Notes on Tortoise Hibernation and Care

Tortoises can live for over 100 years and so need committed owners to look after them. Tortoises are not native to most countries and climates where they are kept as pets and so as an owner you should understand their needs when kept in these alien conditions.

We are mainly interested here in discussing hibernation but a brief overview of their needs are, a well ventilated vivarium or a Tortoise table with a heat lamp and U.V. (ultra violet lamp) of high output UVB. a 10% full spectrum reptile lamp being ideal. Keep the heat at one end so the Tortoise can self regulate its temperature, the range should be as high as 40c at the hot end and down to 25c at the cool with a night time drop down to 15 degrees. Feed with leafy vegetables and occasional fruit dusted with a good vitamin/calcium supplement, commercial complete foods are also available. You will also need to provide a shallow water dish for drinking and bathing.

Tortoises in their natural habitat will hibernate for only short periods and so need checking regularly throughout their hibernation in our colder climate. Before hibernating insure your tortoise is in good health and a good weight.

It is recommend you weigh your pet before and at least monthly during hibernation, weight loss should not be more than one per cent per month. Any sudden loss in weight means there is a problem and you will need to wake the tortoise.

Hibernate your tortoise in a well ventilated box placed inside another box filled with polystyrene chips, shredded newspaper or another suitable material. Store in a dry and frost-free place such as an insulated shed or garage that will not be liable to temperature changes. You should not hibernate your tortoise somewhere that is liable to temperature changes such as a greenhouse that will get too cold at night and too warm on sunny days. Airing cupboards also are not suitable places for hibernation as many people think as they are usually too warm. Make sure the temperature is between 4-10 degrees Celsius (38-50F) higher temperatures will mean the tortoise may wake up, and in lower temperatures the tortoise will try to dig down to find more warmth, you do not want the tortoise using up energy that your pet should not be using at this time. A maximum-minimum thermometer available from any good reptile specialist pet shop is useful for monitoring the temperature. It is a good idea to protect the hibernation box from rodents also using wire mesh.

If the tortoise shows dramatic weight loss it should be woken and kept awake indoors for the rest of the winter. In this case you will need to provide heat and u.v. Lighting available from reptile specialist pet shops.

Check list of what you will need; 2 boxes (1 to fit inside the other), Insulation material (polystyrene chips), Wire mesh, Scales, Maximum-minimum thermometer, Suitable hibernation place and an Infra-red heat bulb or lamp plus u.v. lighting in case you need to rescue the tortoise from hibernation.

If you have any concerns about the tortoises weight or general health then do not try to hibernate it.

Mary J. Gibson

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