18 Essential Hibernation Hints
- DON'T leave your tortoise outside during Autumn if you wish to prevent it from hibernating. It needs to be under a light from September onwards to keep it going.
- DO keep accurate records of the tortoise's weight before, during and after hibernation.
- DON'T put your tortoise into hibernation if it has a full stomach. It can take up to a month at moderate temperatures for an average size adult tortoise to empty it's system.
- DO offer your tortoise baths before hibernation. It needs to be well hydrated before going down and this could mean the difference between life and death.
- DON'T hibernate tortoises you have recently acquired from a pet shop, without first identifying exactly what species you have, or without getting your tortoise checked by a vet who understands reptiles.
- DO check inside your tortoise's mouth before hibernation, for grasses and remaining food debris. Rotting vegetation is a major cause of mouth infection during hibernation.
- DON'T hibernate a tortoise that has had a serious illness during the season. Its immune system will not be very efficient whilst it is hibernating, and infections conquered during the summer could recur.
- DO allow your tortoise to hibernate naturally outside if it is used to doing this, and if you know it is well up to weight and healthy. Make sure it has chosen a dry sheltered spot and that you know where it is.
- DON'T puncture your tortoise's hibernating box with air holes. If the top is covered with newspapers and a sack, enough air should filter in.
- DO use an accurate thermometer to check the temperatures near the hibernating box during the winter.
- DON'T use an outbuilding that may be inhabited by rats.
- DO be ready to move the tortoise's box to a different location should the temperature fall too low or rise too high.
- DON'T feed your tortoise and return it to hibernation should it awake during the winter. Once it is up and feeding, it should stay up.
- DO check for signs of urination towards the end of the hibernation period. If it has lost fluid during a warm spell, then it is time to remove it from hibernation.
- DON'T leave your tortoise in hibernation until late April or early May. It will have been down far too long and could be in serious trouble. The tortoise should ideally be up by the end of March.
- DO give your tortoise a long soak in tepid water when he it woken up.
- DON'T expect it to feed if its body temperature is too low. Given that Spring weather in temperate climates can be very unpredictable, most tortoises will benefit from having a light to bask under. Then it should not be slow to start feeding.
- DO send for a free copy of the Tortoise Trust's Safer Hibernation and your Tortoise, if you haven't already got one. It is a life saver.