Image How to hibernate a tortoise – an essential guide

How to hibernate a tortoise – an essential guide

As tortoises are not native to the UK, they are used to very specific environmental needs that keep them healthy. Hibernation is a normal and important process for many species, which they undergo in both the wild and in captivity when temperatures start to drop as we approach the colder months.

If you have welcomed one of these docile and friendly reptiles into your family, check out our guide on how to hibernate a tortoise for everything you should know.

Does my tortoise need to hibernate?

Not all species of tortoise hibernate, so make sure you do your research and find out if yours will need to. The following common species will hibernate:

  • Hermann’s tortoise
  • Spur-Thighed tortoise
  • Horsfield’s tortoise
  • Marginated tortoise

Some hibernating species of tortoise should not be hibernated for a number of reasons, such as if they are underweight or have an illness.

How to prepare your tortoise for hibernation

You should start thinking about hibernation around mid-August, at which point it is recommended to get your tortoise booked in with your vet for a health check before making a final decision.

Your tortoise should only hibernate if they are in good physical health. Feeding them a healthy, balanced diet in the lead up over the summer months will help them to store sufficient fat reserves to prepare for their long sleep.

Before hibernating, your tortoise should not be fed for a period of time – the length of which depends on your tortoise’s size in comparison to the mature adult size for the species. Though your tortoise should not be fed during this time, it is important to keep them hydrated by bathing them daily in a shallow pool of water.

Keep your tortoise in a temperate of around 12/13 degrees Celsius after their last meal to allow enough time for the food to be digested. If undigested before hibernation, food can decay in their stomach and make them very unwell. The length of time it takes to digest their food will again depend on their size. Ask your vet for advice if you are unsure.

During the final preparation phase when their food has been digested, drop the temperature and gradually reduce their daylight hours.

Can you hibernate a tortoise in the fridge?

Yes you can, although this should be separate from the fridge your food is stored in for hygiene reasons. Many experts will recommend the fridge method as it is easy to control the temperature your tortoise hibernates in.

To hibernate your tortoise, you will need:

  • A suitable box with air holes that is a little larger than your tortoise
  • Sterilised soil to put in the box, filled deep enough that your tortoise can bury itself
  • A separate fridge kept between 4-5 degrees Celsius

While your tortoise is hibernating in the fridge, remember to open the door and check them daily to help circulate air.

How long should they hibernate for?

The length of time your tortoise should be hibernated for will depend on their size. Small tortoises can be hibernated for around 8-10 weeks, while larger tortoises should be no longer than 16 weeks. Check with your vet before hibernating your tortoise.

Weight loss during hibernation

Weigh your tortoise before you begin hibernation so that you can get an accurate starting weight to monitor weight loss from. While hibernating, your tortoise may lose up to 1% of their total weight per month safely. Weigh your tortoise every week and, if they start to lose more than this consistently, you should wake them early.

Waking your tortoise from hibernation

The best way to gradually wake your tortoise up is to place them in their box near a heat source, such as a basking or UV lamp, to help them acclimatise. After a few hours, they should begin to move around.

Once your tortoise is up and moving, encourage them to drink by placing them in a shallow dish of lukewarm water. Drinking is important at this stage, as they will be dehydrated and will need to flush out any toxins that have accumulated during hibernation.

Your tortoise can start to be offered food after they have hydrated to help them put back on the weight they have lost. If they are not eating within 1-2 weeks, it could be a sign of something wrong which should be checked by your vet.

Spring temperatures in the UK are not high enough for a tortoise to live outside, so keep them indoors for the remainder of the cooler months with adequate heating and lighting.

If you have any questions about how to hibernate a tortoise, please get in touch with your local St Kitts practice.

St Kitts Veterinary Centre: 01252 844044
Basingstoke Veterinary Centre: 01256 844944
Crookham Park Veterinary Centre: 01252 913990
Firgrove Veterinary Centre: 01252 877799