Posted By: Sue - Veterinary Nurse

Time for Bed

Now the days are getting shorter and the nights colder, tortoises are beginning to slow down ready for hibernation.

Tortoises naturally stop eating and start digging in, preparing themselves for a long sleep. It is really important to keep giving them a warm bath through this stage. When the temperature drops below 15c they stop metabolising their food so a warm bath helps them to empty their gut, it also ensures they go to sleep with a full bladder which keeps them hydrated. This pre-hibernation period usually takes 3-6 weeks depending on the age of the tortoise.

two tortoises

If you have a young tortoise that lives inside a vivarium you need to simulate the outside conditions by reducing the light (day length) and temperature in the vivarium over several weeks. As they slow down, stop offering them food.

Not all species of tortoise hibernate but most of those referred to as Mediterranean tortoises will (the Tunisian Spur-thigh tortoise being an exception). A health check and discussion with your Vet is essential before hibernation if your tortoise has not been eating well through the summer months or has been unwell. Regular weighing of your tortoise is a good idea as this gives you an idea of how ell they are eating, especially if you have more than one.

Traditionally tortoises are hibernated in a box with shredded newspaper (what would we do with out newspaper!), this is placed in a larger box insulated with shredded paper or polystyrene chips. Don’t forget to make air holes. Surround the boxes with wire or place in an outer cage to prevent them becoming a meal for a hungry rat!

Hibernation should last about 12 weeks, certainly not more than 16 weeks or for young tortoises 4-8 weeks. This may seem short but remember they have already starved for 3-6 weeks. The ideal temperature 4-7C so a garage is usually the chosen place. Some people find it easier to maintain the correct temperature using a fridge (remembering to open the door everyday).

Whichever method you use the temperature needs to be monitored with a min/max thermometer, the probe placed in with your tortoise. Regular weighing and checking of your tortoise during hibernation is essential, as they will need to be woken early if they have emptied their bladder or lost 7% of their bodyweight.

If in any doubt please ring your veterinary practice for advice. While they are sleeping, you can plan for their care after hibernation………

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