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Hibernation of my turtle: How to prepare for it?

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Contrary to popular belief, land turtles and aquatic turtles are not cold-blooded animals. In fact, reptiles are ectothermic and poikilothermic, as their body temperature varies and harmonizes with their environment. Thus, when the thermometer drops as winter approaches, the turtle’s metabolism slows down. To maintain the balance of its physiological functions, it then enters a state of torpor: hibernation.

As you may have understood, the calendar does not influence the hibernation of a turtle. It is the weather that governs this process. When the temperature drops below 8°C (46.4°F), the natural mechanism is triggered for a duration of about 4 months. However, some turtles do not hibernate. This is the case, for example, with tropical or equatorial species whose original climate did not favor the development of this ability. Moreover, it is not advisable to hibernate juvenile turtles, sick animals, and pregnant females.

Hibernation of the aquatic turtle: some advice Hibernation of the land turtle: best practices How to prepare for my turtle’s hibernation? How to take care of my turtle during hibernation? Waking up: mastering the exit from hibernation Feeding a hibernating turtle: important points

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Hibernation of the aquatic turtle: some advice In principle, reptiles originating from temperate environments hibernate. This is the case with common musk turtles or painted turtles. When temperatures become wintry, these animals burrow under the mud, and their breathing changes. They then use their cloaca, a vascularized organ that closes their anal sphincter, to absorb oxygen, similar to gills. However, some aquatic species prefer solid ground. They hide under dead leaves near bodies of water.

Wondering what signs indicate the onset of hibernation?

It’s simple: the animal is almost inactive, eats less, and hides in a dark corner. When your reptile exhibits similar behavior, you should gradually reduce its food intake over a period of 7 days before stopping it. Also, decrease the heating of its vivarium by 3°F each morning and gradually turn off the light (the water should drop to about 64.4°F). Then, weigh the animal and place it in a dormancy container.

How to prepare a hibernation container?

Take a plastic aquarium or a large basin. Put a layer of sand at the bottom of this container. Add enough fresh water to cover the turtle’s shell under 2 inches of liquid. Place a tile on the sand to create shelter. During hibernation, you must maintain the water temperature in this container between 50°F and 53.6°F and renew it as soon as it becomes cloudy. After about 4 months, place the basin in a warmer room to slowly bring the turtle out of its torpor.

Once the animal is awake, weigh it again to check its weight: it should not have lost more than 10% of its mass. If everything is correct, it can return to its usual aquarium. Otherwise, seek advice from a veterinarian.

Hibernation of the land turtle: best practices

Do you have a terrestrial species? Whether it’s a Hermann’s tortoise, a Greek tortoise, or a Steppe tortoise, there are 2 different techniques to hibernate your pet: you can choose to provide it with shelter outdoors or comfortably place it indoors.

Hibernation outdoors In general, turtles that hibernate outdoors choose the beginning of this period themselves. However, you must offer them a decent shelter to get through the winter without problems. To do this, build a hibernacle in a wind-protected location. Here’s how to construct this turtle hut:

Concrete the floor to prevent rot or rodent intrusion. Build walls with cinder blocks or bricks. Install a sloped roof for rainwater drainage. Seal the entrance with a door that you will close all winter. Cover the floor of your hibernacle with 7.9 inches of topsoil, straw, and dry leaves.

Indoor hibernation Are you raising a land turtle in a terrarium? In this case, opt for controlled hibernation.

To facilitate your companion’s comfort, you need to prepare a shelter with all the necessary conditions: take a wooden box and pour 7.9 inches of topsoil, straw, and dry leaves into it.

Then, gradually reduce food, UV exposure, and temperature every 3 days to initiate your turtle’s hibernation process. When the reptile becomes less active, turn off the lamp and heating and stop feeding.

It’s time to help your pet purge its digestive tract. To do this, give it daily baths at 77°F for a few days, then weigh it before placing it in its dormancy box. All that’s left is to choose the coolest room in your home to place the turtle for 3 days. Finally, place it in a dark place, between 41°F and 50°F, sheltered from rodents and pets.

How to prepare for my turtle’s hibernation?

The turtle’s hibernation needs careful preparation. You must be sure of your reptile’s good health before guiding it into this extended sleep. You must also ensure its plumpness and deworm it. Generally, an animal whose weight is 10% or more below its theoretical weight is never allowed to hibernate. It is also contraindicated to hibernate a sick or infected turtle.

Check the condition of the shell, nostrils, and cloaca. Do you notice abnormal secretions?

Are the eyes glassy? Consult your veterinarian for professional advice if you observe alarming symptoms. If the veterinarian advises against hibernation, don’t worry: the absence of this winter rest in the turtle poses no danger if it remains exceptional. Your reptile will spend the winter in its usual terrarium until it regains its health.

Is your animal in good health, and its weight is appropriate?

Feed it abundantly for 6 weeks before hibernation, then gradually reduce the portions to bring it to fasting. Its digestive tract should be completely empty, as residual organic waste leads to the development of bacteria and fungi and promotes infections.

How to take care of my turtle during hibernation?

During this period of inactivity, your turtle no longer feeds. It slumbers deeply, and its breathing becomes slow and superficial. However, it moves from time to time. You must monitor these movements because complete immobility is evidence of complications, just like irregular breathing or signs of dehydration.

Are you concerned about your turtle’s health?

Know that you should never interrupt a turtle’s hibernation. Instead, consult your veterinarian if it shows alarming symptoms or if its weight decreases by more than 1% per month.

Waking up: mastering the exit from hibernation Several months have passed. It’s time to accompany your turtle’s awakening. Increase the brightness of its hibernation place every day, as well as the room temperature. When it reaches 50°F to 59°F, the turtle becomes active again. Weigh it and monitor its activity: it should not have lost more than 10% of its initial weight. After a few days, the turtle can return to its usual living environment.

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Does your animal hibernate outdoors?

You don’t have to intervene; it will wake up naturally depending on the climate and sunlight. Its body temperature will then gradually increase over 2 to 3 weeks.

Feeding a hibernating turtle: important points The turtle’s diet is crucial in the weeks leading up to hibernation because it must accumulate reserves to get through the coldest periods. Therefore, you must provide it with abundant and enriched food during this preparatory phase.

Next comes the time of hibernation and then waking up, a delicate moment for the animal’s health. There are 2 checkpoints: hydration and feeding.

Hydration Upon waking up, the turtle has received no water intake for nearly 4 months. You will offer it water, but also bathe it every day for 30 minutes in warm water supplemented with liquid vitamins.

Feeding Remember, your turtle had to lower its metabolism to enter hibernation. Therefore, you cannot resume feeding immediately after waking up. It must be sufficiently rehydrated and warmed before ingesting its first snack. If you wish, you can sprinkle its first rations with a vitamin supplement adapted to its needs. If your reptile rejects food? Don’t worry; this behavior is normal and transient.

You now know the essential points to prepare your turtle’s hibernation and accompany its awakening. Feel free to consult your exotic animal veterinarian if your pet shows unusual signs or if its health and weight concern you. This consultation will help you understand all your reptile’s needs.

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- Mahatma Gandhi

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

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