Hibernating your tortoise
Hibernating your tortoise
This handout is only for Mediterranean species of tortoises that hibernate in the wild. It does not apply to African or South American species.
Tortoises hibernate in the wild when temperatures drop below 15C and there is decreasing day length. In Ireland tortoises kept outside start slowing down in October and depending on ground temperatures usually enter hibernation around the end of October.
Is your pet tortoise fit to survive hibernation?
It is always best to start planning your tortoise's hibernation in August. There must have been no major illness in the preceding 12 months and it must not be underweight. It must have fed well all summer to build up fat reserves and had a full health check performed by a vet experienced in reptiles in September / early October. A routine blood and faecal test is also recommended to make there are no brewing internal problems.
Preparation for hibernating your tortoise
· In October start decreasing the temperature slowly over 3-4 weeks ( about 5 degrees per week)
· As the tortoise slow down it will eat less - make sure it has eaten no food for 3-4 weeks before entering hibernation. Do not let it hibernate with food in its stomach as the food will decay during hibernation and cause fatalities
· Start giving your tortoise daily baths in order to maximize hydration
· Once the temperatures drops down to around 13C transfer your tortoise to the hibernation area and keep the temperature between 2-9C
Methods of Hibernation
1. Box within a box separated by insulation .This can be kept outside in a safe shed (protect from rats and dogs) or in a cold room in the house. The substrate should be kept moist but not wet. Some ventilation is important to stop it getting mouldy
2. A fridge (like a beer fridge with a glass door) is now the preferred method as temperature can be carefully controlled. However you must keep the fridge in a room where the ambient temperature remains above 10 C all winter and open the fridge daily to allow for air exchange. (Hibernating tortoises bury themselves so have very low oxygen demands)
Which every way you choose you must have a thermometer monitoring the temperature accurately.
· Keep the temperature between 2-9C (around 5C is the best) using an accurate thermometer. Below 2 C is dangerous as they can get frostbite and blindness. Above 10 C the tortoise may suffer weight loss, dehydration and exhaustion of energy reserves
· Check and weigh the tortoise weekly - if the tortoise loses more than 10% body weight check the temperature is not fluctuating over 10C. If there is any concern it is better to stop the hibernation and wake the tortoise up by slowly warming it
· If the tortoise urinates while hibernating it may become hypothermic and dehydrated so you must slowly warm it up to wake it up.
· Increase temperature slowly to wake up your tortoise up to a temperature of 25C
· Check your tortoise's mouth and eyes - if there is any cause for concern seek veterinary advice immediately
· Soak healthy tortoises in a warm bath twice daily - this encourages drinking, urinating and defaecation.
· Offer succulent foods like cucumber and cherry tomatoes to stimulate appetite
· Carefully monitor eating, drinking , urination and defaecation for at least 3 weeks post hibernation
· Any tortoise that doesn't urinate or eat within a week of hibernation may need veterinary attention.
Many much loved tortoises die post hibernation because their owners did not seek veterinary help early enough. If your tortoise is not eating or is lethargic please don't wait - phone 01 272 3857 for advice or an appointment