Overwintering your tortoise
In Ireland tortoises go into hibernation when the days get shorter and the temperature drops. This usually happens from mid-October to mid-March. If your tortoise is underweight or has been ill in the past 6 months its fat reserves will be too low and your pet will not survive the long hibernation necessary in our climate.
To stop your tortoise hibernating you must keep it indoors and provide heat and light throughout the winter.
- A penned off area where your tortoise can safely roam and which can be easily cleaned. (A vivarium tank is only suitable for very small tortoises.- a custom made 'tortoise table' is better as it allows better ventilation)
- A heat lamp (infra red light or better still a ceramic heat bulb) in one corner suspended about 2 feet above his head. Make sure this is safe and not too near to avoid burning the shell. The pen should be big enough so that your tortoise can thermoregulate ie. get away from the intense heat if he feels too hot.
- The heating for a Spur thigh or Hermann's tortoise should be 20C at the cool end and 27C at the hot end.
- Tortoises need bright light to stimulate feeding behaviour. An ultraviolet fluorescent light is best - this can be used for 12 hours a day and should be turned off at night.
- Place either a large shallow tray of water (e.g. cat litter tray) or a pot filled with gravel and water and keep this moist. This will humidify the atmosphere and prevent the pen getting too dry.
- Bathe your tortoise daily in a clean cat litter tray with warm water up to his chin. Let him soak for 5-10 minutes. Never leave him unsupervised while bathing. Tortoises love to bathe and it encourages them to drink and pass motions, which will help to keep the pen clean.
- Provide a hidey hole at each end of the pen so your tortoise can hide away;-use a cardboard box and add shredded paper or timothy grass hay as bedding. Tortoises also love to burrow down so an area of play sand and topsoil for digging should be provided.
- As your tortoise will not be getting any Vitamin D over the winter give him a vitamin supplement twice weekly (eg. Vetark Arkvits - 1 pinch in food).
- Offer your tortoise a wide variety of vegetables - if necessary you may have to encourage him to eat by placing food into his mouth.