torts hibernating with food in their stomachs

nancykj

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hi all,
devils advocate here. so, i stopped supplemental feeding my two desert torts 2 weeks ago. they are showing no signs whatsoever of hibernation. eating all the grass and rose leaves and strawberry leaves they can get ahold of in their browsing.
today, my big boy ares pee'd. alot. crap! did he just pee away his hibernation (yeah yeah, i know it is technically brumation).
so i soaked him, and gave him some spring mix.
my other DT was all over his enclosure, so i gave him some cactus pear, which he devoured. soaked him also. MY QUESTION:
have any of you, ever, had first hand experience with a desert tort going into hibernation, and then perishing, in that hibernation, from "undigested food in his gut". i am talking vet confirmation of cause of death, as opposed to assumption or speculation. from woodland hills, CA
 

kathyth

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Nanc..... Obviously, I wouldn't have that answer, but want to say; last year Jasmine was hibernating at his time. Her and my Greek are eating food in their enclosures, basking, etc.
Very strange!
I wonder if they are just slowing down later than normal.?
 

thatrebecca

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I stopped supplemental food for my DTs Oct. 26. But they are definitely slowing down -- no interest in grazing on weeds in the yard, even after a mid-week soak on a warm day. They even ignored the brightly blooming hibiscus.

I've wondered about the gut-rot warning, too. My guys both pooped and passed urates in their soaks this week. It made me wonder if I should wait for a poop and urate-free soak before I let them go down. I'll be eager to hear from more experienced folks on this...
 

ascott

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Okay...so here goes with what I have experienced....now, I do not know where studies come from or who does them (well, frankly because that information is rarely noted in clear print) BUT.... I do understand what makes a tort "appear" and "behave" healthy....I also know what makes them active and robust and what supports their tenacity....now, with that being said....I am sure that there are some tests/investigations that were done on deceased torts and no real reason/diagnosis was done to prove what they passed from other than they were brumating and when doing a necropsy it was found that they had food remnants in their gut....so hence, must be food + brumation = death.

Now, I suspect (suspect) that food creates gas, especially greens, and that gas can not be a positive situation for a tort who's digestive track has gone to "sleep" for months--and I do know that greens will rot, so the educated guess that this is a negative outcome waiting to happen is understandable, right?

Now, if you never offer supplemental foods but do offer access to a natural grazing area (which is not the usual practice unless you live in their natural land) or as close to as possible...and you spend a year observing...you will find that the tort will naturally wean off of eating at least a couple weeks ahead of their slow down....now, we know that in the wild it is likely that as the cooler months approach and some rains occur they will have the increased chance t consume water....but snub food....they will then be in their burrow alot more and eventually find little reason remaining to bring them to the surface, right?

Therefore, understand that there is still no way in a perfect world will we ever "KNOW" for certain why they do what they do...therefore, it has always been my belief that we should only serv as a buffer for the tort to be able to do what they do...
 

nancykj

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thanks ascott for a very well thought out reply, and i agree with the hypothesis that it might very well be bad for a tortoise to go into hibernation with alot of food in their stomach.
it was just my thought that, if i read alot of posts here, and heard at no uncertain terms at a recent tortoise club meeting, that torts that hibernate with a full stomach will likely die, i wonder if anyone here on this board has any first hand experience with that...or, where this good hypothesis became a "fact" of tortoise keeping.....just wondering.....


kathyth said:
Nanc..... Obviously, I wouldn't have that answer, but want to say; last year Jasmine was hibernating at his time. Her and my Greek are eating food in their enclosures, basking, etc.
Very strange!
I wonder if they are just slowing down later than normal.?

hi kath,
mine were not hibernating at this time last year either, but we were in venice beach, and as you know the nights do not get as cold. will your greek hibernate? all i know is desert torties
 

kathyth

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Hi Nanc
I am keeping an eye on the Greek. She is set up to safely hibernate in her enclosure.
If all looks good I will allow nature to take it's course and observe her.
I am also completely prepared to bring her in, keep her warm and feed throughout the winter.
Jasmine will definitely go down, at her own time and I will do with her, what you do with yours.
She was down for 4 1/2 months, last year.
[SMILING FACE WITH SMILING EYES]
 

Tom

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I have never had a tortoise die during hibernation, and I never allow them to hibernate with food in their gut. However, what I can share is that MANY DT owners in your area (some russians and other testudo too) just leave them outside to fend for themselves every year, year after year, and they all do fine. These people don't soak, cut off food or anything else. It seems their tortoises just "know" when to quit eating and start preparing for their underground winter slumber. The only time I see them die is if it gets REALLY cold and their burrow is too shallow and unprotected, or they drown or suffocate during heavy rain or burrow collapse.
 

nancykj

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thanks tom,
that has been my gut feeling these past 16 years, that my DTs will know when to stop eating. and, based on that assumption, i have put supplemental food out for them every year, until they just stopped eating on their own. then, when they stayed in their outdoor houses for a week or more, i would put them into their brumation chambers in the garage, for the duration.
but, i want to do the best for them, and it does seem restricting their food to some extent, or eliminating it altogether, as brumation looms, is the best and most natural course, for CDTs, at least.
i appreciate your experience that the DTs will do okay in this area, even when left to fend for themselves. it makes me feel better that i am not totally screwing up for letting them browse a little longer (no more supplements) than some of the folks here.
 

Millerlite

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Tom said:
I have never had a tortoise die during hibernation, and I never allow them to hibernate with food in their gut. However, what I can share is that MANY DT owners in your area (some russians and other testudo too) just leave them outside to fend for themselves every year, year after year, and they all do fine. These people don't soak, cut off food or anything else. It seems their tortoises just "know" when to quit eating and start preparing for their underground winter slumber. The only time I see them die is if it gets REALLY cold and their burrow is too shallow and unprotected, or they drown or suffocate during heavy rain or burrow collapse.

Yup I agree even if you offer food or not the tortoise I believe knows when to eat and when he's about to go down for months, I think it's more of a safety thing to not feed them and prep them for hibernation. I've heard stories of tortoises dying in hibernation but it can be from a lot of different factors food in the gut is just one

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Although I am not going to allow FunkeeDeeTee to brumate this year since I need to observe him further to be sure of his health, being That I adopted hime a mere few months ago, I think these threads about brumation are so vital and so very much needed by fellow gopherus (and other tortoise) keepers. So helpful. If for nothing else, to hold each other's hands in the process, so everyone feels safe.

I will never, ever-never, ever forget being a kid and a neighbor down the way from us and the wail she let out, when she found her beloved CDT limp and dead in the spring. She was inconsolable, so terribly heart broken. We all thought her husband or kids had died or something, the way she came out screaming. I know, I know. Kinda weird. But she loved her tortoise just that much. She cried for years whenever it came up, or even when she came over to the farm and saw grandpa's four CDTs. She never wanted one again. It affected me, that's for sure. Research and find out any and all one can, and be sure of as much as possible to avoid something like that happening. And thank goodness we have this forum to pow wow in. Rocks for us! : )

My neighbor passed away several years ago and I always secretly hoped that she was with her tortoise once again. Happy.
 

thatrebecca

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Guys, I'm still perplexed by this issue and I'll tell you why. It has been 8 days since I put out supplemental food and yes they are slowing down, but frankly, they still seem hungry. This morning I caught my little one eating a piece of orchid bark in her night box. I have never seen her eat her substrate before. Two days ago, I caught her older brother eating ashes from an outdoor fireplace, also something he has never touched.

I know the strategy of taking them off food in late Oct. is a time-tested one, but I'm concerned and I'm beginning to feel like I'm starving them. We've had a mild few weeks here in Toluca Lake, CA -- much milder in my back yard, I suspect, than they would experience dug deep in a burrow in the desert this time of year. They are also juveniles, with smaller stomachs and lesser fat reserves than adult torts. And they sleep indoors -- a nod to the presence of coons in the yard, and a way to ward off an RI in our damp, irrigated back yard -- but something which means their nightly cool down is only in the low 60s, not 50s or 40s. Finally, they have been having two soaks a week since last April, and food appears to move through their systems in a matter of days, not weeks.

There are no weeds in their enclosures to nibble on. This morning when I left I tossed some hibiscus blossoms in their dishes. (I know, I know).

Is it possible that the "weeks off food" strategy which works for adult torts in true desert climates is not appropriate in this case?
 

nancykj

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i am still grappling with this not feeding thing too, and the feeling that i am starving my torts, tho i am becoming more convinced that it is important that they go to bed with empty stomachs. here is something that made me feel better. i was reading some hibernation info from some tortoise trust organization. the author of the piece talked about desert tortoises in the wild. Apparently, spring and early summer is when they have the most food available and it is then that they eat the bulk of the food that they need to build up a store of fat to survive hibernation (brumation, nap time, whatever!) There is another bump of food in the early fall, when certain grasses and plants sprout.
so, altho i know our guys are not in a natural setting, this info made me reassured that since they have eaten well all spring and summer and early fall, they should have plenty of reserve for the winter, as their physiology would be the same as their wild cousins.
as far as your two eating ashes and bark, a knowledgeble woman at a CTTC meeting last month told me that at this time of year (oct) she noticed that her CDTs would seek out dried up things to eat, leaves and hay, stuff like that. maybe that is what your are doing, seeking out dry stuff? the CTTC woman said she thought it might have something to do with aiding in the digestion process.
 

Tom

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This is a difficult subject. There are SOOOOOOO many variables to consider and any "system" of hibernation will need tweaks and adjustments for any individual person or tortoises situation. I wish to share what has worked for me, in my area, with my tortoises and lizards, based on what I have learned over the years. I have never lost an animal hibernating, and have never had any hibernation related problems doing it this way. I am not saying my way is the right way, or the best way, or the way everyone should do it, but it is the way that makes the most sense to ME.

My area is known for warm sunny days, but cold nights. My hibernating species go out every day for most of the year and stay out full time most of the year. When night temps start dipping into the low 50's, or lower, I start bringing them indoors over night. Then I put them back out the next day. I offer food and grazing everyday. At some point the days will be short and cool enough that they stop eating. I check the weather and when it looks like we will have a lasting cold spell, not just a cool day or two, I leave them inside and start using heat lamps every day. This is usually mid to late November for me, but sometimes into December. From this point on, I don't feed them anymore. I soak them every day or every other day, and after two weeks of warm temps and daily soaks, I start raising the heat lamp and shortening the time the lights are on on my timer. About three to four weeks after their last meal, after leaving the lights off for a few days, I put them in their hibernation boxes. In the past I used an old unplugged fridges laid on their backs with an empty pen body stuck in the seal for a small amount of air exchange. I would use about 3-4" aspen shaving or Sani-chips on the bottom, put the torts in and then pile dead laves on top of them. I kept the fridge in a cold area, like a garage or shaded shed, and the fridge would hold a steady cold temp despite 85 degree January days and 25 degree January nights. Nowadays my new house has a perfect spot that stays 49-50 all winter long, so I just put them in smaller boxes and keep them there.

During this process of not eating, being brought indoors, soaking and day shortening, I watch their behavior closely. Most of the time they just get less and less active and progress "naturally" into a state of sleepiness. If I have a stubborn one that just isn't ready to go down for the winter yet, I will warm his temps back up and feed him again until I start seeing that tell tale lethargy and loss of appetite. Then I start the process all over again for that one.

I feel that this is the best way because I KNOW for sure exactly what and when they have eaten. I am watching them every day and monitoring their behavior and food intake. They don't get cool dark hibernation temps until I KNOW they are well hydrated, their guts are emptied, and they are demonstrating all the classical mannerisms of a tortoise ready to hibernate. I am somewhat of a control freak. I know what will kill them and what will help them, so I do what I think is best for them. Our backyard environments are sooooooo artificial that comparing back yard behavior to wild tortoise behavior seems silly to me. What "they" do in the wild just has so little relevance to what happens in my artificial above ground tortoise pens. Again, studying wild tortoises is cool and great and I like to learn all I can for helpful hints and general knowledge, but I still feel we should do what is best for our tortoises in our captive environments. I cannot understand the people who just leave them in the backyard and whatever happens happens. I know SOOOOOOO many people whose tortoises died this way. I attempted this, based on some expert advice, with some beautiful Argentine Tegus and lost two out of three allowing them to use their instincts and figure it out themselves. If you've never seen a grown man balling his eyes out, let me tell you its not pretty. I will NEVER do that again. I had hibernated many tegus, my normal way, indoors, for many years and never had an issue. Its a long story but the bottom line is that its a big gamble. BeeBee's story above illustrates this. One of my best friends lost his CDT this way. It was his first and most beloved tortoise, and he found it dead in its burrow after an unusually frosty cold spell. When I do it my control freak way, and monitor every aspect of it from hydration, to darkness, to the temps, they just never die or have any problems. Outside in the yard, or letting them just do their own thing, there are too many unknown variables and things that could go wrong for my OCD self to be able to sleep at night. If I let them make their own decisions, some will live and some will die. If I make ALL the decisions and make them do everything in a way I know to be completely safe and controlled, they ALL live and have a successful winter nap. THIS is NOT the wild. Tortoises will not always make the smartest choices due to many factors in our artificial enclosures. For example, many sulcatas will choose to sleep outside on a cold night in a spot they feel comfortable in, instead of sleeping in the warm night box we have provided them with. It doesn't mean they know best and their spot is better or safer for them. It means when they assessed a variety of factors, and they chose poorly. I help them out by putting them in their warm box. I help my hibernators by making sure they don't eat for a few weeks and are well hydrated before I ALLOW them to go to sleep for the winter.

After hibernation I do the following: As the weather starts to warm and the days get longer, I open the boxes, or fridge, and let the light and warmer air in. After a few days, or when I see some stirring, I move them into an enclosure with a low wattage flood bulb, so they can warm up a little bit. I also start soaking them daily again for a few days in luke warm water. They usually drink and make a pretty gross looking pee of concentrated hibernation wastes. Gradually over 3-4 weeks I get them warmer and warmer, still with warmer and warmer soaks every few days, and I will start putting them out on warm sunny days. Usually they will "tell" me when they are ready to eat. I usually start with an easy meal like some romaine with a little freshly clipped grass on it. At this time there might still be weeds and grass growing in their outdoor pens from the winter rains, and they will sometimes choose to nibble on that. Usually within a month, they are back up to full speed.

Again, just sharing MY experience and what has worked for me. I know lots of people who have done it their own way for 20 years, and their tortoises survive, but I also know a lot of those people who no longer have a tortoise, or at least that tortoise. I hope this helps.
 

thatrebecca

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Nancy, I guess the ashes and bark could be part of that "dry food" impulse, but they seem like such odd choices. And they indicate to me that they're hungry, even if for crunchy dried out plants, which they don't have access to in my manicured lawn full of sprinklers.

Tom, what you said resonates with my instinct that my backyard enclosure/indoor night box setup is not approximating their in-the-wild experience, as much as I try to replicate it. Where I'm flummoxed is in how to address that in my brumation prep. I guess the only answer is to watch them carefully and adjust as needed. One thing I'm learning on this, my first autumn with DTs, is that they don't just go down and stay down. My torts have had days of inactivity when I was sure they were ready for the brumation box and then suddenly they perked back up and got very active. It's now the third or fourth time that's happened. Each time they slowed down I've stopped offering food, and each time when they wake back up they act like they'll eat anything that isn't nailed down.
 

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thatrebecca said:
Where I'm flummoxed is in how to address that in my brumation prep. I guess the only answer is to watch them carefully and adjust as needed. One thing I'm learning on this, my first autumn with DTs, is that they don't just go down and stay down. My torts have had days of inactivity when I was sure they were ready for the brumation box and then suddenly they perked back up and got very active. It's now the third or fourth time that's happened. Each time they slowed down I've stopped offering food, and each time when they wake back up they act like they'll eat anything that isn't nailed down.


That is why when the time is right I bring them strictly indoors so I can observe and control the food. Until that time I feed them as much as they want every day. Since my enclosures are mostly dirt this time of year, I can still put them out on warm days without fear of eating anything.
 

thatrebecca

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Tom said:
thatrebecca said:
Where I'm flummoxed is in how to address that in my brumation prep. I guess the only answer is to watch them carefully and adjust as needed. One thing I'm learning on this, my first autumn with DTs, is that they don't just go down and stay down. My torts have had days of inactivity when I was sure they were ready for the brumation box and then suddenly they perked back up and got very active. It's now the third or fourth time that's happened. Each time they slowed down I've stopped offering food, and each time when they wake back up they act like they'll eat anything that isn't nailed down.


That is why when the time is right I bring them strictly indoors so I can observe and control the food. Until that time I feed them as much as they want every day. Since my enclosures are mostly dirt this time of year, I can still put them out on warm days without fear of eating anything.

Unless, like Morticia, they eat their substrate!
 

ascott

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I have to revisit this....it is good practice to overwinter your tort if you have had the tort for less than a full year....:D
 

Tom

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thatrebecca said:
Tom said:
thatrebecca said:
Where I'm flummoxed is in how to address that in my brumation prep. I guess the only answer is to watch them carefully and adjust as needed. One thing I'm learning on this, my first autumn with DTs, is that they don't just go down and stay down. My torts have had days of inactivity when I was sure they were ready for the brumation box and then suddenly they perked back up and got very active. It's now the third or fourth time that's happened. Each time they slowed down I've stopped offering food, and each time when they wake back up they act like they'll eat anything that isn't nailed down.


That is why when the time is right I bring them strictly indoors so I can observe and control the food. Until that time I feed them as much as they want every day. Since my enclosures are mostly dirt this time of year, I can still put them out on warm days without fear of eating anything.

Unless, like Morticia, they eat their substrate!


That is why I keep on feeding them until "it is time". They will tell you when its is time. If they are still chowing down, then it is not time yet.
 

thatrebecca

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ascott said:
I have to revisit this....it is good practice to overwinter your tort if you have had the tort for less than a full year....:D

I knew you would say that, Angela. :D And I am seeing the wisdom of it.
 

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