When should you put a Mediterranean tortoise in the fridge?

Date added: 29th April 2015

 
The following extract is taken from the information provided by Lecturer and Clinical Manager at the Exotic Animal and Wildlife Clinic at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Kevin Eatwell, in April’s Exotics Club webinar ‘Approach to Post-Hibernation Anorexia in Tortoises’.

 
There are a number of techniques which should be adhered to when hibernating a tortoise:

  • Tortoises need to have an empty gastrointestinal tract prior to hibernation
  • Food should be withheld up to one month
  • Keep them warm for a week
  • Cool them down over the next two
  • Bathing should be performed daily to encourage voiding and to keep a full bladder. It is this fluid the tortoise will live off whilst hibernating
  • Let the tortoise get exposed to shorter daylength and colder overnight temperatures
  • A health check including weight should be performed prior to hibernation

 
Metabolic rate is temperature dependent, so hibernation temperature is absolutely crucial to a tortoise’s survival. A temperature of around 5 degrees Centigrade should be maintained. Several methods can be considered…

  1. A box within a box in a shed or the attic – you put the tortoise into one box with insulation material, knowing that the tortoise will probably dig into the corner of this box, and so you put a layer in a 2nd box to try and hold the temperature within that set-up.
  2. Fridges and chiller cabinets – these are aimed to operate at the temperature that you want for hibernation. Chiller cabinets are preferred because there is ventilation, and you can see the tortoise without opening the door. Fridge doors should be opened on a daily basis to get a little air change. Fridges can also dehydrate the air, so you should put some water in a bowl in the bottom of the fridge to try to keep the humidity up.
  3. Loose in the garden – this is another ‘old school’ method. However, beware as some tortoises go missing when they self-hibernate! In the UK climate, self-hibernation is also too long and there are increased risks of the tortoise sustaining an injury, for example from bonfires, lawn mowers and rodents.

 

Join Exotics Club and watch the recording of this webinar to find out more about tortoise hibernation and how to deal with post-hibernation anorexia.