HELP! First Hibernation advice

LeighElizabeth

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Hello

I am hibernating my tortoise for the first time this year. I usually just keep him awake all year round as he lives indoors but last year I noticed he was a lot more sleepy etc come August/September time so felt it was worth trying hibernation this year.

I am just looking for advice really. I have made myself a plan taking a mixture of things Ive read online. If I have missed something or if I am planning on doing something I shouldn't be, then please do tell me.

TORTOISE DETAILS...
- Horsefield
- Male
- Age approx 6 or 7 (I have had him for 5 years; he was purchased from Dobbies garden centre so unsure how old they sell them at)
- Length 14.5cm
- Weighs 560g approx

SET UP...
- I have purchased a drinks cooler (the Budweiser Husky one) as I read these are the idea type - it does have a glass front but I am going to cover it and put some insulation to help keep the coolness in.
- I will also stock the cooler with bottled water around the tortoise box to help even out the temperature.
- I have purchased an alarmed thermometer with a max and min temp which I will use in the fridge area to keep track of the temperature and any fluctations.
- I will also place a probe thermometer inside the box where my tort will be so I can get the temp as close to him as possible.
- I read to have a small aquarium pump with air hoses which are fed into fridge door seal.
- I will double box him, the inner box where my tort will be will have 50/50 play sand and soil at least 3 inches deep; the outer box will be filled with insulation like shredded newspaper.
- Set this up about 2 to 3 weeks before hibernation, so I can ensure I know which setting maintains a steady 5°c. Then turn fridge up to 15°c approx for the start of hibernation.


WIND DOWN...
-Stop feeding him prior to hibernation (see question at bottom).
- Reduce use of MVB in enclosure over a 6 week period ie:
* Week 1 = 12 hours
* Week 2 = 9 hours
* Week 3 = 6 hours
* Week 4/5/6 = Light off (resulting in cooler day temps)
- Soak him 2-3 times a week to ensure drinking fluid; then in last week soak multiple times til he no longer voids in water.
- He should start to sleep more due to colder temperatures and not really leave his sleeping quarter, this indicates hibernation is ready.

HIBERNATION...
- Put him in his box in fridge at approx 15°c for start of hibernation, and slowly drop the temperature to the 5°c over a week.
-Open door once a day for a few minutes to let fresh air in.
- Weigh and examen him once a week (ensure he hasnt urinated or lost more than 1% of body weight; if so then abort hibernation).

* I feel happy with the post hibernation process so there is no worries for me there *

QUESTIONS:
- Is the whole pre hibernation ok on a 6 week timescale?
- Do I need this aquarium airpump, or will opening the door once a day be enough?
- I read play sand can hurt their eyes, am I best using only soil?
- When should I stop feeding? I have read different opinions one said 3 weeks prior to hibernation for a small tortoise (under 1kg) and the other said 4-6 weeks prior.
- Is it right to do the 15°c thing??
- How do I weigh him during hibernation? Will this not wake him up??
- When should I start to hibernate him and how long should I hibernate him for?

Sorry for the lengthy post, im very nervous and stressed as its the first time doing it and want to ensure I dont put him in any danger.

Thanks,
Leigh Screenshot_20180911-095610_Instagram.jpeg
 

JoesMum

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Hello and welcome from the opposite end of the UK. I live in Kent.

Your guess at the age of your tort will be in the right area. UK vendors don't sell wild caught torts as happens in the US and they are usually a couple of years old.

Down south I don't hibernate until much later - mid October at the earliest - but you will see your tort winding down earlier. First hibernation, I would advise to keep short, maybe just a month, so don't be in a hurry to do it. Hold out as long as you can with the lights bright (you may need an additional light just to make things brighter, maybe LED so it doesn't affect temperatures)

You seem to have thought of just about everything. If you are using an air pump (I didn't) there's no need to open the door as well. The air pump changes the air. I opened the door briefly, a few seconds at most, every day which was enough.

Play sand has a bad reputation for impacting in the gut. For a hibernating tort that isn't a risk and the eyes will be closed. I used playsand and topsoil.

Because Joe was an outside tort, he was much cooler when put down. I tended to put him straight in the fridge at 5C. Your home will naturally be around 20C by day and a little cooler at night, but I would still feel inclined to drop the temperature to 5C immediately. Above 10C your tort will be trying to move round and an active tort is using energy and thus losing weight.

Your tort will not wake up from hibernation by being handled. They are dormant and unable to move. Getting warm is what stirs them, not being handled. Handling a hibernating tort is a bit like handling a house brick. Nothing should move. Occasionally a leg may hang loose, but that's it. Just stick him on a digital kitchen scale quickly and then replace him. Weight loss up to 10% is OK,but in practice they lose very little weight.

When Joe was hibernated the old-fashioned way in the garage, I double boxed to stabilise the temperature and minimise temperature variation. In a fridge you don't need to do this. A large single box should be enough. You will need a cover to stop your tort climbing out while he's going into hibernation; just make sure it isn't airtight! I was able to adjust the shelf above the hibernation box lower so that Joe couldn't try to climb out.

Because Joe was much bigger (27cm, 3.5kg) I had a dedicated under counter fridge for him... with the water bottles, etc. You should be OK with the one you have.
 

RosemaryDW

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Like JosMum mentioned above and you’ve seen, you tortoise will begin winding down herself. While we also have an outdoor tortoise, I know when she’s ready to go because she has a noticeable weight drop, from not eating. And of course she’s trying to dig down. Ours hibernates a good three months or more so we hold off as long as we can; ultimately she is the decider, though!

We also do not use a pump. If you’re running in a temperature probe you’ll have a tiny break in the seal but even if you didn’t, opening the door occasionally is enough.

Ours tend to lose a little bit of weight at the beginning, it takes her a week or so to really get into it and she’s scratching and digging at the box until then. I’ve not heard that one percent figure before, although heard both five and ten. I’ve had a year where she loss less than one percent and this year she got close to ten; her wind down period was very odd that year. This year I’ll be putting a rock of the same weight of the tortoise while we’re testing to make sure we’ve got it the temperature just right when she goes in.

We use a plastic block with a snap lid; they can climb even when they are cold. We drill holes in it. Something about like this, a bit bigger than she is but not so big you have to jam it against one of the fridge walls.

E364E049-9036-4494-B97F-144689101972.jpeg

Because I am paranoid, my husband drilled a hole through the fridge handle that we can put a pin in as a lock.

Over time you’ll realize you don’t need to weigh her every week but I’m sure you’ll want to this time around. Good luck!
 

LeighElizabeth

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Thank you so much for your replies!

Yeah I have read quite a few places online about 1% but also read on another site it can be more like 10% like you said. I will do the thing with the rock aswell which you suggested to ensure the temp is stable enough.

- How do I know its the right time to put him in? Obviously he will be less active and things but is there a specific time like if hes asleep etc?
- Also as this is his first hibernation and a month long was suggested, when should I aim to put him in? I know you said hang off as long as possible but which month would you reckon is okay?

I am an overthinker therefore a million questions enter my mind haha.

Thanks again for your replies, it means a lot!

Leigh
 

JoesMum

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It is hard to explain, but they just start slowing down and become less active even when temperatures are perfect. A late heat wave down here in Kent will have no effect on Joe if he has decided it is time to hibernate.

I forgot to mention that I soak daily once Joe starts to slow down... it is important to maintain hydration when appetite is slow and when a tort is not eating at all.
 

Yvonne G

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It is hard to explain, but they just start slowing down and become less active even when temperatures are perfect. A late heat wave down here in Kent will have no effect on Joe if he has decided it is time to hibernate.

I forgot to mention that I soak daily once Joe starts to slow down... it is important to maintain hydration when appetite is slow and when a tort is not eating at all.
I think it has to do with the position of the sun, the length of the days.
 

LeighElizabeth

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It is hard to explain, but they just start slowing down and become less active even when temperatures are perfect. A late heat wave down here in Kent will have no effect on Joe if he has decided it is time to hibernate.

I forgot to mention that I soak daily once Joe starts to slow down... it is important to maintain hydration when appetite is slow and when a tort is not eating at all.
Thats great thank you so much for your advice. George is still quite active just now actually; hes been a trouble maker today flipping his food and water dishes haha but has been having the odd day where he sleeps all day. He should hopefully start winding down soon like last year.

Thank you for your help!
 

Tom

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I wouldn't use soil or sand. Both can be bad. I hibernated mine on orchid bark.

I don't think you need the air pump.

I don't weight mine. I don't like to disturb them.

15C seems a big high to start. I think the tortoise will be very restless at that temp. I start mine at 10-11C and eventually drop to 4C.

I stop feeding 2 weeks prior to dropping the temps and I soak daily during this process to get them well hydrated and help move everything out of the gut.

If you skip down to post #19 on this one, there is a much more detailed explanation of the lead in and lead out:
https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/looking-for-an-rt-hibernation-mentor.128790/
 
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