Table of contents:
How long is hibernation for tortoises? | Preparing your tortoise for hibernation | Weighing your tortoise | Methods of hibernation | How to wake a tortoise from hibernation | Feeding your tortoise after hibernation | Tortoise hibernation problems | Tortoise post-hibernation anorexia | Tortoise hibernation and weight loss | Other things to check your tortoise for after hibernation
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Many wild tortoises have to deal with climates in which the summers are hot and dry and the winters are mild and wet.
To deal with the winters they shut off all but the most vital functions and sleep. Hibernation in tortoises is common in Mediterranean tortoises, which includes:
- The Spur-Thighed tortoise (testudo Graeca)
- Hermann’s tortoise (testudo Hermanni)
- Horsfield’s tortoise (also known as the Russian tortoise, or Agrionemys Horsfieldii)
- The Marginated Tortoise (testudo Marginata)
However, other types of tortoises, such as Desert tortoises, may also hibernate.
You may also like this: Tortoise food and diet advice
How long is hibernation for a tortoise?
The Tortoise Shop offers a list of hibernation times based on the age of the tortoise:
- One year old – three weeks
- Two years old – six weeks
- Three years old – 10 weeks
- Four years old – 16 weeks
- Five years old and over – 22 weeks
Some places recommend that you do not let your tortoise hibernate if it is less than one year old (some even say three years).
The Tortoise Shop suggests tortoises should not be hibernated within the first year of ownership, regardless of age. This is so that a regular, consistent hibernating schedule can be maintained for tortoise’s life.
It is also so you can be certain that the tortoise is totally healthy. Hibernating a tortoise that is unhealthy is very dangerous and could exacerbate health problems or, in extreme cases, lead to the death of the animal. Our article Tortoises - Old, Older and Oldest offers advice on how to tell if your tortoise is healthy.
Highcroft Vet Group say that the maximum amount of time you should allow your pet to hibernate for is twelve weeks.
As advice is often conflicting, we would recommend that you speak to your exotic pet vet regarding the amount of time you should allow your tortoise to hibernate for.
You may also like this diet article: Tortoise diet, calcium, Vitamin D3 and not eating.
You should weigh your tortoise before hibernation.
Preparing your tortoise for hibernation
You should start thinking about hibernation around mid-August. Tortoisetrust.com suggest that if your tortoise isn’t healthy enough to hibernate by the end of August, then it won't be healthy enough to begin hibernation a few months later.
Your tortoise will need to be not only fit and healthy, but also have put on enough weight to see it through the winter. Sufficient fat reserves is essential, and without them, your tortoise could simply die of dehydration and starvation during hibernation.
August is a good time to start monitoring this.
Its strongly recommended you have your tortoise health checked by a vet to make sure it has no problems prior to hibernation.
Hibernation usually begins around November.
Find out more about ExoticDirect's tortoise insurance.
Your tortoises fasting period
Weighing your tortoise
Methods of hibernation
There are two common ways of hibernating your tortoise – the fridge method and the box method.
The fridge method of hibernation
- For the fridge method, you will need a box which is a little larger than your tortoise.
- These boxes can be made out of cardboard, plastic or wood, but for species which require a moist environment to hibernate in, plastic is best.
- The box should be filled with substrate, preferably sterilised soil, and should have air holes in it to facilitate ventilation.
- The substrate needs to be deep enough that the tortoise can bury itself.
- The optimum temperature to keep the box in is 4 to 5 degrees Celsius, and it is essential that this never approaches 10 degrees or falls lower than 3. Between 3 and 7 degrees is generally fine.
- If the temperature begins to approach 10 degrees, your tortoise will start using up valuable energy reserves that it needs to hibernate safely. If the temperature drops below 3 degrees, your tortoise could become ill or die from being too cold.
- It is important to maintain the fridge so that the temperature of the box does not vary too much. It is recommended that you test the fridge well in advance of hibernation to see how stable it is,
- The temperature outside the fridge is also integral to maintaining the temperature inside. You shouldn’t put the fridge in a cold room, such as in a garage, as if the fridge drops below 1 degree the tortoise inside could freeze and die. It is best to keep the fridge in a normal temperature room.
- You could also fill the fridge with some sealed two-litre bottles of water in order to stabilise the temperature of the fridge.
- Make sure that the fridge is free from food and clean (with the exception of the bottles of water) before you attempt hibernation. You will also have to open the fridge for a few minutes three or four times a week to facilitate ventilation, otherwise your tortoise may suffocate.
The box method of hibernation
The other more traditional method to allow tortoises to hibernate is the box method.
- This entails two boxes, one small enough that it can fit in the other with a couple of inches of space around it.
- The smaller box is filled with a sand and soil substrate mix, and the other box is used as insulation by filling the gap with shredded paper.
- This box can be kept in a place such as a cellar or a garage or outbuilding. Make sure these buildings are dry and not at risk of flooding, or prone to fluctuations in temperature .
- It’s also important that the box is in a place where other animals cannot get to your tortoise, so it won’t be attacked.
- Again, a thermometer is needed to accurately check the temperature within the box. The temperature should be between 3 and 7 degrees Celsius, the same as the fridge.
Humidity in hibernation
Bear in mind that humidity will play a part in the hibernation of your tortoise, too. The holes you drill in the box for your tortoise will help to keep the humidity in the box up. Various tortoises and turtles will need different levels of humidity; the Horsfield’s tortoise, for example, needs a less humid environment than hibernating box turtles.
How to wake a tortoise from hibernation
Tortoise hibernation problems
Tortoises waking early from hibernation
Tortoises dying in hibernation
Tortoises pooping during hibernation
Tortoises scratching during hibernation
Feeding your tortoise after hibernation
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Tortoise post-hibernation anorexia
- It could be that the tortoise isn’t being kept at high enough temperatures to encourage feeding
- It could mean that your tortoise has been in hibernation for too long
- It could also be down to a health problem that the tortoise has acquired, such as mouth rot. This can be identified by a bad odour and yellow deposits building up in the mouth.
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Tortoise hibernation and weight loss
Other things to check your tortoise for after hibernation
- Eyesight problems, including blindness and cloudiness
- Frostbite and gangrene affecting the legs
- Swellings on the head and body
- Green urine
Hibernation is a delicate process and needs to be treated with the utmost care. If handled incorrectly, your tortoise can become ill or even die. It’s important to follow the correct procedure to ensure a healthy and successful hibernation period.
Find out more about ExoticDirect tortoise insurance.