Coming Out Of Brumation (hibernation)

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Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jan 23, 2008
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
Coming Out of Hibernation

By Barbara Fischer

(First printed in the April, 1994 issue of T.E.A.M.)

Usually some time during March, sometimes earlier and sometimes later, the turtle or tortoise will begin to rouse itself and stay awake a little longer each day. The first sluggish hours of movement are generally simply to seek warmth and sunlight. Each tortoise and turtle will vary in its wake=sleep cycle and depending upon where they have been during the winter’s fast, will wake gradually or perhaps comparatively rapidly.

Because he is a cold blooded animal, his body will have to pick up enough warmth to increase his metabolism so that body functions will once again cycle normally. This will stimulate his appetite. Unless he is warm enough, the food will not digest. You know how it is, some of us wake up hungry and some of us don’t eat breakfast until we’ve been up for a couple of hours. It’s the same way with the reptiles except his first several days would represent our first several hours. Once he has basked in warmth and slept again several times, he will resume normal activity fairly rapidly.

Some tortoise owners recommend a warm bath (not hot, please). If this is done, allow the tortoise to feel his feet have support and the depth of the water should not be over his head. He will then relax and he will drink if he needs water. Please do dry him thoroughly and keep him warm while he is damp.

Although some tortoises do eat right away, do not expect your tortoise or turtle to need food the first day he moves about. However, it is important that both food and water be made available following hibernation whenever the tortoise or turtle is awake.

I would assume that many of you have rescued your pets from any flooding caused by excessive winter rains and now have a tortoise or two in a newspaper-lined carton somewhere in your home. The carton is essential, as floors of our homes are extremely drafty and the tortoise must be offered burrow-like seclusion in the form of a rather snug space of some sort. If you have a tortoise in your home and wonder when you can put him out, try placing the tortoise, out of his box, in a sheltered area of the yard some day when you can watch for a while.

Sudden sunshine is too extreme as a beginning so place the tortoise in shade at the edge of sunshine to begin with, and let him decide how much exposure he needs. If his usual burrow seems dry and gives shelter from sun and wind, he may prefer to be there, but do keep in mind, if he has been in your home all winter, or even part of the winter, the nights will represent a sudden temperature change. It is especially important to avoid extreme temperature changes in these early weeks following hibernation while the tortoise is in a weakened condition. If you can bring him in at night the first few weeks or at least until you think he has established a normal pattern again, it will provide a gradual transition.

It is important that you check your pet over during the first days; check his eyes and his mouth and watch his activity. Observe him periodically for several weeks following hibernation. If he seems to remain sluggish, it is possible you should check for internal parasites. Have a veterinarian do a fecal sample test. Worms are easy to treat if treated early. They can lead to serious infections including upper respiratory infection if not treated.

Water turtles should be checked for fungus, and if it is present, a salt wash will help eliminate the problem. Also, vitamin supplements in the tortoise and turtle’s foods will help ward off infection in the early weeks following hibernation.
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