Tortoise Hibernation

In the UK, our climate presents us with a challenge when it comes to hibernating a Tortoise. Whilst we have distinct seasons, our autumnal cooler temperatures and shorter day lengths arrive a little too early for our shelled friends.

The outdoor temperatures of September could induce hibernation easily but September is too early for your tortoise to hibernate and thus steps must be taken to try and keep them awake until November. The best way to do this is with a vivarium.

A vivarium is the term we use for reptile housing and the aim would be too artificially increase the photoperiod (day length) and the temperature in the early autumn. You will need a light source and a heat source for this. These can be purchased from most pet stores.

By end of October, it is ok to think about hibernation in tortoises older than 3 years of age . First thing to ensure is that your tortoise is healthy. If in doubt, come in for a vet check . Good body condition is essential and a worming dose is advised.

Then, all being well, start to gradually lower the temperature to <10 °C and the light period to what we experience naturally at that time of year. Your tortoise will stop eating and around 10 days after the last feed, it is time to induce hibernation properly. This brief period of starvation is recommended before hibernation to empty the stomach.
It is essential that your tortoise is put somewhere secure, dark and rodent free. It is very important that the temperature does not fluctuate.

Nothing is more important than a stable cool temperature. Somewhere between 1 to 10°C is safe but 5°C is ideal. There are many ways to try and achieve this. Some people opt for insulating boxes, others consider refrigerators but regular checks with a thermometer are the needed whatever method you use. (a thermometer that gives you a maximum and minimum reading is best).

When the days start to become warmer in March, it is ok to let your tortoise to wake up naturally and you can move your tortoise in a box to an area that is slightly warmer. When your tortoise starts to move around the box they can be placed into somewhere warmer still. Back into a vivarium is ideal at around 20°C. Warm water bathing each day will help to hydrate your tortoise, encourage defecation and appetence. If March is a
very cold, wait till April.

Different societies have their own preferred methods. We ask that you read around the various methods that may suit your situation and call us for further support if you have any questions.

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