VET’S VIEW: Tortoises show spring has sprung

THERE are many ways to tell whether spring is finally on its way, but for vets, one sure sign is when tortoises which have been hibernating start to reappear at the practice, and I saw my first such patients last week.

It’s good for the tortoises that we’ve had a mild winter.

They do hibernate in their natural Mediterranean environment, but usually for much shorter periods, and the longer British winter can cause problems, as tortoises are often quite weakened when they finally emerge.

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The first thing to do is to make sure your tortoise drinks.

If it is reluctant, then placing it in a bowl with about one or two centimetres of tepid water often helps. You can also try trickling a little water over the head to encourage drinking.

This will help your tortoise eliminate toxins from its system. A tortoise should eat within a week of waking up, otherwise it will quickly run out of energy.

If your tortoise won’t drink or eat, then you need to take it to your vet for treatment.

Once tortoises have woken up, it is best for them to remain active, so if we have a cold snap, you may need to bring them into the warm or provide a heat lamp so the environmental temperature stays around 20 to 25 degrees Celcius during the day.

Check your tortoise for any signs of illness, such as swollen or sticky eyes, discolouration of the skin and any abnormal discharges.

If you can examine the mouth (not always easy, even in the surgery!), make sure it is a healthy pink colour.

Tortoises may require worming, particularly if you keep several together, and your vet will be happy to advise you on this and other health issues.

There are many other useful sources of information, and the Tortoise Trust and the British Chelonia Group are good places to start.