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  • 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.

 

Hibernation protocol

  • 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).

 

Hibernation period

  • 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.

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