Winter Check for Mediterranean Tortoises

Every Mediterranean tortoise should have an appointment with the vet at the end of August or the beginning of September for a health check before hibernation.

Sleepless for 16 years – at a beak trimming appointment, the owner of a Greek tortoise mentioned that the animal had never hibernated. The treating veterinarian asked in the expert forum small animals: “Should hibernation now be started for the first time? Any problems to be expected?’ medical vet Karina Mathes, a specialist veterinarian for reptiles and head of the reptile and amphibian department of the clinic for pets, reptiles, ornamental and wild birds of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, advises that every healthy Mediterranean tortoise should be hibernated, even if it has not yet been carried out. Hibernation should be made possible from the first year of life, as this corresponds to the natural needs of Mediterranean tortoises and is essential for a regulated circadian rhythm. In this way, too rapid growth can be prevented and the immune system strengthened. Only in the case of sick, weakened animals does the hibernation have to be dispensed with or only carried out in a shortened form.

Healthy into hibernation

To avoid problems, a winter check with a clinical general and a fecal examination should be carried out no later than six weeks before hibernation. If treatment against parasites is required, wintering should not begin until six weeks after the last dose of medication, because the drug cannot be metabolized and excreted at low temperatures. A complete health check also includes an X-ray examination to detect, for example, diseases of the lungs, remaining eggs, or bladder stones.

In animals weighing more than 120 g, the blood should also be examined to be able to conclude the organ status of the animal, primarily based on the liver and kidney values ​​as well as the electrolytes.

Simulate autumn and winter

The triggers for hibernation are a decreasing nighttime temperature and length of daylight. Autumn is imitated in the terrarium by gradually reducing the temperature and lighting duration over two to three weeks. After the animals have stopped eating, they should be bathed two to three times to partially empty their intestines. At about ten to twelve degrees Celsius, the turtles are then inactive and can be brought to the winter quarters. If an animal has not yet experienced hibernation and therefore does not want to sleep, autumn must be simulated particularly intensively.

The tortoises are placed in a hibernation box filled with humus-rich soil or sand and covered with beech or oak leaves. They dig themselves in. The box is then placed in a dark refrigerator with a constant temperature of around six degrees Celsius. Sometimes you have to put animals that have been professionally cooled down to about twelve degrees Celsius into the refrigerator relatively actively so that they finally bury themselves. Before the refrigerator is used as the turtle’s hibernation place, it should be running for a few weeks and fitted with a minimum-maximum thermometer to anticipate massive temperature changes. Wine refrigerators, which can be set to a constant temperature, are particularly suitable.

Weekly checks make sense

During hibernation, the substrate and air should be kept slightly moist, but mold must not form. The temperature should be checked daily. To do this, the outside sensor of a digital thermometer can be plugged directly into the substrate of the winter box. There is a weekly weight check and a short health check. Breathing, the reaction to touching, the nostrils for discharge, and the abdominal armor for visible bleeding are checked briefly. If the weight decreases by more than ten percent of the initial weight, the liquid loss is too high and the hibernation too dry. If necessary, the animal must be woken up early from hibernation.

At a glance: These examinations are useful before the hibernation

  • general examination
  • examination of a fresh fecal sample
  • roentgen
  • laboratory parameters, if possible (liver and kidney values, electrolytes, etc.)

Frequently Asked Question

How do I prepare my tortoise for hibernation?

Hibernation does not mean that the tortoise will remain rigid in one spot until winter is over. They still react to some stimuli, such as touch, albeit at a much slower pace. It is sometimes more and sometimes less deeply buried or rotated.

Which foliage is suitable for turtles to hibernate in?

The leaves of the sea almond tree (Terminalia catappa), like oak leaves, release humic acids into the water. Like oak leaves, they decompose very slowly. They are therefore well suited for the hibernation of sea turtles.

How cold can it be for turtles at night?

Greek tortoises can move into the outdoor enclosure from late April to late October. However, in winter it is necessary to place them in hibernation boxes. The temperature is then between 2°C and 9°C. After hibernating, the animals are kept in a room at 15° to 18°C for two days.

How do you overwinter Greek tortoises?

It is essential to ensure good ventilation, otherwise, mold growth can occur! Place the hibernation box in as dark a place as possible, the temperature must be at a constant 4-6 degrees Celsius. Overwintering in the refrigerator – separate for hygienic reasons – is the best and safest method.

How many degrees does a Greek tortoise need?

Climate requirements: Temperature: The soil temperature should be 22 to 28°C, and the local air temperature 28 to 30°C. In at least one place there should be local ground warming up to 40°C.

Can Greek tortoises freeze to death?

Turtles can only end their hibernation when temperatures rise. If the temperatures drop too low, the animals have no chance of escaping but freeze to death.

At what temperatures can a turtle be outside?

If the owners have decided to keep them in the garden, it is important to know that this is only possible in the warm summer months. In the months when temperatures are above 12 degrees Celsius, most tortoises can spend their time outdoors in the garden without any problems.

How long can a turtle go without eating?

Small turtles up to 1 year: daily animal food. Turtles 1 – 3 years: two fasting days a week, i.e. two days without meat. Sea turtles from 3 years: meat every other day. Older turtles from 7 years: animal food 2-3 times a week.


Ava Williams

Written by Ava Williams

Hello, I'm Ava! I have been writing professionally for just over 15 years. I specialize in writing informative blog posts, breed profiles, pet care product reviews, and pet health and care articles. Prior to and during my work as a writer, I spent about 12 years in the pet care industry. I have experience as a kennel supervisor and professional groomer. I also compete in dog sports with my own dogs. I also have cats, guinea pigs, and rabbits.

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