Soaking Tortoises

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Many care guidelines call for routinely soaking a tortoise, others suggest not doing it at all. This article will look at when and how to soak a tortoise.

What is Soaking?
Soaking is just letting a tortoise sit in warm water bath. This allows them to drink freely, absorb water in the cloaca, remoisten their skin, cool off, clean up, and possibly ease scratchy areas of their skin. Some tortoises will soak in their water dish, sometimes for hours at a time. Other tortoises never seen to voluntarily soak (or even drink) and may need to be placed in a container to soak.

If you need to do a forced soak, choose a container that is stable, too deep to climb out of, and allows some movement. The water should be luke-warm to warm but never hot, and deep enough to cover the lower 1/3rd to 1/2 of the shell. If your room is cool, you may need to use some sort of technique to keep the water warm, such as floating the soak tub in a sink of warm water, or placing it in a warm room, etc.

When to Soak:
Many captive tortoises are at least partially dehydrated, and one way to both correct and prevent dehydration is with the use of therapeutic soaks. In general, the more dehydrated your tortoise is, the more often it should be soaked as part of the treatment- up to twice a day in severe cases.

Tortoises that are a healthy weight and hydration level may not need any soaking at all, but many keepers will still offer weekly or monthly soaks as a preventative measure and to clean them well.

Many experts recommend daily or 'a couple times a week' soaks for very young tortoises as well as a way to help ensure good hydration during this critical period. This makes a lot of sense if you are struggling with humidity control, etc. with your young tortoises.

Electrolytic Solutions and Other Additives.
Dehydrated tortoises and people benefit from taking in electrolytes that were lost while becoming dehydrated. Electrolytic solutions, like Pediolyte or even Gatoraid, may taste salty to a healthy animal, but are delicious to a dehydrated one.

While Pediolyte and Gatoraid work, you can make a cheap, effective solution based on a formula from the World Health Organization.
  • 1 part table salt (sodium chloride NaCL, and iodine, I)
  • 1 part salt substitute (potassium chloride, KCl)
  • (Note: the two above ingredients are combined already in products like Morton Salt Lite, so you can use 2 parts of this instead.)
  • 1 part baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO2)
  • 12 parts sugar (sucrose, C12H22O11)
  • (Note: feel free to reduce the amount of sugar, or to substitute pureed fruits or vegetables, etc. instead. If you do change the amount of sugar, you need to change the amounts of mix used below. Halving the amount of mix will usually be close enough.)
If kept dry, this mix will last almost forever.

To use: Mix as shown below for a standard dilution. Make it half-strength by doubling the water or halving the mix.
  • 1 Gallon of water- a little less than 2/3rds cups of mix
  • 1 Liter or Quart of water- 2 1/2 tablespoons of mix
  • 1 Cup of water- 1 heaping teaspoon of mix (1.133 teaspoons)
You can add other things to the soak water as well-
  • Liquid vitamins and/or minerals.
  • Calcium is good, but powdered calcium is hard to dissolve in water. Try dissolving it into boiling water for better results.
  • Pureed fruits or vegetables can add flavors, sugars and vitamins. Orange vegetables are especially helpful in adding vitamin A. Baby foods are a good choice, especially those made only from real foods.
It is still debated as to what exactly can be absorbed, but even if the nutrients above are not absorbed, the tortoise often drinks during soaks and gets it that way at least.

The original post and on-going discussion can be found here.
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