Compost

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Hello, I’ve been lurking on this forum for the last few months and been trying to take everyone’s advice into consideration but now I need some more specific help.

This past fall I adopted/rescued a large Sulcata that had been found walking down the side of the highway. His owners could not be found after several months and animal control would not take him. I have a neighbor down the road that is what I would consider a crazy tortoise lady, I mean that in an endearing manner. She’s been great at providing me information on how to best provide for Compost Hank (the Sulcata’s name as of the last few months. But now it’s gotten to the point where I need more information. And help regarding large Sulcatas.

We do not know the age of Compost Hank. All I can tell you is that he is roughly 24” long and 24” wide. He’s a big fella. To safely handle him it takes two people. He really is a bulldozer.

The first couple months we have had no problem with him. I built him a fairly large 6’x6’x3’ shelter that has been completely weatherproofed. Inside I have a T8 Reptisun light that’s is mounted at what I feel is the perfect distance from the ground as to where he is not able to hit it at all. The shelter also has a kerosene oil radiator heater that is connected to a reptile thermostat so the temperature never drops below 80F. The hardest part has been keeping humidity up. It wants to stay around 30% even with wet sphagnum moss. I’m working on ways to keep humidity up in there for him.

His outside area is at least 1000sq feet, so he has plenty of space to roam around when he is not in his shelter. One day I plan on reinforcing more of my yard so he can have even more space.

His bedding is chipped/shredded pine bark because we have a chipper and recently fell a pine tree. Our friendly crazy tortoise lady neighbor didn’t seem worried that we used pine instead of other mulch, so we went with it.

Now that I have provided some background information I’ll get to where I’m having trouble.
Where I live it does get snow a handful of times out of the year and can get down to freezing or below freezing. We thought that his shelter would be the perfect place for him to be able to ride out the winter, coming out of his shelter when he wants during warm sunny days. However, for the last month he has really really slowed down, not drinking enough water, not eating, not really moving, and I have only found one piece of poop of his in over two weeks.

My neighbor has told me that they do slow down during the winter but that he should still be pooping at least every day to every other day. But that it is possible that he is eating his own poop for nutrition. Now what worries me is that I haven’t seen him eat any of his food so I do not know if he even has anything to poop out. His food usually consists of fresh leafy greens and the occasional mango or watermelon. (I try sticking to the tortoise care sheet when it comes to feeding him).

I have provided warm water soaks to try to keep him hydrated, which I’ll tell you is no easy task hauling him into the house. He barely fits into the bathtub; a few more inches and he will be completely too big to fit in it. Still I have yet to see him poop or eat.

Today at the store I picked up some purée pumpkin and banana, along with some mineral oil in hopes to get him to eat and poop. I have also made a batch of homemade “pedialite” in hopes that it will get him to want to drink and eat more. He is not interested. He just wants to hang in his shell. He is alert and his eyes do not look dark or sunken in, and I’m not noticing flaking/peeling of skin or shell.

Here are my main questions: how often do large Sulcatas really need to eat? Am I worrying over something that is normal with older Sulcatas?

How long can I wait before it’s absolutely necessary to take him to a vet for a radiograph? I want to have him properly taken care of, of course, but I just spent $3k on my dog’s surgery this past month and I know I have to take her again to get a follow up X-ray in a few weeks. Unfortunately radiographs are not that cheap and I would really really like to not have to pay for an extra one if I can help it. If it is absolutely necessary then of course I will do it. It’s just that it falls at a bad time.

Everything is just more complicated with Compost Hank I feel because of his size and how hard it is to handle him. He’s too big and destructive to keep inside the house fully, and it’s really hard to get him in and out of the tub to warm soak him.

If anyone can give me advice on what I should try next with him I would be so greatly appreciative. I want to be able to give him the best living environment I possible can; it’s just been a steep learning curve with the cold.

I have included some pictures of what his shelter is like, him busting out of his shelter one morning, and how I have to transport him.
Please note that there is a board installed in front of the heater so he is not able to touch it at all and get burnt. That picture was taken during the installation process. Hopefully by summer of next year his shelter will be fully overgrown with vegetation and look like a Hobbits home.

FB668BD1-BEBB-4CF8-9CEE-6C7D7C32643F.jpeg 1484EE8E-DE63-4E1D-BA0F-C587F5C6C86A.jpeg A05A3501-18DD-4356-AB71-9A927FC90A0E.jpeg D37606AE-6CCB-4FF2-884B-CECB1FA98348.jpeg 51795CEA-E965-409C-BD48-FBBE6FB7952E.jpeg 684753CB-CAFC-46EC-9421-9F02C3F63876.jpeg
 

Yvonne G

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The inside of his shelter isn't as warm as you think it is. Sulcatas don't slow down in the winter unless they're too cold. This is how my sulcata stays warm in the winter:

https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/dudleys-rebuild.111350/

Even on the coldest, frozen night the inside of that shed is right around 80F degrees. He comes out in the morning and wanders around looking for food and if he gets cold he goes back into his shed.

In the picture that shows the radiator you can clearly see that all your heat is escaping out the roof.

My sulcata eats every day. He also has a waterer that he drinks from.

Dudley and Little Brother 10-13-16.jpg Dudley's track.jpg
 
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Compost

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Thank you for your prompt reply.
I should have taken a picture of the inside completely finished. In the picture provided it looks as if a lot of heat will be lost at the top but I do in fact have it double insulated at the roof/ceiling. The boards are not able to be seen at all because I did run insulation over everything, so if any heat is to escape through it would be very very minimal.
I have tried bumping the thermostat up to make sure the ground level is around 80F but I have not seen any difference in Hank’s condition.
I have him in the house at the moment so I can keep a better eye on him and before I put hm out again I will try and make an even better door barricade to keep humidity and heat in.

Does his problems seem more along the lines that he just is not warm enough?
 

Maro2Bear

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Yep, I agree with Yvonne. Just not staying warm enough in your bomb shelter there. If you have an infrared thermometer gun shoot a couple temps of the ground in his hut, his shell, etc. I’m sure you just have not built a shelter that’s holding in the heat.

Your big guy should be eating & grazing on grass / hay all day long & every day. They are grazers, so all dsy, every day. Ogh, and no fruit.

You might want to look at getting a nice large Kane heating mat for inside the shed. You can hook up via a thermostat too.

Something like this... https://kanemfg.com/product/pet-heat-mat-single-28-w-hmt350-thermostat-110v/

Another good type - https://www.qcsupply.com/farm-lives...snLSqM2eZEUn7weVGWZqAhbBnd7GUdChoCBCsQAvD_BwE

Good look. He’s a big Sully for sure!

Ps - instead of banana, get some Opuntia cactus pads, scrape the spines off roughly and serve up. They are good at helping your tort’s digestive system & get things moving. A fresh clean aloe stalk as well.
 
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Turtulas-Len

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Is the floor insulated ? To answer your last question, Yes it does. I have a large sulcata in a cold climate and he doesn't slow down because of cold temps outside. He usually comes out of his house every day to eat and drink. Today we were in the 40s with rain and he ventured out 3 times to wander around and eat and then retreated back into his heated house.
 

Compost

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Just got back from crawling inside his shelter so I could take a better picture.

As for the entrance way i barricade it at night with a board and some insulation. I tend to open it during the day time so he can come and go as he pleases.

I did just relocate the thermostat probe and did notice a big difference between temperatures near the doorway.

Yvonne you were right though, one way or another heat was escaping.

I will not be putting Compost back in his shelter until I can fully ensure the right temperature at ground level for him.

D9CB3CCC-27A9-4F0B-823D-218F25510EF3.jpeg
 

Compost

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I made the floor with a layer of plastic down first (to keep the rain water out) and then thick carpet to prevent him from digging down. He can burrow if he wants as I made the “floor” deep enough to burrow if he wants.

I’m starting to see that it is the entrance way that is causing such a draft. I hung double layers of carpet in hopes that it would be enough to keep it insulated but now I’m in the works of making something that’s better for the cold season.


Maro2Bear and Turtulas-Len, thank you both for the insight you have provided me. I will look into a heating mat.
 

Maro2Bear

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I made the floor with a layer of plastic down first (to keep the rain water out) and then thick carpet to prevent him from digging down. He can burrow if he wants as I made the “floor” deep enough to burrow if he wants.

I’m starting to see that it is the entrance way that is causing such a draft. I hung double layers of carpet in hopes that it would be enough to keep it insulated but now I’m in the works of making something that’s better for the cold season.


Maro2Bear and Turtulas-Len, thank you both for the insight you have provided me. I will look into a heating mat.


Sooo, just before you redo everything, see if you can find a few of @Tom ’s “Night Box” builds. Fully insulated rectangular wooden box, radiant heat panel in the ceiling, mini oil radiator like yours, and a Kane heat mat on the floor. Tom makes his the size of a full sheet of plywood, basically four feet wide, eight feet long, and about 30 inches high. ((Rough dimensions))
 

Compost

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I
Sooo, just before you redo everything, see if you can find a few of @Tom ’s “Night Box” builds. Fully insulated rectangular wooden box, radiant heat panel in the ceiling, mini oil radiator like yours, and a Kane heat mat on the floor. Tom makes his the size of a full sheet of plywood, basically four feet wide, eight feet long, and about 30 inches high. ((Rough dimensions))

I most def will look into those! Thank you.

This time next year Compost Hank will have an extra large greenhouse to hold up in during the winter and all the grazing he can manage! I’ll do everything in my power to make him as happy and comfortable as possible!
 

Tom

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I think your problem is the floor. I'll bet he's losing too much heat through the ground. Also, 80 is a good minimum temp for night and for days he can go out in the sun and get warmer, but 80 is too cold for them to function if its only 80 24/7. 80 is their minimum night temp. They need to get warmer than that during the day. Heat lamps don't work for larger tortoise and can do damage. I've found that Kane heat mats, in combination with warmer daytime ambient temps help. I turn my night box thermostats up to 86 in the winter.
 

Donna Albu

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I think your problem is the floor. I'll bet he's losing too much heat through the ground. Also, 80 is a good minimum temp for night and for days he can go out in the sun and get warmer, but 80 is too cold for them to function if its only 80 24/7. 80 is their minimum night temp. They need to get warmer than that during the day. Heat lamps don't work for larger tortoise and can do damage. I've found that Kane heat mats, in combination with warmer daytime ambient temps help. I turn my night box thermostats up to 86 in the winter.
It looks to me like your thermostats are too high. They need to be placed at the height of his back. Remember, heat rises! Also, you might look into getting freezer straps for your doorway. Carpet is porous. I don't remember where I got mine, but I custom ordered them the same length as the door way. They are very thick, and hang from a 1 inch rod such that the loops are next to each other and the flaps themselves overlap. Mine are at least 10 years old now and are still in great shape. They do not get direct sun, so that may help with the longevity. Have you covered the insulation to prevent him from getting to it? Aluminum foil is toxic.

This may not be the best thing to do, but when we go down to freezing or below at night, I shut their doors. They only slide in, and the roof is hinged to provide easy access for cleaning, so I know that is at least some insulation. I also cover the top and sides with a couple of old comforters and then strips of truck tarps to make sure everything stays dry. Inside it stays a cozy 80 - 85. Being Arizona, they aren't usually in there too long.
 
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