New tortoise parent struggling to prepare for the winter. Please help!

AlexNZ

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Hello Everyone!

As the title would suggest, I'm struggling to prepare my Eastern Hermann's tortoise, Bert (male, approximately 5 years old) for his brumation stretch.
I've had him for about 3 and a half months now, from mid-summer to mid-autumn. He has lived exclusively outdoors until the current week, when we moved him to a temporary sheltered enclosure in the garage to try and ensure he gets more consistent warmth and light through the patchy autumn period. I have been trying to emulate the process outlined in a popular brumation post, of keeping him well-bathed/hydrated, warm, and fed leading into the colder months, but also letting him outdoors to stretch his legs (weather permitting), with the intention of letting him fast in the few weeks leading into winter.

The problem is, he has never really settled since we got him in the middle of summer, scarecely eats and now spends most of his time circling his new enclosure, expending energy.
I'm worried that when the time comes to brumate, he won't be in a healthy enough state to survive the winter without incident. Am I stressing too much about the little guy, or are there some changes I can make to prepare him better for the winter period?

For some added context:
- A family member was gifted Bert from a friend who is a tortoise breeder, who has raised his tortoises almost exclusively outdoors
- Thanks to the surprise of receiving a tortoise at short notice, the summer has been spent scrambling trying to build a suitable enclosure and learn as much about Eastern Hermanns as possible (there's a lot of conflicting information out there!)
- because of the frantic building/learning, Bert has been moved more than I would have liked, making his summer more stressful than it should have been
- I live in the sunniest area of New Zealand where summer temperatures reach peaks of low 30s, but tend to hover in the mid-twenties Celsius (75 to 90 degrees fahrenheit roughly). Winter temperatures here average approximately 9 degrees Celsius (mid to high forties fahrenheit) when taking into account diurnal range.

I can provide more information, pictures etc. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!
 

The_Four_Toed_Edward

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If you do not plan on breeding, you can also choose not to brumate this winter, if you feel like you don't have enough information and don't know your tortoise well enough. Some suggest not brumating your tortoise if you had him for less than a year. However, as I understand winter is already getting close in New Zealand, so you will want to make desicions soon. There are certain steps that need to be taken if you choose to keep your tortoise awake inside over the winter aka "over wintering" your tortoise.

If you are not sure about whether you want to brumate or not, I would suggest you research the over wintering option and try to figure out if you could make that possible. It includes a proper enclosure indoors, with proper lighting and heating. I am sure you will find plenty of good threads from here on over wintering!
 
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AlexNZ

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If you do not plan on breeding, you can also choose not to brumate this winter, if you feel like you don't have enough information and don't know your tortoise well enough. Some suggest not brumating your tortoise if you had him for less than a year. However, as I understand winter is already getting close in New Zealand, so you will want to make desicions soon. There are certain steps that need to be taken if you choose to keep your tortoise awake inside over the winter aka "over wintering" your tortoise.

If you are not sure about whether you want to brumate or not, I would suggest you research the over wintering option and try to figure out if you could make that possible. It includes a proper enclosure indoors, with proper lighting and heating. I am sure you will find plenty of good threads from here on over wintering!
It is my intention to brumate, as this is what he has been used to. It's just been getting him back into a rythm in time for winter that has been the struggle! Unfortunately, my house is not really large enough for a permanent indoor enclosure that would provide him the space and comfort he deserves - the current setup does have heat and light, but is there more to supplement what he may be lacking from his outdoor setup in autmumn and spring.

He does seem like he is ready to "sleep", but some of my concern stems from thinking it may be too early with winter still a month and a half away. My understanding is that a tortoise usually brumates for around 3 months?
 

The_Four_Toed_Edward

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It is my intention to brumate, as this is what he has been used to. It's just been getting him back into a rythm in time for winter that has been the struggle! Unfortunately, my house is not really large enough for a permanent indoor enclosure that would provide him the space and comfort he deserves - the current setup does have heat and light, but is there more to supplement what he may be lacking from his outdoor setup in autmumn and spring.

He does seem like he is ready to "sleep", but some of my concern stems from thinking it may be too early with winter still a month and a half away. My understanding is that a tortoise usually brumates for around 3 months?
Do you know when he has usually gone down to brumation and how long he has brumated before? Also what method do you plan on using for his brumation? What method has been used with him previously?

If you are worried about his eating, I would suggest keeping track of his weight. A underweight tortoise should not be brumated, and monitoring his weight maybe even once a week could be helpful. Vitamin A rich foods are sucested before brumation.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY: Any signs of illness are also a reason to skip the brumation for the winter. If you have the resources, many recommend a pre-brumation health check up at a reptile specialized vet. The vet looks for nasal discharge, swelling of the eyes or limbs and any changes inside the mouth. Some also recommend a stool sample to check for parasites. Some illnesses may explain his recent behavior and your vet might recommend not brumating him. If you have any concerns, I would recommend a vet check up to seek explanation to his behavior and get him assessed on whether he is healthy to brumate.
 

AlexNZ

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Do you know when he has usually gone down to brumation and how long he has brumated before? Also what method do you plan on using for his brumation? What method has been used with him previously?

If you are worried about his eating, I would suggest keeping track of his weight. A underweight tortoise should not be brumated, and monitoring his weight maybe even once a week could be helpful. Vitamin A rich foods are sucested before brumation.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY: Any signs of illness are also a reason to skip the brumation for the winter. If you have the resources, many recommend a pre-brumation health check up at a reptile specialized vet. The vet looks for nasal discharge, swelling of the eyes or limbs and any changes inside the mouth. Some also recommend a stool sample to check for parasites. Some illnesses may explain his recent behavior and your vet might recommend not brumating him. If you have any concerns, I would recommend a vet check up to seek explanation to his behavior and get him assessed on whether he is healthy to brumate.
Thanks for the advice.

I have contacted the breeder, and they informed me that he is used to brumating from the end of April/early May, until possibly the end of August or early September. I'm guessing that in their natural environments this is not abnormal, but is a lot longer than most guides on brumation have recommended. I find the idea of allowing him to brumate for up to 5 months quite stressful, but perhaps I am worrying too much if this is what he has been used to?

Anyway, I'll do my best to keep him hydrated and encourage him to eat for the next few weeks, before tapering him off. I have been monitoring his weight the lst couple of weeks, and he managed to increase his weight slightly, which is a small win!

Unfortunately there are no specialists in the area for a health check-up, but there have been no obvious physical signs of illness, just the stress caused by all the changes over the summer.
I'll keep monitoring im closely, and report back.

Thanks again!
 

Ink

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@Tom should be able to help you.
 

Tom

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Thanks for the advice.

I have contacted the breeder, and they informed me that he is used to brumating from the end of April/early May, until possibly the end of August or early September. I'm guessing that in their natural environments this is not abnormal, but is a lot longer than most guides on brumation have recommended. I find the idea of allowing him to brumate for up to 5 months quite stressful, but perhaps I am worrying too much if this is what he has been used to?

Anyway, I'll do my best to keep him hydrated and encourage him to eat for the next few weeks, before tapering him off. I have been monitoring his weight the lst couple of weeks, and he managed to increase his weight slightly, which is a small win!

Unfortunately there are no specialists in the area for a health check-up, but there have been no obvious physical signs of illness, just the stress caused by all the changes over the summer.
I'll keep monitoring im closely, and report back.

Thanks again!
Here are the potential problems with brumation:
1. Inconsistent temps. It cannot get 24C one day and 0C the next day during brumation. Some minor fluctuation of a few degrees is okay, but too much becomes a problem. It should stay consistently cold.
2. Warm temps. Some people seem to think if they shut off the lights because the tortoise isn't coming out to eat, that they are "brumating" at room temp. This is a bad deal for the tortoise and frequently kills them.
3. Food in the gut. Decide whether or not to brumate, and then follow the correct steps for your choice. Do the lead in with the correct temps and warmth.
4. Leaving them outside subject to the ravages of Old Man Winter, Mother Nature, and any predators that might be about. I see so many die this way...

I think you've read this, but here it is again for reference. Make your choice and follow the steps. That's all there is to it. Following the steps will avoid the four above listed problems.
 

AlexNZ

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Here are the potential problems with brumation:
1. Inconsistent temps. It cannot get 24C one day and 0C the next day during brumation. Some minor fluctuation of a few degrees is okay, but too much becomes a problem. It should stay consistently cold.
2. Warm temps. Some people seem to think if they shut off the lights because the tortoise isn't coming out to eat, that they are "brumating" at room temp. This is a bad deal for the tortoise and frequently kills them.
3. Food in the gut. Decide whether or not to brumate, and then follow the correct steps for your choice. Do the lead in with the correct temps and warmth.
4. Leaving them outside subject to the ravages of Old Man Winter, Mother Nature, and any predators that might be about. I see so many die this way...

I think you've read this, but here it is again for reference. Make your choice and follow the steps. That's all there is to it. Following the steps will avoid the four above listed problems.
Thanks Tom,

Yes, I have read the guide (very informative!), which has lead me to bringing my tortoise indoors as warm temperatures become less consistent. I am following the steps you have outlined with the goal of fasting him leading into the beginning of winter.

I am looking for an average temperature in the mid-forties (F), taking into account daily highs and lows, which I think is easy enough to implement and monitor. The majority of my concerns have been with getting him through the inconsistent autumn months and the uncertainty surrounding the length of brumation - I'll continue to refer to your guide for future queries and reassurance!

Thanks again
 

Ink

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Since he is new maybe wait a year until he gets acclimated to his new enclosure?
 

idcowden

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He does seem like he is ready to "sleep", but some of my concern stems from thinking it may be too early with winter still a month and a half away. My understanding is that a tortoise usually brumates for around 3 months?
I think it depends on the Tortoise. My friend's tortoise lives out in the garden all year round and usually brumates herself for close to 6 months. She will stop eating of her own accord and dig down. My friends usually then play hunt the dig spot and cover it with some protection to stop any foxes etc. She has been doing it for many years without incident.

My own two have a cold frame to retreat to when it's colder (with a ceramic heater in) and again, they chose when to brumate themselves. One went down from mid December through to the start of March, the other from mid Jan to the start of March. They both came back up when ready in their own time.
 
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