*DO NOT HIBERNATE YOUR TORTOISE WITHIN THE FIRST 12 MONTHS OF OWNERSHIP, REGARDLESS OF AGE!*
The breeds of tortoise that hibernate do so for health reasons. Irregular hibernation will adversely affect the tortoise’s health and lifespan.
Most Mediterranean breeds are biologically set to hibernate for a period of time; it is unnatural for tortoises to be awake and eating 365 days a year.
You cannot trick Mother Nature without consequences; if your tortoise is awake every winter, the increased food intake can lead to abnormal growth and in turn cause Metabolic Bone Disease, lumpy shells and sometimes even kidney and bladder stones.
The positives of hibernation far outweigh the negatives!
Common mistakes made include:
- Feeding the tortoise prior to hibernation
- Incorrect hibernation temperature i.e. above 10°c or below 0°c
- No protection against predators (when hibernating outside)
- Hibernating an ill tortoise
So that’s the negatives out the way, let’s look at the right way to hibernate your tortoise.
*THE TORTOISE MUST HAVE AN EMPTY GUT BUT A FULL BLADDER!*
You need to completely starve the tortoise prior to the hibernation period. The starvation period should be;
14 - 20 days for tortoises aged between 1-3 years
21 - 28 days for tortoises older than 4 years
Whilst going through the starvation period the tortoise must have a full bladder. We recommend daily bathing throughout the wind down process; this will ensure that the tortoise is nicely hydrated and help your tortoise empty it's gut.
When your tortoise has an empty gut and a full bladder you need to be sure that you hibernate the tortoise in the right location – where your tortoise isn’t going to freeze but is also not going to wake up early due to warm weather.
The perfect temperature for hibernating is between 2-5°c constantly.
We strongly suggest the fridge method for hibernation. We find this to be the safest and most effective method available. A domestic fridge temperature is around 5°c and opening the door for a few seconds daily will ensure adequate air supply.
Brick garages can also be used, but you must be on guard as you have less control over the outdoor temperatures.
Place your tortoise in a small plastic tub large enough for the tortoise to be able to make a 360 turn (such as a margarine/ ice cream tub) containing unsterilised top soil/compost. Place this tub in a cardboard box (such as a shoe box) containing poly chippings – these are an excellent insulation buffer – you can also use shredded paper if the chippings are not available. Ensure that these boxes are not air tight, and that they both have air holes. You can secure the lids with elastic bands.
Hibernation Time Scales
1st year = 3 weeks
2nd year = 6 weeks
3rd year = 10 weeks
4th year = 16 weeks
5th year and over = 22 weeks
(these can timescales can often be too long with our warmer winters, so use your own judgement here)
When you hibernate your tortoise for the first time, we strongly suggest that you only hibernate for 3 weeks regardless of the age of the tortoise.
Immediately after awakening you should let the tortoise acclimatise at room temperature for around half an hour. Whilst the tortoise acclimatises, turn on the basking and UV lamps in the tortoise table. We recommend that you bathe your tortoise for 10 minutes or so in lukewarm water; this will allow your tortoise to re-hydrate and flush out the toxins in its body. After bathing, place your tortoise back into the tortoise table. In the days following awakening, you should increase the room temperature and bathe daily. Feeding should commence within a day or two. If your tortoise hasn’t eaten within seven days of waking up after hibernation we suggest you seek advice from a reptile vet.
This is a video to show you how to set up our hibernation box for use in a garage or shed.