- Hibernation is a physiological stressful time for your tortoise and must be done right.
- For those species that have evolved to hibernate naturally in the wild – Not hibernating your tortoise can significantly increase the risks of growth anomalies, cancers and heart disease.
- We don’t recommend hibernation for any tortoise less than five years old. Some in the wild may but for only a short spell.
- For young tortoises we do recommend a period of reduce feeding for 1-2 months to mimic there natural environment. This is required to help regulate growth rates –helping to reduce shell pyramiding and beak overgrowth. Please contact us for any further advice.
- Ensure your tortoise is a species that naturally hibernates!
- Those that commonly hibernate in the wild include – Hermans, Horsefields and Spur thigh tortoises
- Those that DO NOT include – Leopard African spurred and red foot tortoises
- Weigh your tortoise prior to the pre-hibernation period. This will be its “critical weight”
- We highly recommend a comprehensive pre-hibernation vet check at this stage. Ideally with a fresh faecal sample to screen for internal parasites.
- If your tortoise is ill or underweight we may well recommend that you do not hibernate him/her.
Pre hibernation period
- House in a thermostatically temperature controlled environment. This is critical to avoid them waking up early.
- Lower the temperature by 2 degrees c weekly (starting temperature should be around 25-28 degrees c) continue to feed and bath daily, and weigh weekly.
- Once at 16 degrees c stop feeding but bath for 15-20 minutes daily.
- Continue to lower the temperatures – during this time the gastrointestinal tract is fully emptied prior to hibernation. Critical to avoid fermentation of residual food and the build-up of toxins.
- Once below 10 degrees c – place in hibernation storage location (often Horsefields will need to be as low as 5 degrees c before they truly hibernate).
- Do not allow the temperature to dip below 3 degrees c due to the risk of frost damage.
- Do not allow temperatures to go above 10 degrees c as your tortoise will wake up.
- The ideal environment for hibernation is a small fridge, they are well insulated and usually temperature controlled and secure against rodents
- Ensure adequate ventilation e.g. open fridge doors daily to allow air to circulate.
- Weigh weekly if your tortoise losses over 7% of its critical weight you should move straight to the wake up phase.
- The duration of hibernation should not really exceed 3-4 months. Your tortoise will naturally lose 2% of its body weight each month even with optimal care. So obviously after 3-4 months we will have lost 8% body weight and be critically dehydrated.
The wake up phase
- Take out of the hibernation environment
- Increase temperatures by 2-3 degrees c daily over 5-6 days
- Offer food daily and bath twice daily
- If your tortoise has not eaten after 5-6 days your will need to bring it in to us for a post hibernation check.