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Simple Hibernation Tips for Tortoises

Simple Hibernation Tips for Tortoises:



Hibernation is a natural and essential part of a tortoises’s life.


Not all tortoises can be hibernated.  Tropical tortoises such as Redfoots, Indian Stars and several African species must not be hibernated because they don’t need to in their natural habitat.


Before commencing the hibernation process, always seek a health check with your reptile specialist vets.


Never hibernate tortoises that have been ill within the last 12 months.


Never hibernate a tortoise that is under-weight. There are a few weight charts that are available to determine if a tortoise is under-weight.  For example the Jackson Ratio for Hermann and Spur-Thigh Tortoises only, and the Macintyre ratio for Horsefield tortoises only.  The best way is to weigh your tortoises at least monthly, so you will know if they are underweight after eating well all summer.  Of course, worms can mean a tortoise can weigh deceptively heavy.  Worming should be carried out at least 6 weeks prior to starvation.


It is important not to feed a tortoise 2 to 4 weeks before hibernation depending on their age.  Weighing them every few days until their weight stops reducing, will give you a good indication when their gut is empty.  They must still have access to water as usual.  Most tortoises stop eating of their own accord in preparation for hibernation.


Use a dry box that is well ventilated with a secure lid.  Place insulation like unprinted shredded paper that allows plenty airflow inside (don’t pack it too tightly and make sure there are no small/dust particles for the tortoise to breathe accidentally).  Another box should be placed inside this box with the tortoise inside.  Again well ventilated.  Always use a digital temperature probe that can record the temperature inside the tortoises’ box.  You can buy digital thermometers that will connect to your phone with a good Wifi connection.


Keep box in a cool dry secure area away from heating and windows particular in direct sunlight.  Keep dry at all times.   A garage or shed can be ideal, but they must be protected from frost.  Ideal hibernation temperature range is between 3 to 5 degrees C.  If the temperature falls below zero there is a risk of permanent damage or death.  Too warm will use up vital food storage in the tortoise's body.


Hibernation normally last for approximately 12 weeks (temperature dependant).


During hibernation check your tortoise weekly.  Weigh your tortoise weekly too.  5% weight loss indicates that your tortoise is losing too much weight and will be need to be removed from hibernation.


Female tortoises that may be carrying eggs must never be hibernated until you are fully certain that there are no more eggs to lay.  It is also recommended that young hatchlings are not hibernated in the first year.


If in any doubt about the health of your tortoise, always seek the professional advise of a reptile specialist vet.  At the end of the hibernation period it is a good idea to have a check-up anyway.

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