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How to keep your tortoise(s) cool on a hot day!

Discussion in 'Tortoise Health' started by biochemnerd808, Aug 10, 2014.

  1. biochemnerd808

    biochemnerd808 Well-Known Member

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    When Summer finally comes, and the weather heats up, it is SO important to make sure your tortoise doesn't overheat or dehydrate! I will outline a few simple but important precautions you need to take to insure your tortoise remains happy and healthy, even during a heat advisory.
    [​IMG]

    First, always keep in mind that if the air temperature is 90 degrees F (32 degrees C), the ground temperature in the sun can easily be 140 degrees F (60 degrees C), which is unsafe for our chelonian friends!

    In the wild, tortoises have the opportunity to dig deep into their burrows to enjoy cooler temperatures and even to aestivate (Summer version of hibernation). They can seek out DEEP shade under bushes and trees and rock crevices. They can roam for miles in the morning to find a suitable spot to hide from the midday sun.

    In captivity, keepers often only provide flimsy hides that don't actually insulate tortoises from the heat. Some outdoor enclosures don't have deep shade from trees or bushes, and the substrate is too shallow to dig into. Tortoises can be trapped, and may suffer from heat stroke if left in the beating sun for too long.

    [​IMG]
    (some tortoises like to dig more than others)
    If your tortoise is outdoors, and the weather is warmer than 85 degrees F, your tortoise really needs to have some form of insulated hide that also allows it to dig several inches or feet into the soft, cool soil to regulate its body temperature. Such a hide can be built from wood and insulation material, or made from a sturdy half-pipe or half flowerpot, with several inches of soil piled over top. You can plant sod over top to help keep the dirt in place (possibly with some kind of netting under the sod, to prevent erosion).

    In the picture below, you can sort of see one of my insulated hides up against the wall. It is both attractive and useful! I made it from a sturdy plastic bin (once upon a time a recycling bin), with soil piled on top, and a little rock garden with succulents. Even on a hot day, the inside of the hide only rises to about 70 degrees F (21 degrees C).

    [​IMG]
    A hide that is insulated by dirt and a rock garden with succulents!
    The tortoise enclosures are large, and are planted with several bushes, and a tree partially shades a portion of the tortoise yard all day long. As a result, the tortoises can decide which part of the temperature gradient they want to spend time in. They come out into the sun in the morning, to raise their body temperature. Then they eat and wander for a few hours. During the hottest afternoon hours, they hide away in the cooler, shadier areas. Then they usually come back out in the cooler evening hours, or they dig in for the night.

    To help regulate the temperatures in their tortoise garden on hot days, I hose it down thoroughly every couple of hours. The tortoises have come to appreciate the cool rain shower from the hose - almost all of them come out to visit while I'm spraying down the outdoor tortoise habitats. On extra hot days I also set up an umbrella to shade part of the enclosure.

    Another measure I take to help the tortoises stay healthy in warm weather is to soak them once a week. When it is not as hot, I let them self-regulate their water intake, since they do have a nice big planting saucer full of water to bathe in or drink out of. However, 100 degree weather can dehydrate a tortoise awfully fast.

    [​IMG]

    Here's the whole bale of my RTs, 6 females and 2 males, ranging from 4.5" to 9" SCL, all soaking in some cool water this afternoon. We have a couple of really hot days coming up, so even though they live outside, I soaked them in the kiddie pool to make sure they are well hydrated.

    Using an infrared temperature gun to check the ground temperature regularly might save your tortoise's life.

    If there is a heat advisory in your area, and you are not sure if you will be able to come home during the hottest hours of the day, it is safer to bring your tortoise into the cool inside (NOT the garage, which is often much hotter than outside!) for the day. Being in a boring bin is safer than being stuck in the heat!

    CAUTION: If your tortoise has been outside in very hot weather, and is acting lethargic, is incessantly pacing, is foaming at the mouth, vomiting or is having neurological symptoms, IMMEDIATELY put it in cool water and run room temperature water over the top of its shell to help it reduce its body temperature. Then call an emergency veterinarian and seek help ASAP! Tortoises can die from heat stroke!
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2014
  2. Rob.harmon

    Rob.harmon Active Member

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    What type of tortoise is that last picture?
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  3. biochemnerd808

    biochemnerd808 Well-Known Member

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    @Rob.harmon - they are all Russian tortoises. Some are more yellow/black, 2 have more of a green hue. Different subspecies, too (horsfieldii, rustamovi). They live in a large tortoise garden - this pic is in a kiddie pool having a 20-min soak in cool water. :)
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  4. Rob.harmon

    Rob.harmon Active Member

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    And they live good in groups?
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  5. biochemnerd808

    biochemnerd808 Well-Known Member

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    @Rob.harmon - Ha, no. I would not make that statement. They do best by themselves, if kept as pets. If kept in a group, you need a VERY large outdoor enclosure (or several) with lots of sight barriers and hides. The male:female ratio has to be well balanced (I have 3 females for each male). Even then, I am thankful for my 'time out' enclosure, because the males sometimes fight each other, or 1 of them bothers the girls too much.

    Here is an article I wrote a while back outlining the dangers of keeping multiple tortoises of this species together: http://www.tortoiseforum.org/thread...together-a-lesson-learned-the-hard-way.94114/
  6. Wanda

    Wanda Active Member 5 Year Member

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    Lovely tortoises ..... I love Russians. I have quite a large group that do live together. But as biochemner says you need a good male-female ratio, a well thought out large enclosure with lots of sight breaks and nooks and crannies and also you have to be prepared to separate them if it becomes necessary. Either because of fighting boys or over enthusiastic mating! Mine have been together for quite a few years now and the only time I tend to have trouble is when they come out of hibernation. Obviously the mating urge is strong with the boys then and they seem to have to re establish the hierarchy. Lots of open mouthed chasing and ramming but very little actual biting. But I would never introduce another male to this group because I think it would lead to BIG trouble and some nasty injuries.
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  7. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

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    Excellent post Katie! Nicely done.
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  8. biochemnerd808

    biochemnerd808 Well-Known Member

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    Thank you, @Tom ! That means a lot, coming from you!
  9. Elohi

    Elohi Well-Known Member

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    I've brought my Russians inside the house and will keep them inside until I get their outdoor enclosure really done the way I want because their temp enclosures were just too hot. My male started eating less and I felt safer having them inside where I can manage temps better. But the plans for their outdoor enclosures will have better means for keeping them cooler and I won't worry as much. But it's HOT in south central Texas and I don't want to risk it for now.
  10. biochemnerd808

    biochemnerd808 Well-Known Member

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    @Elohi - thankfully it only rarely get above 100 here in SW WA. And we live near enough to the Columbia River that there has yet to ever be water restrictions - so if it gets really hot I can just run a sprinkler in the tort yard all day! That's a luxury the hot/dry States don't have.... glad to hear you are taking precautions.
    Digging out a 2ft deep area, then back-filling it with soft, loamy soil, then building a hide on top of that that has a foot or so of dirt on top of it... could work well for your torts to self-regulate and get out of the heat. :)
  11. zenoandthetortoise

    zenoandthetortoise Active Member

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    A free standing mister ($5 at Walmart) helps too, although it does add a pink flamingo-ish kitsch to the yard
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  12. kathyth

    kathyth Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    This is a fantastic article and I couldn't agree more!
    My tortoise enclosures are consistent with your important advice.
    Thanks for the write up!
    :)
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  13. Carol S

    Carol S Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Thanks so much for posting; very informative and good advice.
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  14. Oxalis

    Oxalis Well-Known Member

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    Awesome post! Thanks for the great info! Adorable tortoises and such a lovely garden space for them! Love the kiddie pool idea too. My tortoise hates the water but I'd rather him be temporarily uncomfortable than dehydrating!
  15. ZEROPILOT

    ZEROPILOT Well-Known Member TFO Supporter Platinum Supporter

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    Nicely stated.
  16. Oxalis

    Oxalis Well-Known Member

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    This is a great post; very helpful indeed! :) The last part confused me because my Russian is a weird little guy; how will I know if he's suffering from a neurological disorder caused by heat stroke? Or should I just assume that he'll likely exhibit one of the other symptoms listed?
  17. SnapperAndShelldon

    SnapperAndShelldon New Member

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    Awesome! I'll remember this for my tortoises.
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