Adult sulcata - not really eating much this time of year

TortoiseMomma

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HI there - our adult sulcata ( we rescued him three years ago) is about 100 pounds. We live in Northern California where it gets chilly (40s - 50s) this time of year. In the warmer months, our guy is outdoors for hours every day, grazing on our quite ugly but varied greens grass in our large back yard. In the winter he rarely comes out of his heated hut. We take him out about once every week or two and soak him in a kiddie pool with warm water. When I put grocery greens or hay (from the sulcata approved diet list) or even water in a bowl in his house with him he pretty much ignores it. This happens every winter, we've had him for three years. And every year about this time I freak out over the fact that he's not eating/drinking and not coming out. Any suggestions? I'm considering trying tortoise pellets, but not sure that is appropriate for such a big guy (if he'd even notice them).
 

TortoiseMomma

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HI there - our adult sulcata ( we rescued him three years ago) is about 100 pounds. We live in Northern California where it gets chilly (40s - 50s) this time of year. In the warmer months, our guy is outdoors for hours every day, grazing on our quite ugly but varied greens grass in our large back yard. In the winter he rarely comes out of his heated hut. We take him out about once every week or two and soak him in a kiddie pool with warm water. When I put grocery greens or hay (from the sulcata approved diet list) or even water in a bowl in his house with him he pretty much ignores it. This happens every winter, we've had him for three years. And every year about this time I freak out over the fact that he's not eating/drinking and not coming out. Any suggestions? I'm considering trying tortoise pellets, but not sure that is appropriate for such a big guy (if he'd even notice them).


I realize I failed to actually put my question in my post: SHOULD I BE WORRIED? Any suggestions on what I should do about this, if anything?
 

Yvonne G

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Yes, you should. If he's not interested in eating it probably isn't as warm in his house as you think it is. They won't eat if it isn't at least 80°F because the food won't digest.

Can we see his hut so we can offer suggestions?
 

TortoiseMomma

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Thank you, Yvonne! Attached are pictures of his hut. He has a heated Zane floor mat and a high mounted space heater as well. The thermometer says 74 degrees, so sounds like we need to heat it up more. Any other suggestions?

Hut exterior.jpgHut interior.jpg
 

Tom

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Thank you, Yvonne! Attached are pictures of his hut. He has a heated Zane floor mat and a high mounted space heater as well. The thermometer says 74 degrees, so sounds like we need to heat it up more. Any other suggestions?
In summer I set my boxes to 70 because its going to be near 100 every day. In spring and fall when we have our 80 degree sunny weather, I set the boxes to 80 so they stay warm over night and the tortoises can sun to get above 80 each day. In winter I set the boxes to 86 because it doesn't get warm enough to bask some days, and even the high temps are too low. This keeps them warm enough to digest their food no matter what the outside weather is doing.

Set your thermostat to 86-87 and you can plug your heat mats into it too. The tortoise should have an area of the floor with no heat mat on it, so it can get off the heat when it wants to. If the floor isn't well insulated, you can leave the mats in the corner of the pic, but unplug them.
 

TortoiseMomma

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In summer I set my boxes to 70 because its going to be near 100 every day. In spring and fall when we have our 80 degree sunny weather, I set the boxes to 80 so they stay warm over night and the tortoises can sun to get above 80 each day. In winter I set the boxes to 86 because it doesn't get warm enough to bask some days, and even the high temps are too low. This keeps them warm enough to digest their food no matter what the outside weather is doing.

Set your thermostat to 86-87 and you can plug your heat mats into it too. The tortoise should have an area of the floor with no heat mat on it, so it can get off the heat when it wants to. If the floor isn't well insulated, you can leave the mats in the corner of the pic, but unplug them.
Thank you! I'll heat it up more (and unplug one mat) and see if he starts eating again, hopefully soon!
 

Hippytort

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I had the same situation with my 150+ male . During cool weather he would sometimes stay in his house for days. Come out to eat a bit then back to his house. I read old posts about housing and heating and decided to take members advise and purchased a Stanfield heat mat. (Thanks Yvonne G) I previously just had a CHE heat source with thermostat set to 80 degF. I set up a separate thermostat for the mat set it at 80 deg. as well. That made all the difference in the world!
I guess his core is heated up enough now to keep him warm throughout the day.
The weather here in north Orange County has been cool, 60s, low 70s and my guy has never been so active! He comes out every day now and literally runs around the yard. Stays out all day eating and going about his routine. At first I thought something must be wrong with him, the change was that dramatic!
I was going to write a separate post thanking Tom and Yvonne G for steering me in this direction,, but your post beat me to it.
Increase the heat and your tort will thank you for it!
 
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Hippytort

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I noticed the floor in the house appears to be gravel. If this is the case, you should probably lay a sheet of plywood over it , then the mats. The gravel is a very poor insulator and will soak the heat from the mats.
In fact, now that I think about it, This may be the real problem. I originally had my mat placed directly on the concrete floor. It would not get warm enough on cold nights. I installed a thin sheet of plywood under it and it made all the difference.
Just a thought.
 
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TortoiseMomma

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I had the same situation with my 150+ male . During cool weather he would sometimes stay in his house for days. Come out to eat a bit then back to his house. I read old posts about housing and heating and decided to take members advise and purchased a Stanfield heat mat. (Thanks Yvonne G) I previously just had a CHE heat source with thermostat set to 80 degF. I set up a separate thermostat for the mat set it at 80 deg. as well. That made all the difference in the world!
I guess his core is heated up enough now to keep him warm throughout the day.
The weather here in north Orange County has been cool, 60s, low 70s and my guy has never been so active! He comes out every day now and literally runs around the yard. Stays out all day eating and going about his routine. At first I thought something must be wrong with him, the change was that dramatic!
I was going to write a separate post thanking Tom and Yvonne G for steering me in this direction,, but your post beat me to it.
Increase the heat and your tort will thank you for it!
Thanks, Dennis. We cranked up the heat yesterday and I just dropped some orchard grass hay and super greens in front of his face. Will go out later and see if he made any sort of dent in the pile 'o food!
 

Hippytort

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Thanks, Dennis. We cranked up the heat yesterday and I just dropped some orchard grass hay and super greens in front of his face. Will go out later and see if he made any sort of dent in the pile 'o food!

I would bet that you will see a big difference once his core temp is up. I swear your post could have been written by me. I wouldn't see him for weeks at a time during cold weather. Now he's out no matter the temperature eating and grazing as if it were 90 deg. out.
As I said in my other post though. You should get your heat mats off the gravel. If for no other reason than energy savings. Those mats are working like crazy to maintain temperature sitting on cold gravel.
 

TortoiseMomma

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I noticed the floor in the house appears to be gravel. If this is the case, you should probably lay a sheet of plywood over it , then the mats. The gravel is a very poor insulator and will soak the heat from the mats.
In fact, now that I think about it, This may be the real problem. I originally had my mat placed directly on the concrete floor. It would not get warm enough on cold nights. I installed a thin sheet of plywood under it and it made all the difference.
Just a thought.
Thanks, its actually sitting on tan bark over dirt (the gravel is outside the front door), but that might make a difference so we'll give that a try.
 

2wgasa

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Thanks, its actually sitting on tan bark over dirt (the gravel is outside the front door), but that might make a difference so we'll give that a try.
Digressions:

When you add some plywood maybe want to consider raising the ground under the box a little above grade to help keep any water out. We have an insulated box except for the "floor." It is just dirt but about 5 inches above grade. Doesn't rain much around here but when it has his floor has always remained dry.

The only heat I have in his box is that radiant oil heater alongside a small circulating fan (the computer one described elsewhere in the forum) which keeps the air at 80 around 6 inches from the floor at the furthest point from heater. I have the remote temp sensor hanging there. A few nights ago it was reading in the low 70's so I raised the thermostat to 86 per Tom's messages which did the trick, temporarily. Even though the space heater appeared to be working when i looked late in the evening the temp had fallen again. Had to go out and swap with a spare I kept and everything is back to normal. Now reads 82 on the cold evening. At first I was a little upset that the heater failed but then realized it's been cycling on and off every day for over 3 years. Anyway, I guess I'm promoting remote temp sensors. Thermostat may be turning everything on but the devices may not be working (hmmm, maybe I better have more than one device too). BTW, the dirt floor temp at the coldest time in the early AM, using a digital laser gun thing, is 78 under where my sensor hangs. It progressively rises to the low 80's towards the heater which is mounted a few inches above floor level behind a barrier.

Lastly, your house also seems to have all sides and roof insulated as our does, but your door looks a bit drafty. I have those clear plastic hangers on the entrance to his box that we close with just a wood panel held in place with cabinet door type magnets. He just knocks it down when he feels like coming out. It's just solid wood without insulation but it does work. Once had hinges to work like a drawbridge but they always got mucked up.
 

Maggie3fan

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This is just my opinion and some experience with Sulcata. I live in the Pacific Northwest, today our temperature started out a 24 degrees and will warm to 35 or so...my tort shed is 85 degrees...and the secret that you don't have...exercise room. my shed is 12'x20' and at that it's too small. Every Sulcata I have kept has walked miles around those four walls. They need exercise to help digestion...it is that simple...
 
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