Food & Water Dishes for Tortoises
Bowls, dishes, and pans
Sri Lankan Star in her drinking water dish
If you use a water dish with a hatchling, check that the baby tortoise can get in and out of it easily. You don't want him to get trapped in it, or flip over and drown.
For safety, it's best to keep the food and water dishes at the cool end of the enclosure, not under the heat lamps.
Of plastic products, food grade plastics are the safest choice for tortoise food and water dishes. Containers and lids intended for human or animal use and food storage are nontoxic. Plastic items manufactured for other purposes can be made with unknown materials of questionable quality.
Hard eating surfaces
Feeding tortoises on a hard surface may, or may not, help prevent beak and nail overgrowth. Instead, feeding some "tough" foods that require pulling and shredding by the tortoise is probably more beneficial for keeping beaks in top condition. Outdoor grazing of grasses and weeds is very helpful, too.
To provide a hard eating surface and help prevent accidental ingestion of substrates, you can feed your tortoise on a large tile or a big, flat rock. I buy tiles that have a somewhat rough surface and rounded corners for safety.
Tortoises are messy animals and drag substrates with their feet all over the enclosure and dishes. Placing water and food bowls on large tiles or "double plating" them by placing a smaller dish on a larger plate helps keep them cleaner.
This food dish is shallow, but extra large. The large size of the dish helps avoid accidental ingestion of substrate. Water dish for hatchlings should be very shallow for easy entry and exit. If the water dish is too deep, little babies can tip over and drown when trying to scale the walls.
Small jar lids and disposable paper / plastic plates are popular as food dishes, but they can be rather flimsy. They are very lightweight and tend to tip, or even turn over, when tortoises step on the edges.
Lids from large plastic boxes or shallow food trays work better because they don't flip over. They are big enough to accommodate the whole tortoise, not just his front legs. Although, when the water dish is this large, tortoises are more likely to pee and poo in it. Just change the water when soiled, or at least daily.
For new hatchlings I like to use very shallow plastic lids from small coffee canisters (small black lid in pic above) or other food containers. My favorite ones are the ribbed Servalier lids from Tupperware. Small babies can easily drink water between the grooves (pic). Even tiny 10-15 g hatchlings can climb in and out of them with ease. These lids are available in multiple colors and sizes.
Out of need, I created my own heavy-weight dishes, the "tile bowls" and "tile plates." :O) I glue lightweight plastic lids or shallow dishes onto a flat tiles (pic) with aquarium sealant. This makes the dishes heavier and much more stable. The bigger the tile, the more anchored to the ground the dish will be. On a soft and fluffy substrate, a larger tile will work better to weigh the cup down.
Plastic pan pools
For subadults and small adult Star tortoises, or other similar sized tortoises, plastic kitchen dishpans or pet litter boxes make great indoor "wading pools." Just cut an appropriately sized entry door. Not pretty or natural looking, but very practical. They have a large water area, but are still easy to clean. :O)
I like to prop the front of the pan on a couple tiles so that the water deepens towards the back of the pool.
Most plastic kitchen dishpans are about 13-16" long and 12-13" wide. Open top cat litter pans vary in size and range from small (~ 14"x10") to extra large (~ 22"x16"). Since dish pans are sold for washing human plates and silverware (go into your mouth), they are probably made of safer material than litter boxes.
Commercial flat reptile dishes
a) Granite Rock food dish
I like Exo Terra's Granite Rock FEEDING dishes (pic) for indoor water dishes because they are low, heavy, stable, and don't tip over when my tortoises trample through them.
Granite Rock feeding dishes are available in three sizes. The smallest size is model PT-2811, medium size is PT-2812, and the largest size is PT-2813. The text description for the size varies by the dealer. For example, some sellers call the PT-2813 a large dish, and some call it an extra-large dish.
The smallest size with the lowest sides is best for a baby. Little ones can climb in and out of it fairly easily, but it's still large enough for one baby tortoise to soak himself.
On a soft substrate, it's best to place water and food dishes on large tiles. This makes the dishes more stable and helps keep substrate out of them. Here's an example photo.
These food dishes are made of hard, food-grade resin. They used to made in a yellow brown color, but the newer ones are chocolate brown. I've had one or two that developed some "micro pitting" (tiny holes) on the dish surface over time.
Note: The Exo Terra "feeding dishes" and "water dishes" have different designs! The matching water dishes are less suitable for babies because they have higher sides.
b) Repti Rock food dish
Another low-sided reptile dish that I use a lot as an indoor food and/or water dish is the Repti Rock FOOD dish by Zoo Med (pic). It's made of slightly softer material than the Granite Rock dish above.
The Repti Rock food dish is available in various colors and in four sizes from small to extra large. All sizes have very low sides.
The largest size food dishes (XL, pic) can be used as feeding trays to help prevent accidental ingestion of substrate. They also work well as shallow, soaking-size water dishes for young tortoises.
Note: The Zoo Med "food dishes" and "water dishes" have different designs! The matching water dishes are quite a bit higher. Not suitable for little ones.
Reptile ramp bowls, i.e., water dishes with built-in steps, are available in many styles. One of my favorites is the Zoo Med's Repti Ramp Bowl (pic). It's sold in several colors and sizes.
The largest Repti Ramp Bowl (XL) is big enough for a small to medium size tortoise to soak himself. The actual water area is about 7.5" x 6".
Ramp bowls work well will agile climbers, like Russians, Greeks, or Box turtles, but they are probably not the best choice for little babies. Newborn babies may tumble over the high sides and end upside down in the water. Unless, the water level is low and the bowl is wedged between something so that the only way in and out of the dish is along the ramp.
Several brands of reptile waterers available in the stores. I have bought Zoo Med's Repti Rock Reservoirs (pic) because the bowl part has a bit of a textured surface. The other ones I've seen (e.g. Fluker, Lixit, Wardley) have a bowl with a sleek and slippery surface that gives no grip.
Reptile waterers work best for small to medium size tortoises. For little babies, these reptile bowls are be too high and slippery, unless you glue some "roughage" to the bowl outside walls to make them less slippy. Larger, active tortoises can push the waterers over and flood the enclosure, so you may have to secure them somehow.
I mostly use reptile waterers when I leave my tortoises alone for 1-2 nights. This way they will have plenty of clean water to drink while I'm gone. When the water dish is this small, tortoises are less likely to poo in it.
Some tortoise keepers use non-automated chicken waterers, aka poultry fountains, as indoor water dishes. These waterers have a large water reservoir (plastic bottle) attached to a round bowl base. The bowl is just big enough for drinking. It does not allow the tortoise to soak himself so the water stays poop-free. If your tortoise is a self-soaker, this type of water dish is not appropriate for him.
Plastic chicken waterers are cheap. The cost of a small, one quart unit (reservoir and base) is only a few dollars. For example, the Miller 690 jar screws into the Miller 740 fountain base. This base also fits a standard 1 qt glass Mason jar. Although, placing any glass items inside a tortoise pen is questionable.
Both the jar and base are made of high density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic which is considered safe. For more plastic material info, see the Housing and Allergy sections on the Links page.
Note: If you use a very small water dish or a fountain/waterer type unit as your tortoise's main water bowl, do provide him regular opportunities for soaking (e.g. a separate soaking pan). Soak (bathe) baby Star tortoises daily in lukewarm water, and adult Stars 1-2 times a week. See the care tips page.
Dog & cat waterers
For larger tortoises, dog waterers may work well. Static ones, which look like large reptile waterers with a base and a bottle, are easy to clean. On the other hand, automated fountains offer the benefit of moving water. The sound and movement of running water can encourage tortoises to drink, or to drink more. This helps prevent dehydration.
Water fountains can also raise the ambient humidity in indoor enclosures. However, they require regular cleaning and water changes because tortoises like to poop in their water dishes. They should be kept away from loose substrates to prevent clogging. You may also hear the sound of the running motor.
Reptile waterfalls and fountains are designed for small lizards, frogs, chameleons and so on, but they could also be used in tortoise indoor enclosures to help increase the humidity level. Many foggers or misters as attachements. Waterfalls, misters, and foggers tend to lower the ambient temperature, so do check the temperature gradient in the enclosure and up the heat if needed.
Tip: Mineral deposits from tap water can clog misters, foggers, and vaporizes quickly. Use distilled water or reverse osmosis filtered water with these units to help keep them clog free.
Outdoor water dishes
Always provide a drinking water dish for your tortoises. Even if you think your tortoises are not using it, they may drink when you are not watching. Be extra cautious with newborn hatchlings because they can drown if their water dish is too deep.
Flower pot saucers, both ceramic and plastic, are popular as outdoor tortoise water dishes. A layer of small rocks (pic) in the dish gives little tortoises a higher and less slippery surface to walk on. Baby tortoises can stand on the rocks and drink the water between the pebbles.
Further, you can dig a shallow hole to put the plate in. When the plate is even with the ground, it's easier for small tortoises to get in and out of the dish.
During warm weather, drinking water can get quite hot in a sunny spot. Replace the water as needed to keep it cool, or put the water dish in a shady area. I like to use bushes and/or small patio tables (pics) as sun shades for water bowls. Yes, there is a plate filled with rocks and water under the green table. It's just hard to see. :O)
Empty and clean the water dish daily. Better yet, use two plates per enclosure. Fill one with water and let the other one dry and disinfect in the hot sun. Switch daily.
Note: Flower pot saucers are really not intended as storage dishes for water used for human or animal consumption. Both glazed and unglazed terracotta flower pot saucers can contain lead, and material impurity can be a concern with plastic saucers as well. For example, PVC is toxic. People and pets should not drink from containers made of PVC. See housing & allergics.
Garden fountains with shallow bottom bowls can be used as tortoise drinking fountains. Running water may entice tortoises to drink more. Solar powered
water fountains (e.g. Ceramic Frog Water Feature, pic) are great outdoors because no power cords are necessary. As with all motorized fountains, debris, soil, and tortoise feces in the bowl can cause clogging problems.
Safety of the glaze can be an issue with garden fountains; they are not intended for drinking water. Bird baths are probably a safer choice. They should be made with non-toxic materials and finishes.
Always provide a water dish
Garden hoses - can leach toxins
Always check the labels on garden hoses. Regular garden hoses really should carry a "Do not drink" warning label. Humans and pets should not drink water from standard garden hoses because they can leach lead and other toxic chemicals into the water.
Ideally, buy lead-free garden hoses. These are usually labeled as "lead free" or "drinking water safe." Lead-free hoses are made of materials other than polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is a known toxic. You can find lead-free hoses in marine shops, RV stores, or online.
Note: For PCV info, see "Toxics" in the Allergy section of the Links page.
Frequent soaks (baths) in lukewarm water are beneficial for tortoises, especially if your tortoise is not a self-soaker. Almost any safe and large enough dish or pan can be used for this purpose.
Each group of tortoises should have their own soaking dish to avoid transferring germs and parasites between different groups and species.
Soaking tortoises individually helps keep track of their pooping frequency, poop texture, and consistency. Is the poop solid, loose, dark, light, or bloody? Does it have visible worms? See the fecal exams page for info on fecal gross exams.
Star tortoise being "soaked" in warm water
It's beneficial to let the water dishes and soaking tubs dry outside in the sunshine as solar radiation is strongly germicidal (destroys harmful microorganisms). Although, leaving regular, non UV protected plastic tubs in the sun too long will make them brittle.