Hibernation is a prolonged period of inactivity where your tortoise's heart and respiratory rate dramatically slows down for a period of time.
Going Into Hibernation
- Prepare the place you are going to hibernate your tortoise such as an insulated box. Ensure that it is clean, dry and can maintain a temperature between 4-7 oC. Make sure their box has adequate bedding, insulation and ventilation.
- Remove food from your tortoise, although they are unlikely to be eating much if anything at this stage. It is important that the intestinal tract is completely empty prior to hibernation to prevent food remaining in the gut during this period of inactivity.
- Slowly reduce the heat in their enclosure if you have artificial heat lamps or pads.
- Place your tortoise in a warm bath of shallow water daily to allow them to drink, ensuring they go into hibernation fully hydrated and helps them to flush out their intestines. You can do this by placing them in a sink or litter tray for about 10 minutes a day for a couple of weeks.
- Weigh your tortoise to ensure they are an adequate weight for hibernation, ensuring they have enough fat reserves for the next few months.
- Take your tortoise to visit the vet for a full health check to help prevent post hibernation anorexia and ensure they are healthy.
- Check on your tortoise regularly during hibernation.
- Environmental temperatures should be monitored during this period, making sure it does not drop below freezing and ensuring it is not too warm as this will increase their metabolism.
- Hibernation should be a maximum of 16 weeks, with 12 weeks being ideal.
- Long periods of hibernation (6 months) can be detrimental to your tortoise.
- Your tortoise should be woken up from hibernation if:
- They loose more than 1% bodyweight a month
- They urinate
- They sustain any injuries
- If they are waking up
Waking Up From Hibernation
Tortoises will start to come out of hibernation at the beginning of spring, waking up for some overdue warmth and UV light. This is a physiologically demanding transition for your tortoise and there are things you can do to help them with this.
- Tortoises will normally begin to hibernate as the temperature drops and will do so for around 2-3 months. Through this period they rely on their fat reserves that they have stored through the summer months.
- Make sure you keep a record of your tortoises pre and post hibernation weight, this is helpful to track and they should not loose more than 10% of their bodyweight through the hibernation period.
What you can do to help:
- Place your tortoise in a warm room to wake up slowly, this may take a few hours before they are fully awake.
- You will need to hydrate your tortoise by giving them a nice, warm bath. You can do this by placing them in a container with tepid water that just covers their legs up to their chin, this will allow them to dunk their mouth under water. You should leave them for around 10 minutes or until they begin moving around to get out. This should be done every day for around a week.
- Keep them in a warm room and provide them with a basking place with a UVA lamp or sunshine.
- Provide them nice juicy food items to stimulate eating and maintain hydration such as cucumber, lettuce tomatoes but also fibrous food such as kale and dandelions from the garden.