Sick Horsefield Tortoise - Is he hibernating or sick?

Mia Joyce

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Hello everyone! I have a 2 year old horsefield tortoise named Newton. Over the past three weeks he has completely stopped eating and is sleeping all the time, only waking up if pestered enough (which I don't want to do) but then going straight back to sleep when putting him back down again. Due to him not eating he isn't getting his calcium intake so his shell is beginning to soften. He is far too young and small to be hibernating. Is this what he is attempting to do? I have talked to my friend who owns several tortoises and she said that even in hibernation they will wake up with an increase of warmth and regular baths. I have tried this and he immediately walks away from the light or out of his bath (with his eyes still closed), no matter how many times I try. I am concerned that either he is: a. attempting hibernation and won't make it due to the fact he is too young, or b. he is sick and will die. I am very worried. Is there anyway to wake him up from hibernation? I still want to try even if he isn't doing this. I have taken him to the vet and they were concerned, but couldn't look at him properly saying I would need a specialist. I don't have enough money to do this. Should I be expecting the worst, or is there any chance I can save my baby? :(
 

Mia Joyce

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UPDATE: Just given him a bath and he is a little active. But he is constantly sticking his head right out of his shell, looking right up at the ceiling and pushing up on his front legs. Is he straining? While he was having his bath I also took him out for a moment and flipped him up to look at his underside. I noticed his cloaca was open very wide, wider than I've ever seen it, and there appeared to be something white inside. However when I dried him off to get a better look the white stuff was gone (his cloaca was still open wide though). I am thinking this is calcium. But I am unsure whether it was the calcium in his bath water (I started putting it in yesterday so if he drank at least he would get some) that he was absorbing (though I don't know if this is true or not) or if he was trying to pass something. If he was trying to pass a large calcium lump this may explain his behavior of his loss of appetite, but I am unsure. Still extremely worried that due to the fact he hasn't been eating he won't have any energy to pass a large calcium amount, or if he does he won't be able to recover afterwards.
 

MenagerieGrl

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Hello Mia and welcome ;).
You have come to the right place. There are lot's of very smart Tort folks here and. . . were here to help...
Hum, lots to talk about. . .
What are the temp's your keeping him/her at? Cools side /warm side, and humidity levels. Can you post pictures of the enclosure he/she lives in. is it open, or closed?
What are you feeding him/her?
Are you providing UV lighting?
How often do you soak him/her?
When you can post some pictures, and we can see if we can get your buddy on the right track....
Look forward to hearing from you....
 
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Tom

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UPDATE: Just given him a bath and he is a little active. But he is constantly sticking his head right out of his shell, looking right up at the ceiling and pushing up on his front legs. Is he straining? While he was having his bath I also took him out for a moment and flipped him up to look at his underside. I noticed his cloaca was open very wide, wider than I've ever seen it, and there appeared to be something white inside. However when I dried him off to get a better look the white stuff was gone (his cloaca was still open wide though). I am thinking this is calcium. But I am unsure whether it was the calcium in his bath water (I started putting it in yesterday so if he drank at least he would get some) that he was absorbing (though I don't know if this is true or not) or if he was trying to pass something. If he was trying to pass a large calcium lump this may explain his behavior of his loss of appetite, but I am unsure. Still extremely worried that due to the fact he hasn't been eating he won't have any energy to pass a large calcium amount, or if he does he won't be able to recover afterwards.
Your tortoise has a bladder stone. The stones are urates that have collected and it is due to dehydration. The urates are a normal by-product of protein digestion and in a large enclosure with the correct temperatures, hydration routine and diet, they don't usually cause a problem. It is not calcium. Most of the care advice for this species is all wrong, and its especially bad for babies. Pet shops, breeders, vets, and books have it all wrong, and you are seeing the effects.

This baby needs to be warmed up and it needs a long warm soak to help pass this stone. Soak for 2-3 hours if needed and keep the water warm the whole time. The tortoise will hopefully start clawing at the sides trying to get out of the soak, and this "tortoise treadmill" is exactly what is needed to help pass this stone. You might also try lubing the area with some mineral oil or petroleum jelly.

If your tortoise makes it through this episode, read that care sheet that MenagerieGrl linked for you and make the needed changes. It is likely that you've got the wrong substrate, wrong temperatures, wrong type of enclosure, wrong bulbs, wrong foods, and don't soak enough. I don't say this to be mean. I say these things so that you will understand what is wrong, why, and how to fix it so your tortoise will survive and be healthy. Your questions are welcome.
 

Mia Joyce

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Hello Mia and welcome ;).
You have come to the right place. There are lot's of very smart Tort folks here and. . . were here to help...
Hum, lots to talk about. . .
What are the temp's your keeping him/her at? Cools side /warm side, and humidity levels. Can you post pictures of the enclosure he/she lives in. is it open, or closed?
What are you feeding him/her?
Are you providing UV lighting?
How often do you soak him/her?
When you can post some pictures, and we can see if we can get your buddy on the right track....
Look forward to hearing from you....
Thank you so much for your message.

I'm keeping him at around 27-30 degrees celsius in the day and 25 at night). Before he stopped eating it was at about 25 degrees celsius during the day and 23 at night, but bumped it up to try to make him more active. Not sure on the humidity level, but I'd say its on the dryer side?

Can't provide a photo right now but I'll try in a following post if I'm able. It is quite large, specifically for his size. It is 90cm by 40cm and is 50cm tall. and it is a vivarium so it is closed.

He only ever ate kale out of everything I offered him so this is what he eats. He won't eat anything else

I have UV lighting, yes

I did not do enough soaking prior to the strange behavior. It was around once every 2 weeks, which obviously was nowhere near enough. I started bathing him more and more often. Every other day in the first week of strange behavior, every day in the second week and now I soak him around 2-3 times per day which seems to up his activeness a little.
 

Mia Joyce

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Your tortoise has a bladder stone. The stones are urates that have collected and it is due to dehydration. The urates are a normal by-product of protein digestion and in a large enclosure with the correct temperatures, hydration routine and diet, they don't usually cause a problem. It is not calcium. Most of the care advice for this species is all wrong, and its especially bad for babies. Pet shops, breeders, vets, and books have it all wrong, and you are seeing the effects.

This baby needs to be warmed up and it needs a long warm soak to help pass this stone. Soak for 2-3 hours if needed and keep the water warm the whole time. The tortoise will hopefully start clawing at the sides trying to get out of the soak, and this "tortoise treadmill" is exactly what is needed to help pass this stone. You might also try lubing the area with some mineral oil or petroleum jelly.

If your tortoise makes it through this episode, read that care sheet that MenagerieGrl linked for you and make the needed changes. It is likely that you've got the wrong substrate, wrong temperatures, wrong type of enclosure, wrong bulbs, wrong foods, and don't soak enough. I don't say this to be mean. I say these things so that you will understand what is wrong, why, and how to fix it so your tortoise will survive and be healthy. Your questions are welcome.
What is happening sounds exactly as you have described. With his increase in baths he has started doing the clawing already. Is his chances of passing the stone fairly high? Even on his lack of food?

I am not offended at all by what you've said. I'm a first time tortoise owner so I'm not very experienced, so I really appreciate comments like this and I completely understand what you are saying. I have had very contradicting answers on the internet which has been very confusing so your answer is exactly what I needed. I'll take your advice and actions you have mentioned as soon as I can.

I hope you are right about the stone, which I'm sure you are given how similar your description and what Newton is going through sounds, as I feel it's not as bad as what I originally thought. I have been worried sick about my little buddy for days now so this has been somewhat of a relief.

If he keeps trying to get out of his soak should I keep putting him back in the center or leave him? He keeps falling asleep in his soak as well, so should I keep waking him up? And should I intervene in any other way?
 
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MenagerieGrl

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Mia,
There are many very knowledgeable folks here and breeder's too. Tom for instance...
We have seen some of the conflicting and down right bad info available.
Read over the care sheet, and keep up the soak. Hopefully? ?he /she will get better and pass the stone....
 

Lyn W

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Hi and welcome,
I hope Tom's instructions help - petroleum jelly is Vaseline, I'm not completely sure but I think the mineral oil in the US is different to ours, so I would use the Vaseline to be on the safe side and it's easier to buy - maybe use a cotton bud to apply it to the cloaca.
Torts need a varied diet and kale alone is not good.
www.thetortoisetable.org.uk is a good guide to tort safe foods.
To introduce new foods cut them up really small and add to the usual food and gradually reduce the bad and increase the good. If you wet the leaves they'll stick together so he can't avoid them.
Many of us use calcium powder but only a small pinch a couple of times a week is needed.

This can be quite serious and even life threatening for the tort if he can't pass it, so I hope the long luke/baby warm shallow soaks help - just keep bailing out the water as it cools and top up with warm to stop him getting cold. If he tries to get out just let him be because the activity will encourage him to poop and hopefully pass the stone - obviously keep an eye on him though.

Pictures of enclosure, bulbs etc will really help members help you.
 

Lyn W

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Hi and welcome,
I hope Tom's instructions help - petroleum jelly is Vaseline, I'm not completely sure but I think the mineral oil in the US is different to ours, so I would use the Vaseline to be on the safe side and it's easier to buy - maybe use a cotton bud to apply it to the cloaca.
Torts need a varied diet and kale alone is not good.
www.thetortoisetable.org.uk is a good guide to tort safe foods.
To introduce new foods cut them up really small and add to the usual food and gradually reduce the bad and increase the good. If you wet the leaves they'll stick together so he can't avoid them.
Many of us use calcium powder but only a small pinch a couple of times a week is needed.

This can be quite serious and even life threatening for the tort if he can't pass it, so I hope the long luke/baby warm shallow soaks help - just keep bailing out the water as it cools and top up with warm to stop him getting cold. If he tries to get out just let him be because the activity will encourage him to poop and hopefully pass the stone - obviously keep an eye on him though.

Pictures of enclosure, bulbs etc will really help members help you.
p.s use the Vaseline on the outside area of the cloaca don't try to push it up inside because that could push the stone back up.
 

Mia Joyce

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Here are some photos of the vivarium along with a close up of Newton if these help. I have the vivarium set up how the original owners had it (I adopted him) using all the same substrate etc. I should have really done research beforehand about it all instead of just assuming the old setup was fine.

20220203_145052.jpg 20220203_145046.jpg 20220205_200119.jpg
 

Lyn W

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You need to change the substrate asap because pellets are too dry and go mouldy which produces spores which can harm the tort if inhaled.
The caresheet will give you better options for substrates to provide and maintain humidity which your tort needs.
Russians like to dig so he needs a depth to allow him to do that in.

Is that a red light bulb you're using? If so you would be better with a flood basking bulb (I use Arcadia - spots are too intense) Red lights confuse torts and encourages them to eat things they shouldn't.
What uvb source and night heat do you use?

Finally if you sink his water dish level with the substrate it will be easier and safer for him to access and exit. Many of us use cheap terracotta plant saucers with gently sloping sides because they aren't slippery so less of a tipping/drowning hazard.

Try to follow the advice in the caresheet as closely as possible to help your tort thrive but there's always someone around to help if needed.
 

Mia Joyce

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You need to change the substrate asap because pellets are too dry and go mouldy which produces spores which can harm the tort if inhaled.
The caresheet will give you better options for substrates to provide and maintain humidity which your tort needs.
Russians like to dig so he needs a depth to allow him to do that in.

Is that a red light bulb you're using? If so you would be better with a flood basking bulb (I use Arcadia - spots are too intense) Red lights confuse torts and encourages them to eat things they shouldn't.
What uvb source and night heat do you use?

Finally if you sink his water dish level with the substrate it will be easier and safer for him to access and exit. Many of us use cheap terracotta plant saucers with gently sloping sides because they aren't slippery so less of a tipping/drowning hazard.

Try to follow the advice in the caresheet as closely as possible to help your tort thrive but there's always someone around to help if needed.
Thank you for all of this advice, I'll make the needed changes as soon as possible and definitely look at the care sheet.

Yes, it's a red light bulb. I'm not sure what you mean by UVB source, could you explain further? For night I use the same lamp but turned down slightly (about 3-5 degrees celsius)
 

Tom

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Here are some photos of the vivarium along with a close up of Newton if these help. I have the vivarium set up how the original owners had it (I adopted him) using all the same substrate etc. I should have really done research beforehand about it all instead of just assuming the old setup was fine.

View attachment 340095 View attachment 340096 View attachment 340097
Here are the changes that need to be made ASAP:
1. Substrate. Fine grade orchid bark works best. Also called "Repti-bark".
2. You need a terra cotta saucer sunk into the substrate for food and water. The type you have is slippery and they don't like it.
3. Placing the tortoise in its water bowl is not soaking. You need a tall sided opaque tub of some sort and warm water. You can soak inside the enclosure to keep the water warmer longer, but he can't be able to climb out of it.
4. It look like your tortoise has metabolic bone disease. This is caused by calcium deficiency. Your tortoise can't use calcium with out D3. D3 can be offer in the diet, but best if they make their own D3 in their skin with the use of the correct type of UVB bulb or real sunshine in summer time.
5. The vivarium is ideal. Much better for babies than an open table, contrary to most of what you read on the internet, or get told at the pet shop.
6. The red bulb needs to go. There are four elements to heating and lighting:
  1. Basking bulb. I use 65 watt incandescent floods from the hardware store. Some people will need bigger, or smaller wattage bulbs. Let your thermometer be your guide. I run them on a timer for about 12 hours and adjust the height to get the correct basking temp under them. I also like to use a flat rock of some sort directly under the bulb. You need to check the temp with a thermometer directly under the bulb and get it to around 95-100F (36-37C).
  2. Ambient heat maintenance. I use ceramic heating elements or radiant heat panels set on thermostats to maintain ambient above 80 degrees day and night for tropical species. In most cases you'd only need day heat for a temperate species like Testudo or DT, as long as your house stays above 60F (15-16C) at night.
  3. Ambient light. I use LEDs for this purpose. Something in the 5000-6500K color range will look the best. Most bulbs at the store are in the 2500K range and they look yellowish. Strip or screw-in LED bulb types are both fine.
  4. UV. If you can get your tortoise outside for an hour 2 or 3 times a week, you won't need indoor UV. In colder climates, get one of the newer HO type fluorescent tubes. Which type will depend on mounting height. 5.0 bulbs make almost no UV. I like the 12% HO bulbs from Arcadia. You need a meter to check this: https://www.solarmeter.com/model65.html A good UV bulb only needs to run for 2-3 hours mid day. You need the basking bulb and the ambient lighting to be on at least 12 hours a day.
 

Lyn W

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Thank you for all of this advice, I'll make the needed changes as soon as possible and definitely look at the care sheet.

Yes, it's a red light bulb. I'm not sure what you mean by UVB source, could you explain further? For night I use the same lamp but turned down slightly (about 3-5 degrees celsius)
Torts need uvb to be able to make vitamin D3 which helps them absorb calcium and nutrients for healthy bones and strong shells. Without uvb torts could develop MBD (metabolic bone disorder). In the summer when we can get them outside this will come from the sun. Your little tort will only need short, supervised time outside but in a safe enclosure with shade available so that they can get out of the heat if they want to. During winter and prolonged colder spells anytime of year, we have to provide a source - I use an Arcadia T5 HO UVB tube kit. (Approx £50 from Internet Reptile)
I also use a separate flood basking bulb (Arcadia approx £4 Pets at Home) and for night heat a Ceramic heat emitter (CHE) run through a thermostat to keep the temps even and to stop the tort from over heating. I bought both from The Range for about £50. All are available on the internet. I'll post some pics so you know what to look for.
The CHE is good for night heat because torts need darkness to sleep and it only gives heat.
Tom has explained how to use them all above so follow his advice.
 

Lyn W

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What to look for - shop around and check wattages or strength needed for your viv. There are different brands for each but I have only used Arcadia so don't know how good or bad the other makes are.

1644110432861.png UVB kit -Check which % and length you need for your viv.
1644110565478.png

Flood bulbs come in different wattages so check what you need for your viv size. (We can't get incandescent household bulbs in our UK shops anymore)

1644110748455.png CHE can be black/white/cream - again check which wattage you need
. 1644110852681.png Thermostat - this is a simple manual type but there are digital versions available.
 
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Mia Joyce

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Thanks again for all the advice everyone has given me. Sadly, Newton passed away this morning in his sleep. I think he exhausted himself the day before trying to pass the stone. At least he isn't in pain anymore.

If I get another tortoise in the future I will make sure I do all my research properly and ask people who know what they are talking about, like you guys, if I'm having any problems. I'll also make sure to follow the care sheet you have given me. Thank you so much everyone, I really do appreciate the help you have given.
 

MenagerieGrl

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Thanks again for all the advice everyone has given me. Sadly, Newton passed away this morning in his sleep. I think he exhausted himself the day before trying to pass the stone. At least he isn't in pain anymore.

If I get another tortoise in the future I will make sure I do all my research properly and ask people who know what they are talking about, like you guys, if I'm having any problems. I'll also make sure to follow the care sheet you have given me. Thank you so much everyone, I really do appreciate the help you have given.
Aw'www Mia, I'm so'ooo sorry to hear that, such a sad day, my heart goes out to you & Newton :tort:. You tried your best to help him. . . I, and many here, have been in the same situ having lost one of our Tort kids.....I wish you peace, in your grief....?
 

Mia Joyce

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Aw'www Mia, I'm so'ooo sorry to hear that, such a sad day, my heart goes out to you & Newton :tort:. You tried your best to help him. . . I, and many here, have been in the same situ having lost one of our Tort kids.....I wish you peace, in your grief....?
Thank you for your kind message. I really hope he enjoyed the life he had, even though I could have done better with looking after him. Going to miss my little dude :(
 

MenagerieGrl

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Thank you for your kind message. I really hope he enjoyed the life he had, even though I could have done better with looking after him. Going to miss my little dude :(
I lost my Herman's, named Gigantor a year ago in November, it was a very sad day for me. And on the topic of sad, One of my fur babies ?, experienced a stroke or possible brain tumor yesterday. Rushed him to the vet.....was on the verge of euthanasia, but held off. Now giving him antibiotics, steroids & pain med's. Made it through the night peacefully ? .
It's hard having non human kid's, many have shorter life spans than us . . just plain tough!
It's amazing how they worm their way into our hearts....?
 

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