The Best Substrate for Leopard Tortoise (2021) | Buying Guide and Review

by Carl Crane | Updated: March 31, 2021

There are a lot of things to be done if you are a pet parent that takes your pet’s comfort seriously.

Apart from the need for a substrate, there is also the need for heat, lighting, and nutrition amongst others.

With the great number of available substrates in the market, it would be difficult to make a choice especially if you are a new parent and that’s why we are here to make it easy for you.

In this guide of the best substrate for leopard tortoise, you are sure to make the best choice that ensures your pet tortoise stays comfortable.

Your leopard tortoise would be spending most of its time on the substrate, that’s why you must make the best choice to ensure it stays healthy.

Your tortoise would want to dig into the substrate for thermoregulation, or when it needs its privacy and without this, all those behaviors would be impossible.

As beneficial and important as a substrate is, it could also be harmful to your pet’s health if the wrong choice is made, and so we would guide you to making the best pick amongst available products.

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Complete Guide for Best Substrate for Leopard Tortoise

With the right substrate, your leopard tortoise would have the right bodily function and behavior as if it were in the wild.

Tortoises spend a lot of time on the ground and in burrows, making them experience the world differently from larger animals.

Being that they are in constant communication with the bottom soil, they are exposed to microclimates.

The temperature and humidity of microclimates are different from those above the ground.

So in arid regions were your leopard tortoise is native to, the surface may be hot but inside the burrows, it’s cool and moist a bit.

When choosing a substrate, it should be one that replicates the microclimate of your pet as it would be in the wild.

Moisture Level of a Substrate for Leopard Tortoise

The moisture level of a substrate for a leopard tortoise should be between 40% and 60%.

The humidity can be altered by different means but the best is to make use of pulverized water over the substrate.

The humidity level of the substrate is very important because the substrate is in direct contact with your pet.

Humidity helps your tortoise to keep warm and maintain optimum body temperature.

A wet substrate would generally be more humid than a dry one.

So have the needs of your pet at the back of your mind when adjusting the humidity of your terrarium.

Overly high humidity isn’t the best and can cause shell rot.

Low humidity below normal limits would also lead to dehydration and the skin and shell would be unhealthy too.

With a humidity level within the safe range for your leopard tortoise, it would be fine.

The Required Substrate Depth for A Leopard Tortoise

Leopard tortoises love to dig and they do this for different reasons.

Sometimes it’s to get away from the heat, and other times it’s just a fun activity to them.

With this in mind, it’s important to use a substrate that allows digging, and you have to make it as deep as possible.

The ideal depth for the substrate is about 6 inches, but as this would require a lot of space not everyone can afford that depth.

No matter the limitations you face, make sure your substrate is at least 2 inches deep so that your pet can dig freely.

How Often Should You Change the Substrate of a Leopard Tortoise?

Sometimes pet owners have a hard time knowing when to change the substrate and they end up leaving it for too long.

There is no one right time to change the substrate as this depends on factors like the depth, size of the tank, and some others.

With a 2-inch substrate, you would need to change it after about 3 or 4 months.

If you have a substrate that is 6 inches deep, you would need to change it after 5 or 6 months, and you would not necessarily have to change the whole thing.

You can just take out the first 3 inches and replace that.

If you have more than one tortoise, this guide would not apply as the time to change the substrate would be half that for a single leopard tortoise.

If the size of your enclosure is up to 40 inches in width, you would need to change the substrate once a year even if it’s just 2 inches deep.

Regular cleaning of the substrate would delay the need to change it regularly. Cleaning after every meal is good practice.

Best Substrate for Leopard Tortoise

1.   Zilla Ground English Walnut Shells Desert Blend

First on our list of best substrates for leopard tortoise is the Zilla Ground English Walnut Shells.

It’s 100% natural and takes care of your fear of toxic substrates so your pet would be safe in this environment.

Being that leopard tortoise is from arid regions, this would be a great replica of the desert environment they are natural too, allowing you to create a home away from home for your pet.

It conducts heat perfectly, so your pet can stay warm when it has the need. Since it doesn’t scratch glass like sand, you don’t have to worry about damages to the terrarium as its beauty would remain intact.

Its ideal depth should be at least 2 inches as it stimulates digging behavior in your pet.

You can also use this for other desert pets you may have like adult bearded dragons, desert skinks, and others.



2.   Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding

This Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding is made from cypress mulch and a great choice of substrate for your pet.

You have no fear of splinters and its great at absorbing moisture for humidity control.

Note however that your leopard tortoise has a limit to the amount of humidity it can handle, so try to maintain that level.

Even with the humidity, it doesn’t mold and that’s another great feature this product has that makes it great for your pet.

You can easily maintain their enclosure with this substrate as you can pick out uneaten food and waste easily.

For the best results, always rehydrate it while remaining within safe limits for use with your pet.

This is because if it gets dry, it could hurt your tortoise’s feet.



3.   Reptile Sciences Terrarium Sand for Aquarium

If you want to replicate the desert environment in your pet’s terrarium, the use of a sand substrate may come to your mind.

Sand is easily ingested and can cause impaction and this major health risk is a limitation to your use.

That’s not the case if you use this Reptile Sciences Terrarium Sand. It’s made of completely digestible calcium carbonate so that even if your pet eats it, they would be no issues.

Apart from being a substrate, it also contains essential elements like potassium, magnesium, and strontium.

Your pet would feel at home and start practicing natural behaviors like digging with this product and that’s a whole new level of comfort.

As an odor neutralizer, comfort for you and your tortoise is assured.



4.   Fluker Labs Repta-Bark All Natural Bedding

When it comes to best substrates in the market for tortoises, Fluker Labs Repta Bark is a name that would pop up.

It’s a natural way to cover the floor of your pet’s new home to increase comfort and mimic a natural environment.

It’s good for high humidity loving reptiles but can also be used by your leopard tortoise.

What you have to do is to regulate the moisture content in the product.

This bedding helps to keep the enclosure clean as it absorbs moisture and waste easily.

So water spills and your pet’s waste don’t mess the place up. With bigger pieces, you can have peace of mind knowing that it’s less likely that your pet ingests this. It also has fewer chances of dust production due to its size.



5.   Zoo Med Reptifresh Odor Eliminating Substrate

We would round it up with the Zoo Med Reptifresh Odor Eliminating Substrate.

It’s easy to use and doesn’t take anything to maintain it.

Apart from its ease of maintenance, it is good for long term use so it’s perfect for the busy pet owners.

Completely natural and all green products, so no fear or risk of toxic chemicals around your pet.

It can be used alone or in combination with other substrates because of its odor-eliminating properties.

Your leopard tortoise would start digging and burrowing with this substrate as it stimulates the behavior.

So for a healthy and physiologically active pet, this is a great choice.



Things to Look Out for in A Good Substrate for Leopard Tortoise

Can Retain Moisture

Leopard tortoises especially juveniles require some quantity of water to stay hydrated.

They either drink it or absorb it, and that’s why the substrate must absorb good quantity to maintain adequate humidity.

Being arid dwellers naturally, they have a low tolerance for too much moisture, so regulate the moisture content to a minimum.

A substrate with too much moisture content can be a favorable ground for the growth of bacteria and other harmful microorganisms.

The presence of these would cause shell rot, respiratory infections, and other diseases in your tortoise.

Look out for a substrate that can absorb moisture but not for too long. The substrate should be easily drained to prevent a collection of water puddles.

Easy to Dig

Leopard tortoises love to dig and could even dig burrows if the substrate is deep enough.

The substrate you buy should be easy to dig so your pet can live comfortably and enjoy its home away from home.

Its ease of digging should not come with a lack of structural integrity.

The substrate should be able to maintain its structure after being dug into rather than collapse on itself.

No Threat of Impaction

No matter how hard you try, there’s a possibility that your tortoise is chewing the substrate.

This poses a danger to the health of your pet and is one of the challenges pet owners face as the substrate could cause impaction.

Impaction occurs when a substance is in the digestive system and doesn’t get broken down or passed out, leading to obstruction and a rupture.

So when choosing a substrate, go for a substance that can be broken down and passed out by your pet safely.

Stable and Fit to Be Walked On

When choosing a substrate, bear in mind that your pet would walk on it all day and as such should be stable and easy to walk on.

Large chunks of coarse materials are usually unstable and not easy to walk on especially for hatchlings.

Finer particles are easy to walk on as they are tightly packed but if it’s too fine, their legs would sink through making it difficult to walk on.

Even though smaller particles are easy to walk on, the risk of impaction is higher, so when making a purchase, go for the ones that are easily digestible by your pet.


This is a very important point as a toxic substrate could even cause death.

Contrary to what you may think, some beddings that may seem fine to you are toxic to your leopard tortoise.

For example, wood or mulch is good as substrates, but not all wood is safe for use.

Some produce a toxic resin that could harm your tortoise, and so you have to be sure that the substrate you choose is safe.

The use of soil is common as a substrate, but soil could contain chemicals, and when in contact with your pet could be very harmful.

Always choose purely organic and chemical-free substrate to ensure your pet comes to no harm.

Commonly Asked Questions About Leopard Tortoise Substrate

Why Does My Tortoise Dig Holes?

In the wild the behavior of digging holes is for hiding, searching for food, or to cool down in the moist microclimate.

Even if there are no predators around your pet, the instinct still comes naturally, as well as the reason for thermoregulation.

Can Tortoises Eat Soil?

Yes, they can. They do this often as they eat their food off the ground and as long as the soil is free from chemicals, they would be fine after eating small amounts.

Can I Grow Plants in My Tortoise’s Enclosure?

Yes, you can, but if you intend to beautify the enclosure with the plants you would be disappointed.

Tortoises eat up everything and will destroy the plant shortly. Be careful however of the choice of plants you have as some could be poisonous.


Choosing the best substrate for your leopard tortoise can be a difficult task with the abundance of available products in the market.

But by these reviews, we have narrowed down your choices for you so you can easily make the best choice for your pet.

With Zilla Ground English Walnut Shells Desert Blend, you mimic your pet’s natural environment and helps it adjust comfortably.

Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding is easy to clean and retains moisture nicely, while Reptile Sciences Terrarium Sand for Aquarium stimulates digging in your reptile and neutralizes odor too.

All products would make your pet comfortable so whatever you choose, you can be sure that you would get the best value for your money.

Carl, the reptile-obsessed creator of this website, got his first turtle years ago and he made a ton of mistakes along the way. His goal now with TheCritterCove is simple: help others to not make the same mistakes that he did!