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Tortoise Hibernation



Most tortoises that hibernate do so for health reasons. So missing lots of hibernations will adversely affect the tortoise’s health and life span.

The positives of hibernation far out way the negatives!

Common mistakes made are:

1 ) Feed the tortoise prior to hibernation

2) Incorrect hibernation temperature i.e. above 10dc or below 0

3) No protection against predators (when hibernating outside)

4) Hibernating an ill tortoise

So that’s the negatives out of the way, let’s look at the right way to hibernate your tortoise.

Wind down process:


Completely starve the tortoise prior to the hibernation period. The starvation period should be

 7 days for a tortoise up to 1 year old.

 10 – 14 days for a tortoise aged between 2 -4years

21-28 days for tortoises older than 4 years.

If your tortoise is kept outside don’t worry as you will find that the tortoise will naturally start to eat less as the weather gets colder.

Whilst going through the starvation the tortoise must have a full bladder. We would recommend daily bathing throughout the wind down period, this will make sure the tortoise is nicely hydrated.

Now that your tortoise has an empty gut and a full bladder, you need to be sure that you hibernate the tortoise in the right place. Where your tortoise isn’t going to freeze but is not going to wake up early due to warm weather!

The perfect temperature for hibernating is between 3 -7oC constantly.

We strongly suggest the fridge method for hibernation. We find this method to be the safest and most effective method available. A domestic fridge temperature is around 5dc and as long as the fridge door is opened for several seconds daily it will ensure enough air supply.

When you are starting the hibernation process for the first time we strongly suggest only hibernation for 3 weeks regardless of the tortoise’s age.

Another method to use is a brick garage, but you must be on guard about temperature as you have less control over the temperatures.

Boxing up your tortoise

Place the tortoise in a tightly fitting box containing soil/compost. Then place this box into a larger box containing poly chipping, these are an excellent insulation buffer.  Make sure the boxes are not air tight; there should be air holes in both boxes. Once the tortoise is placed in the boxes hold the lid down with elastic bands.

Hibernation time scales

1 year = 3 weeks

2 years = 6 weeks

3 years = 10 weeks

4 years = 16 weeks

5 years and over = 22 week


Waking up time

Immediately after awakening let the tortoise acclimatize at room temperature for around half an hour. Whilst the tortoise acclimatizes turn on the basking lamps, etc. We recommend that you bathe the tortoise for around 10 mins or so in warm water this allows the tortoise to re-hydrate and flush out the toxins within the tortoise’s body. You can place the tortoise back into the tortoise table, on the days following increase the room temperature and bathe daily. Feeding should commence within a day or two. If your tortoise hasn’t eaten within five days then we suggest you give us a call or contact a vet for advice

This should not ever be the case if the hibernation guidelines are followed.

Reasons for hibernating

Most Mediterranean breeds are biologically set to hibernate for a period of time; they are not designed to be eating and awake 365 days a year. You cannot trick Mother Nature without consequences.Should the tortoise be awake every winter the increased food intake can lead to abnormal growthand then in turn cause Metabolic bone disease leading to lumpy shells and sometimes kidney and bladder stones.