first method involves a large PVC pipe, and the second method uses cinder blocks. Personally, I think the cinder block one is the best.

If you are using a pre-made enclosure for your younger tortoise, it is till important that they have a burrow. You can easily do this by putting a large bucket in the shaded room facing the door opening, and then covering it with dirt.

desert tortoise enclosure outdoor


An often overlooked aspect of a desert tortoise enclosure is shade. It is important that at least 40-50% of their enclosure is covered by shade. You tortoise needs this to escape the hot temperature of the sun.

You can use a variety of objects for shade. The easiest thing to do is to position your enclosure near a large tree or bush that provides shade over the enclosure. Another option is to add plants to your desert tortoise enclosure.

Along with providing shade, you can also explore some plants that your tortoise can eat as food.

You can also put large objects in the enclosure or put a covering over the portion of the enclosure covering.

Water bowl

desert tortoise in water bowl

Water is essential for a healthy tortoise, so you will also need a water bowl for you desert tortoise enclosure. This not only allows them to stay hydrated, but it also helps them regulate their water temperature.

In order to reduce the risk of your tortoise drowning, it’s important make sure your water bowl isn’t too deep. Your turtle should easily be able to stick their head out of the water when they are in the bowl. Keep in mind that rain might alter the water level in the bowl.

To help decrease the depth of your bowl, you can add some rocks to the bottom.

While it isn’t a must, you can also add a plate for you to set their food on. This can help keep their food clean, and make it easier to pick up any uneaten food. If you want to learn more about their diet, check out my guide on what fruits and vegetables you can feed a desert tortoise.

What temperature should your desert tortoise enclosure be?

Desert tortoises thrive in temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees fahrenheight. It’s fine if it gets a little hotter than this, as you tortoise can dig into the ground to cool off.

If you keep your tortoise indoors, it is important to mimic this temperature by using a heat lamp. Make sure to use a thermometer to ensure the enclosure is the proper temperature.

Monitor the weather

While I still recommend that you keep your desert tortoise outdoors, you will need to monitor any extreme weather. If The temperature is expected to reach really hot or cold temperatures, you might need to temporarily bring your tortoise indoors.

Also keep an eye out for any heavy rain. If you notice there will be heavy rain, you should bring your tortoise indoors in case their enclosure floods.

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