Home Mental Health & Well-Being Can a Tortoise Be an Emotional Support Pet?

Can a Tortoise Be an Emotional Support Pet?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Pet animals can be a great addition to your life. They quickly become a part of your family, almost effortlessly. If you are not a big fan of pets, you will find this idea far-fetching even in a parallel universe, but if you are an animal lover, you are indeed all ears now.

Among animals that can be tamed and domesticated, there is a specific variety that can be categorised as emotional support animals. The commonly known and widely used emotional support animals include cats, dogs, birds, and guinea pigs. However, today, the animal that inspired us to talk about ESAs is a tortoise.

It must sound a little strange to the uninitiated, but the tortoise also belongs here. Now that we have piqued your curiosity, let’s move on to understand the various ways in which tortoises can provide humans with emotional support.

But before that, we need to know what ESAs are and what they do.

What are ESAs?

ESA stands for emotional support animal. Recently, these animals have gained a lot of recognition for providing emotional support to people who are dealing with various stages of mental health challenges. They are especially useful for individuals facing psychiatric disability through companionship and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). So, what exactly do these animals do?

  • They fulfil the lack of companionship among patients
  • Elevate the mood and reduce mood swings
  • They make you engage in physical activity, like running around and playing with them.
  • They develop a sense of care and responsibility.
  • The responsibility to take care of these pets can bring someone into a routine and make them feel organised.
  • ESAs act as a distraction from negative thoughts and channel positivity.
  • It helps ease anxiety, fear, loneliness, and depression.
  • The unconditional love and support that patients experience from these animals can be therapeutic and medical, too.

Tortoises as emotional support animals

Tortoises are a less conventional option when it comes to ESAs. But that doesn’t have to stop one from adopting one for companionship. Around the world, we are seeing a lot of people choosing turtles as pets. But the question is if they can be emotional support animals, too. A tortoise being ESA becomes questionable primarily because of its nature. Unlike other pets that are energetic and active, tortoises are slow and hardly make a sign of their existence. But probably that is what makes their presence a cherishing one.

Why tortoises make great ESAs

Here are the reasons why tortoises make exceptional emotional support animals:

  • Calm creatures. People who suffer from PTSD may not always prefer overly enthusiastic creatures around them. Most of the time, all they are looking for is a quiet companion to feel devoid of loneliness. Tortoises are calm and composed creatures. They won’t be bothering you unless they are expected to engage in some kind of activity. It takes time to establish a solid relationship. So, the mere act of watching these creatures peacefully move around is a soothing experience. It acts like a lively meditation process with this little goodness around you. One can feel relaxed and less anxious around them.
  • Less attention. Most pets demand a lot of attention. They expect you to interact with them and play with them. On the other hand, tortoises aren’t animals that need constant attention. They enjoy their own company and don’t mind you ignoring them. So, this makes them an ideal choice for people who are closeted, less social, and don’t love being constantly disturbed.
  • Life span. Tortoises have a longer life span. The minimum life span of a healthy tortoise is 80 years, and they can live up to 150 years. Most traditional pets lack this merit, be they dogs, birds, or cats. They have a much shorter life span, like one-fourth of an average human. People who have suffered from depression or other psychiatric disorders cannot handle the pain of losing their pets. Why put them through this risk? Tortoises, quite conversely, can be your lifetime companion. Do we need a better reason to say yes to them?
  • No training. Training a pet could be tricky, especially with a depressed person around. Luckily, ESAs are like normal pets and may not need additional training. To top it off, tortoises are calm animals that move around minding their business. This puts the people around them in peace.

Challenges to consider

Though there are a lot of benefits to choosing a tortoise for an ESA, there are a few challenges as well. So, keep in mind the following things before bringing in a tortoise:

  • Not so interactive. Not everyone loves a quiet companion. If you want your pet to be interactive and playful, tortoises may not be a very ideal choice. Though they can be tamed in the long run and might even respond to small commands and happily take treats, like humans, they prefer their private space. Give them some time, and they will always come back to you.
  • Legal obligation. It is essential to consider the legal aspects of having a tortoise as an ESA. Just like with dogs or cats, you can obtain an ESA letter for a tortoise certifying its role as an emotional support animal. A mental health professional provides this letter, which is crucial in securing ESA-related accommodations. Though every ESA facility has to receive authorization from the concerned authorities to ensure the safety and well-being of the animal, the procedures might differ since a tortoise is a not-so-common ESA. Some parts of the world might see the animal as an exotic creature, which might make the process tedious. But you must follow what the law of the land states.
  • Take an expert’s advice. Talk to an expert who knows about the species and get some basic idea before you take the tortoise as a pet into your home. The level of care and attention that animals need differs from species to species. Also, seek a veterinarian’s counsel on how to handle a sick animal, prevent sickness, and identify issues that require immediate medical attention. In general, pets show signs of illness by being unusually inactive. Since tortoises are generally less active, it is easy to miss out on their needs.

Tips to bond with a tortoise

  • Touch them less, but be consistent. Tortoises don’t love being touched often or lifted. They prefer staying at ground level on their foot. In the initial stages of bonding, they might often shy away. So do not force affection. Keep it minimal, but do it regularly. Over a period, they will get accustomed to the touch of its owner and will learn to embrace it warmly.
  • Take care of their habitat. Tortoises accustomed to water prefer to stay that way. Give your guests the environment they prefer. Keep their tank clean and change the water at decent intervals. Maintain a healthy diet and try to give them treats that they like. Keep their surroundings green and pleasant. Occasionally, take them out for a walk and let them experience what it’s like to be on land. Slowly, they will start spending more hours out of the water.
  • Take part in shell caring. Shell peeling is a common tortoise thing. However, sometimes, these poor things might need help. Softly brush their back and help them in the growing process. Immerse them in water and ensure they don’t suffer infection while shedding shells. The first time you see it, it could be weird, but you get used to it, as this process is important for tortoises to grow a stronger outer cover.
  • Give them space. Even well-acquainted pet tortoises contract into their shells at times. They might be moody or angry. Leave them as they are and let them come back to you. Give them their privacy, and they will always come back. Allow them to move around the house at their own pace without being hindered. This helps to elevate their mood.
  • Hand feed them. Another important gesture in taming your pet tortoise is hand-feeding them. This helps them to bond better, and you can gain their trust. Give them nice treats every now and then to keep them happy.
  • Tell you love them. Talk to your tortoise. Just like any animal, tortoises can understand the aura around their humans. Tell your pet that he is a good baby and that you love it. Quite soon, you will see them respond to your kind gestures in their own style. If pampered the right way, tortoises are an excellent company like any other pet.
  • Understand they care less. Always remember that tortoises don’t bother. As long as their basic needs are met, and they feel safe, they don’t actually need human attention. So, if your tortoises sometimes act like they don’t care, remember they are being genuine. Do not take it personally. Just keep giving them love. At the end of the day, they will learn to love you back.

It’s a personal choice

Welcoming an ESA into one’s life is not the same as taking in a pet. An ESA has a very significant role to play. So, it is essential that the person who seeks help finds solace in an animal like a tortoise. There are many choices, from dogs and cats to parrots and hamsters.

So don’t make it a forced decision just because the idea of a tortoise seems exciting. There are alternatives available for those who don’t resonate with the idea of a tortoise ESA. Ultimately, the decision should be based on individual emotional needs and lifestyle.


Our final verdict on whether a tortoise can be an emotional support pet is a solemn yes. Although unconventional, the idea has merit. These slow-moving creatures can offer a unique form of emotional comfort. Though their silence seems uncanny, in their quiet world lies the aesthetics that can be calming and healing.

But choosing an ESA, whether it’s a dog, a cat, or even a tortoise, should always be a decision based on personal circumstances and needs. The world of emotional support animals is as diverse as the people they support, and the key is to find the right companion that brings the most comfort and happiness.

Jeffrey Grant, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

© Copyright 2014–2034 Psychreg Ltd