As the temperatures start to drop and the nights draw in, it is time for tortoises to start thinking about hibernation.
This can be a traumatic time for tortoise owners as it can be tricky to successfully hibernate tortoises.
The most important consideration is that your tortoise is healthy and big enough to hibernate safely. If your tortoise is less than 3 years old, has a shell length less than 10 cm, is underweight or at all unwell then we would recommend not hibernating it but keeping it awake over winter in a heated vivarium.
It is also important to ensure that your tortoise does not hibernate with undigested food in it’s stomach as this can make them very poorly. As the temperature drops and the tortoise cools down they will start to slow down and will stop eating. They shouldn’t eat for 2-4 weeks before hibernation to ensure their stomachs are fully empty.
During hibernation the most important thing is to try and maintain the tortoises body temperature between 3 and 7 degrees C and not allow it to fluctuate which is easier said than done! Tortoises hibernate best in strong plastic boxes with ventilated lids about half filled with soil. The tortoise will bury himself in the soil and this will help keep his temperature constant much more than using straw or paper. They are best kept in brick outbuildings as these stay cool but protected from frost. It’s a good idea to use a min-max thermometer underneath the soil in the hibernating box which you can check every couple of weeks.
Tortoises tend to start waking up again about March when the weather becomes milder and at this stage you should move the box to somewhere warmer and allow them to gradually wake up naturally.
Once they are awake they should be placed in a bath of luke warm water for about 10 minutes to help them rehydrate as it is dehydration rather than starvation that most affects them as they come out of hibernation.