So we have a very special guest at Bright Side Vets who is staying with us for 3 months. At 80 years old she is currently our oldest patient. ‘Jet set’ is an 80-year-old Herman tortoise who has been in my family since I was 6 years old! We are looking after her for the next few months. I thought it was a good opportunity to share some tips on taking care of these incredible creatures. First up, as its very relevant for this time of year, hibernation.
Tortoise hibernation is quite a complicated subject and back in the 70/80’s a lot of tortoises died during hibernation or whilst coming out due to a lack of understanding of their particular needs in the UK climate.
Tortoises tend to go into a state of hibernation in November when temperatures start to drop. Hibernation often lasts for 3 months’ whist temperatures are between 3-7C. This will keep the tortoise’s metabolism stable and prevent them burning off calories and losing body weight during hibernation. Once temperatures start to reach 10C tortoises will start to stir. During this time, waking them up can be tricky as fluctuations in temperatures might mean that they want to go back into hibernation. Allowing them to do so can prove to be a disaster as their metabolic rate will have increased and start burning off their fat reserves that sustain them in their deep sleep. Additionally, they can quickly get dehydrated after being woken up if they don’t start to take on water.
It is therefore best to try and recreate a sunny spring day, keeping temps above 10C with the use of a proper UVA/UVB reptile lamp for heat and light which will encourage the tortoises to want to eat and drink.
Jetty’s routine has been a little disrupted and she has come out of hibernation earlier than normal. Here at Bright Side we have worked hard all week to support this transition. This has included having her special reptile light and heater in place and sitting her in warm baths twice daily for 10 minutes to encourage her to drink.
Tortoises can absorb fluids through their bottoms and can also be encouraged to drink by gentle pouring water over their heads and shell. Allowing them space to exercise and build up an appetite can be great too. It has taken 1 week of Jetty exploring the practice to get her to eat including checking out the cat ward (much to all the cat’s fascination), checking what Jason has been up to in his office and keeping the girls company in their lunch breaks by the radiator.
We have offered her tomatoes, cucumber, spring greens, raspberries and grapes, but what has done the trick is melon!! Now she is eating and restoring her energy we can relax a bit.
If any of our clients are having problems getting their tortoise to eat post hibernation, please contact the practice for some tips. They may have other issues like an overgrown beak or a respiratory infection so we would really not recommend leaving it longer than a week to get a post hibernation health check at the vets. If anybody wants to share their tortoise’s hibernation tips, please do so on this link, especially tempting foods and photos of your shelled friends are welcome!!