There are many different species of tortoises and it is important to know which sort you have. For example African Tortoises (like the Leopard Tortoise) do not hibernate, unlike the more common Mediterranean species, including Spur-thighed, Hermann’s, Marginated and Horsefield’s.
Very young tortoises will need VERY careful husbandry to ensure correct growth and development. Things to consider are ambient heat, a heat gradient (so they can regulate their body temperature since they are cold-blooded), a basking area, UV light, correct humidity, a sensible substrate for them to be housed on (Hermann’s Tortoises like to burrow for example) as well as appropriate food and calcium supplementation.
Another consideration for Mediterranean tortoises is hibernating them – there are several schools of thought on hibernating young tortoises – it can be done successfully and it is more “natural”. Ensure they have been properly prepared and monitor their weight closely during the hibernating period so they can be woken up early if necessary. The hardest part is maintaining a suitable temperature. The safest method for young tortoises is the “fridge method” as a steady temperature can be maintained and the air is changed regularly. We would recommend looking at the Tortoise Trust website for more information – www.tortoisetrust.org
It is very important to have your tortoise checked prior to hibernation. Being too thin or too fat can cause problems during and after hibernation. It is best to think about a health check at least 2 months before you plan to hibernate to allow sufficient time to correct any problems or abort the hibernation altogether and consider over-wintering with artificial heat and light. The Jackson ratio compares weight to length in Spur-thighed and Hermann’s only, to allow you to determine whether your tortoise is at its ideal weight.
When tortoises emerge from hibernation, they must be slowly warmed up and rehydrated (see below). Failure to eat within 1 week of waking is a sign of “Post-Hibernation Anorexia”. This is a very serious problem and veterinary attention must be sought as soon as possible.
People are always concerned about worming their tortoises. It is more sensible to obtain faecal samples and test to see if they need worming – otherwise it’s probably best to worm at a pre-hibernation health check and post hibernation too.
Tortoises enjoy an occasional warm water bath – warm water in a deep tray up to their shell margin is plenty, so they can easily raise their heads out of it. They can actually rehydrate through their rear end (cloaca) and it encourages them to pass waste products too.
One final comment for any small/exotic pet owner: Weigh them (and record the weight) regularly.
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