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Help With Hibernating!

Discussion in 'Tortoise Breeding' started by Jillian Fricke, Jan 1, 2017.

  1. Jillian Fricke

    Jillian Fricke Member

    Jun 5, 2016
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    Allow me to preface this by stating that this is my first year owning a Russian tortoise. He was given to me by a client of mine back in May, and he was sick when I took him in. After spending hundreds on multiple vet appointments, he finally made a full recovery about two months later.

    Since October or so, he has become far more lethargic, sleeping almost the entire day and eating very little. I have not observed any obvious signs of illness, however. Is he attempting to hibernate? Is it true that you should not allow your tortoise to hibernate the first winter that you have him if you are inexperienced with tortoises?

    I feel as though he may be stuck in limbo at this point. I allow him to sleep all day, but still wake him up and put him in front of his food bowl every night. He also gets an occasional soak and some playtime.

    I will provide some details about his living environment, just to help better gauge the issue.
    He is kept indoors year-round in my room (which is a finished basement), and the basement is room temperature with plenty of artificial lighting and also a window. I have a PowerSun 160-watt, which is kept on for 12 hours a day. I also have a ceramic heat emitter handy, just in case it gets cold at night. His basking spot is a steady 100-degrees. He also has a hideout at the cooler end. The substrate is kept moist, and he always has fresh food (usually cactus pads, dandelion greens, kale, etc). During the summer, he was given a daily soak and taken outside everyday. (Sidenote: I live in Pennsylvania, and the winters are cold.)

    The vets in my area are extremely ignorant when it comes to reptiles, and the internet is filled with SO much conflicting information. I ultimately would like to know whether or not it seems like he is sick or hibernating, and whether or not to keep him awake or start hibernating him fully (and how to do so). Any advice or tips would be appreciated!
  2. Yvonne G

    Yvonne G Old Timer TFO Admin 5 Year Member Platinum Supporter

    Jan 23, 2008
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    Clovis, CA
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    Hi Jillian:

    You may have to allow him a mini hibernation. Box him up in shredded newspaper and place the box in a cool, dark, quiet place for 2 weeks. At the end of that time, get him up and soak him for about 15 minutes in room temperature water, then place him back into his habitat. This may fool him into thinking he has hibernated and it is spring time and time to get busy with life again.
    TortsNTurtles and Kasia like this.
  3. Kasia

    Kasia Active Member

    Aug 15, 2015
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    It's hard to keep them up even with all of the lightning and raising the temperature. Starting a regime of daily warm water soaks in the morning should help a bit. Your tort should at least nibble on something afterwards and it will keep him hydrated.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2017
  4. GBtortoises

    GBtortoises Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Feb 27, 2009
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    The Catskill Mountains of New York State
    First and foremost, it is absolutely not necessary to hibernate your tortoise at all. Tortoises from northern climates have evolved to hibernate in the wild to enable them to survive through long, cold winters in their native environment. During this time if they were awake, food would not be available or would be very sparse, temperatures would not be warm enough for regular activity and to allow for digestion and light would be diminished with shorter days. In many cases the ground would be covered with snow or receive consistent rain.
    Under normal circumstances they are not exposed to any of these hardships in captivity unless the keeper chooses to do so. Much can go wrong during hibernation both in the wild and in captivity.
    Russian tortoises needs and activities are often misunderstood because they tend to be treated the same as Mediterranean tortoises like Hermann's, Greeks and Marginateds. In reality they come from a very different environment and do best when kept in a manner close to that environment which is actually not easy to replicate in captivity.
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