Healthy weight gain for a juvenile?

RJOfford

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Hi,

I have two Testudo Ibera tortoises, both hatched in August 2017 so are around 4 years old. Since getting them in August 2019, I have weighed and measured them weekly, and charted their growth over the last two years. The smaller of the two at the time was 181g and 9.8cm long, and the larger was 209g and 10cm long. Since then, the smaller one has always been smaller, but had a bit of a growth spurt since April and has now overtaken the other one, and is now slightly longer and heavier than the other (now 253g and 10.9cm compared to the other, who is 238g and 10.4cm long at present).

My question relates to healthy weight gain for juvenile tortoises. I have read a number of care guides, including the excellent one on this very website, and many of these state that a healthy weight gain for a hatchling should be around 1-2g a month. However, at what point does a hatchling cease being a hatchling, and becomes a juvenile? In my mind they are most certainly juveniles, and in all respects seem healthy. The larger one (who was the smaller of the two when I got them) has some slight pyramiding which was already present when I got them, but it is very minor, and the other is perfectly smooth. I am keen to ensure that the pyramiding doesn't get worse, and that the smooth one remains smooth, so I am very careful about how much food I give them to avoid too rapid growth.

I give them a good mix of various varieties of dandelion leaves and flowers, which is probably 50% of their diet, as well as occasionally clover leaves, Lavatera flowers, viola flowers and leaves, campanula leaves and flowers, nemesia leaves and flowers, as well as other common weeds we have round my way like hawskbeard, rough hawkbit and plantain. I ensure a good mix and avoid too much of anything too high in protein, so I'm confident their diet is good, I just want to make sure I'm giving them enough of it all, and not too much.

Can anyone give any guidance as to what would be a healthy weight gain for a four year old so as to maintain smooth growth? I cross check my records against the Donoghue Ratio and Jackson's ratio (I appreciate that not everyone agrees with these methods, but I think it is useful as a guide as to ensure they are not extremely under/over weight), and both of them are ever so slightly above the target weight as per the Donoghue method, but their weekly weight gain varies between either remaining stable or increasing/decreasing by a few grams, or gaining/losing up to about 30g a week, despite me trying to balance the amount of food I give them to ensure very gradual growth. Of course, I appreciate a pee and a poo make a massive difference, and their weight fluctuates a lot depending on whether they have been to the toilet, and I also appreciate that some just naturally grow faster and are bigger than others. On the whole though, the trend since I got them is an average of around about 3g a month for the now larger one, and about 2g a month for the smaller one (albeit this might be 30g gain one month, and then 20g loss the next for example).

I have seen some people saying 180g for a two year old was way too heavy, and others saying their two year old was almost 300g, so I'm really not sure where mine stand within the bounds of what's normal and healthy. Can anybody give me any guidance on this?

Many thanks
 

RJOfford

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I'm bumping this one. Has nobody got any guidance on what would be a 'normal' weight for a four year old greek, and what's a healthy average monthly weight gain? There must be someone who has some information!
 

TisMary

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I'm bumping this one. Has nobody got any guidance on what would be a 'normal' weight for a four year old greek, and what's a healthy average monthly weight gain? There must be someone who has some information!
Hello @RJOfford - welcome to The Tortoise Forum. I don't know Greek Tortoises, but you have your question posted in the right place. Hopefully someone will chime in. Have you reviewed @HermanniChris's Greek Tortoise Information Pages? I also found A Guide to the Identification of Tortoises in the Genus Testudo from the British Chelonia Group which might help too. I hope you find the answers you're looking for.
 

wellington

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The only thing I can say about growth is as long as they keep growing its good.
Food does not make them pyramid, lack of humidity does and using the mercury vapor bulbs. So, feed enough food that there is a little left over. They should be able to eat when they want throughout the day
Also, tortoises should not be kept in pairs. If they are living together seperate them asap. One will bully the other to illness or death. Likely you are seeing it and one growing more then the other.
 

TeamZissou

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As was mentioned they grow at all different rates depending on the conditions. In ideal conditions, they could definitely reach 200+ g in a year, especially for Ibera given their larger overall size. My T.g. terrestris (smaller subspecies) for example reached about 190 g in a year. Based on what I have read, there is no disadvantage to them growing this fast, in terms of pyramiding or any other aspects of health. Adult Ibera can weight in the neighborhood of 1.5 kg.

Calculators like the Jackson ratio are basically a measure of density of a tortoise, meant to assess whether or not the tortoise is healthy at whatever particular size and weight--to look for dehydration or other potential issues. It does not tell us anything about how an animal is doing in terms of absolute growth rate, which varies for different species.

Too small of an enclosure may also cause stunted growth. How big is the enclosure you have them in? At this size, they probably each need to be in a 2x6' enclosure or larger to give them enough room to move around and digest their food.

If they are housed together, both tortoises are most likely extremely stressed having another competitor and will likely have a suppressed appetite, leading to smaller growth. Often you see only one that is stunted from being housed together, but I suppose it is not out of the question that both could be.

Here's the care sheet in case you haven't seen it:

 
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RJOfford

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Many thanks for the replies. The enclosure is about 4 feet by 10 feet, with plenty of hiding places and enough plants/obstacles etc to break up sightlines. They both eat very well and will basically eat as much food as I am willing to give them. If I were to constantly put down food, they would constantly eat it, so I avoid doing that to make sure that they get a bit of exercise by walking around looking for food, and clambering over the obstacles in their enclosure.

Of course, in the wild they would have to cover a lot of distance to find food and would constantly graze, so that's the kind of behaviour I encourage by putting out food a little at a time, and hiding it in different places around their enclosure otherwise they would just eat it all in one go.

Humidity isn't a problem either, I always ensure their enclosure has a little moisture (which in England is never a problem!), and they also get bathed regularly and both poo and wee and pass urates regularly. Health wise, I have no concerns, just want to make sure they are growing steadily. They haven't grown much in terms of length (both around a cm in two years) but their weight has steadily increased (one was poorly and a little underweight when I got him, but he soon recovered and is now similar size and weight to the other), and are both almost 'perfect' weight according to the donaghue method. From the replies it seems that weight wise there is nothing really to worry about.
 

TeamZissou

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Being more blunt, personally, I would not feel good about this growth rate for an Ibera since they are one of the largest Greeks. I would worry about 3 g per week, let alone per month.

It sounds like you are not feeding them enough. Tortoises fed the correct diet virtually cannot over eat. They are natural grazers as you said, and will visit the food several times per day. If nothing is left over at the end of the day, then you are not giving them enough. You can also supplement with soaked Mazuri/Nutrizoo pellets twice a week to help them grow.

Second, don't underestimate the constant stress that they inevitably experience having another tortoise in their territory. This is probably stunting the growth of both. They really each need their own large enclosure, preferably outdoors. One option might be to sell or give away one of the tortoises so that the other can grow to full size. Your 4 x 10 ft would be good for a single tortoise. Otherwise, I'm not sure that they will reach their potential.

Do you know for sure that they are Ibera? Is it possible that someone misidentified them and you actually have a smaller subspecies of Greek? You could post several photos of the tortoises from several angles including the plastron and we can identify them.
 

RJOfford

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Thanks. They are certainly Testudo Ibera as I bought them from a certified breeder (who incidentally only sells in pairs) in the UK who only keeps/breeds this species. There is always food left over at the end of the day, so I don't think I'm under feeding them, but if I put down all the food in one go they tend to eat most of it in one go, so I've learned to portion it up and put food out for them a few times a day and they'll graze a bit more naturally. I've read so much conflicting information though, including guidance that if you over feed them then they effectively get lazy because they don't have to 'work' for their food and this method seems to work for me in keeping them active and roaming around more naturally.

In your view, what is a more normal monthly weight gain for a Greek fed a good diet?
 

TeamZissou

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My guess would be something like 30 g per month or more. It's not uncommon for tortoises to plateau for a week beginning to increase again, but to see a 20 g loss the next month indicates that some aspect of husbandry needs to be improved. Be sure to read the care sheet linked in post #5.

Hydration is also critical. It would be good to soak the tortoises at least four times per week.

Just because the breeder would only sell them in pairs does not mean that it's a good idea or there won't be negative effects. Separating them is probably the best thing you can do to improve their growth.
 

RJOfford

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Thanks for your reply, much appreciated. What are your thoughts on the donaghue method in determining whether a tortoise is the right weight for its size? By that method, both of mine are in the 'little overweight' category, so I adjust how much additional food I give them (aside from the edible plants which are freely available in their enclosure for them to nibble on) to ensure they stay roughly in the right range. Do you consider this is less important than just putting down as much as they'll eat?
 
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