Wakey wakey, rise and shine you magnificent, shelled creatures! In this guide, the team from Travel Vet share key advice for helping Middlesex tortoises come out of their hibernation period in the safest and healthiest way.
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How long do tortoises hibernate?
In the UK, many tortoises hibernate from around November to March. Hibernation is a natural part of their lifecycle and helps them stay healthy. Most of the year they live on a diet of greens and grass in their enclosure and in autumn they will eat more food to build up fat reserves, ready to hibernate through the winter.
Head Vet Emma Fisher, advises that not all species of tortoise hibernate for the same length of time, or at all. Be sure to research your species as well as the best type of tortoise hibernation box and location. If they appear unwell or underweight, bring them for a Vet check-up before the ‘big sleep’.
Tortoise hibernation ‘recovery room’
When your tortoise is due to emerge from hibernation in the spring, UK temperatures do not get high enough for them to live outdoors. Therefore, for the duration of your tortoise’s recovery from hibernation and the remaining cooler months, you will need to provide an indoor home with sufficient lighting and heating.
Helping your tortoise wake up from hibernation
The best way to help your tortoise wake up safely is to do it gradually. A shock to the system will not be good for their wellbeing. Follow these steps:
- Place your tortoise hibernation box in a warm room to allow their body temperature to acclimatise.
- Once your pet is awake and moving around (this can take up to two days), you will need to move them to their vivarium where you can regulate a warmer temperature via the heat lamp – start at 22-24 degrees Celsius (the UV light must be on too).
- After a couple of days of movement, your tortoise will need a lukewarm bath every day for 10 days to rehydrate – read more about this below – always provide drinking water too.
- Every other day during this period, you should increase the vivarium temperature by one degree until 26-28 degrees Celsius is achieved.
Tortoise bath time!
Your tortoise will be dehydrated after several weeks of hibernation. Hydration is more important than food in the initial stages of waking up and drinking will help to flush out the toxins that have built up. A bath will rehydrate them quicker than simply offering them water to drink from a bowl. Here’s what you need to do:
- Use an empty ice-cream tub or a bowl – fill it with lukewarm water up to your tortoise’s mouth so they can dunk their head under and drink without being fully submerged
- Place your tortoise in the container on the floor for about 10 minutes – they may take themselves out of it earlier
- After a week, continue to make a tub of water available in your tortoise’s enclosure
- Remember to tip the contents down the drain rather than the sink and don’t use it for anything else (for hygiene regularly clean the tub separately from other items with reptile-safe disinfectant
Feeding your tortoise after hibernation
Once your tortoise is hydrated you can start to offer food. Try offering fresh tomato as it will rehydrate as well as feed them. Vitamin supplements can be added but follow the instructions carefully. If your tortoise won’t eat after a week, you should contact our Vets for advice. Your pet may have been hibernating for too long, has a health condition, or their post-hibernation temperature is too low.
Looking after your tortoise’s health
Your tortoise will be especially vulnerable after waking up due to weight loss and dehydration. Therefore, you should look out for these issues as in many cases rapid veterinary treatment will be needed. Check your tortoise regularly for eyesight issues (including cloudiness and blindness), frostbite and gangrene on the legs, swellings, and green urine.
Finally, here are some top tortoise hibernation tips from Travel Vet’s team:
Top tip #1 – If you hear your tortoise moving about or scratching during hibernation, they have probably woken up due to it being too warm. Hibernation temperatures should stay between 3 – 7 degrees Celsius.
Top tip #2 – If your tortoise does wake up early and starts moving around, metabolic processes will be awakening too. Putting a tortoise back into hibernation can be dangerous for them.
Top tip #3 – If your tortoise poops during hibernation, it is probably ok so long as it’s not runny – this could cause dehydration. Urinating during hibernation can cause severe dehydration so you should wake your pet up if they do this.
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