VET’s VIEW: Make sure your tortoise is ready for hibernation

I glared at Fred and for all I know he may have glared back at me.

It's almost time for tortoises to go into hibernation
It's almost time for tortoises to go into hibernation

But with his head tucked back inside his shell, and his forelegs drawn up to form an impenetrable barrier, there was no telling what he was doing at this moment.

“Let’s leave him for a bit I suggested,” hoping that a spell in a warm kennel might encourage him to loosen up.

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It’s often around now, when a chill in the air heralds the approach of autumn, that tortoises start to slow down and think about hibernating.

But for most it’s still too early and they should be kept active a little longer.

The UK climate makes for a longer hibernation than tortoises are used to in the wild, and it’s important to make sure they are in good health before going to sleep.

You should keep a record of your tortoise’s weight to make sure it hasn’t dropped unexpectedly.

Check the shell for signs of damage and make sure the eyes and nose are clean.

Ideally, have a look inside the mouth for signs of infection.

Tortoises will obviously stop eating before they settle down for the winter, and you should check to ensure they have been to the toilet too, as food sitting in the gut all winter can cause problems.

If you notice anything amiss ask your vet for advice; it may be better to delay hibernation, or keep your pet active in a properly equipped vivarium.

Parasites can be a problem too, and periodically you should ask your vet to check a stool sample for signs of worms, and treat if necessary before hibernating.

Which brings me back to Fred.

We’re playing a waiting game at the moment, but when he pokes his head out, I’ll be ready for him!

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