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Are Tortoises Affectionate Pets?

The most common and popular pets in the UK such as cats and dogs undoubtedly form strong bonds with their owners, and show affection and love for them in very obvious and easy to interpret ways. The same is true for most other pets as well, including other popular pets like ferrets, rabbits and chinchillas, but when it comes to non-furry pets and more unusual animals like tortoises, establishing whether or not they bond with their owners and show affection for them can be much more challenging to determine.

Pets like tortoises are very different from people in a whole variety of ways, as well as the obvious fact that they look so different-tortoises are reptiles, and so lay eggs rather than birthing live young, and behave naturally in ways that can be challenging to interpret from our mammalian perspective and frame of reference.

So, are tortoises actually affectionate pets that recognise their favourite people and form bonds with them? In this article, we will attempt to answer this question. Read on to learn more.

How reptiles view the world

Tortoises are of course a type of reptile, and as such, their responses to things and the emotions that they feel are different to those of mammals, and tend to be based on environmental factors, as direct responses to stimulus around them.

This is true for all reptiles, such as snakes and lizards too, and so the responses and reactions that you will elicit from your tortoise can vary considerably from day to day, depending on what is going on and how they are feeling.

For instance, if you pick up or handle a tortoise when they are in the right mood and do it carefully and in a way that the pet likes, you will likely garner a positive response from them-but if your pet is feeling wary, shy or otherwise not keen on being handled or disturbed, you might find that they retreat into their shells or deliver a nip!

Tactile responses

Just like any other animal, tortoises will enjoy being touched in certain ways and so, will respond with happiness. Much as every dog owner knows just the right spot that their dog likes to be scratched in, so too will tortoise owners soon get to learn what their pets do and do not like.

When you touch your tortoise’s shell, they can feel this in their body underneath, although the sensation is not as strong as if you touch their legs, neck or head.

Many tortoises enjoy being rubbed or scratched, particularly on their necks, and they will often stretch their necks right out to allow you to hit just the right spot, which can of course be very rewarding! However, if you touch your tortoise in a place or in such a way that they do not like it, they will either ignore you or retreat.

Additionally, a tortoise that is used to being handled and that has never been hurt or given cause to fear being approached or handled will be more chilled out when you do pet them or interact with them as well.


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Do tortoises recognise people?

The short answer to this is that yes, tortoises do come to recognise the people that they see on a regular basis, learning to identify both their appearance, voice and possibly smell as distinct from that of other people. Tortoises will often respond to the voices of the people that they associate with food or other good things, and some tortoises will even come when called!

Whether this means that they are actually showing a marked preference for a certain person or just associate them with being the bringer of food, however, is the topic of some debate!

Do tortoises bond with people?

Identifying whether or not a tortoise has formed a bond with a person is something else that can be complicated to establish, and may again come down to the tortoise’s association with being fed by one specific person.

If you are the person who always feeds your tortoise and also, know where to give your tortoise a rub or a scratch to make them happy, they may establish a bond with you, but again, this may be related to the fact that you fulfil their care needs and they associate you with pleasurable things, rather than the fact that they have identified you as an individual that they like.

Do tortoises like being petted?

As we discussed above, tortoises enjoy certain tactile sensations, such as being rubbed in just the right spot or getting you to scratch an annoying itch that they just cannot reach on their own! So the answer to the question of whether or not tortoises like being petted is something that depends on whether or not they like the way that you are petting them, which in turn relies upon your tortoise being calm and amenable to handling and your own knowledge of what they like.

Certainly a tortoise is unlikely to beg for affection or be as needy a pet as say, a dog, but if you get to know your tortoise and how they like to be petted, then yes, it is fair to say that this is something that they will enjoy!


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