Whether it’s the first or fiftieth time you’ve done it, putting your tortoise into hibernation is always a nerve racking process.
From making sure the tortoise is sufficiently plump enough to survive the experience, to having a safe space to hibernate, there’s a lot to think about.
With so many plates to keep spinning you could be forgiven for missing something that turns out to be extremely important, for example; what to do when your tortoise first wakes up and emerges from their lengthy rest period.
A tortoise may not wish to eat immediately after waking from hibernation, but their appetite should return after a 1 to 2 weeks. Rehydration is the main aim at this stage as the tortoise will have lost a lot of water whilst in its hibernative state.
You can get more information on hibernation in general here.
Water Comes First
A tortoise that has just awoken from hibernation will not be in any mood to eat straight away, instead encouraging them to start drinking is all you need to do to begin with.
Besides providing a suitable container of lukewarm water to drink, you should also gently bathe your tortoise every day for the first week or so after waking. This will warm the tortoise’s blood and get their metabolism moving, which will in turn stimulate their appetite.
Which Foods to Feed?
Whilst hydration is certainly the primary aim, it isn’t the only one. During hibernation a tortoise can lose up to 1% of its body weight for every month it hibernates, but not more than 10% across the whole duration. This inevitably involves some tissue wastage, as well as loss of essential nutrients. Therefore it is important to reintroduce food as soon as your tortoise has begun taking on water.
Moisture rich foods are the order of the day at this early stage, with cucumber, courgette and tomato being the ideal choices to kickstart a tortoise appetite. Sugary fruits such as strawberries and melon should be avoided because they may upset gut flora and offer less nutritional benefit.
Once their appetite has been piqued you should begin to introduce more traditional tortoise foods such as dandelion, kale or chard.
Why is My Tortoise Not Feeding?
A common concern among many owners is that their tortoise doesn’t eat, or at least doesn’t eat properly, following hibernation.
The first thing to stress is, as mentioned before, it may well take a bit of time for the tortoise to want to eat, up to 14 days can be completely normal. You will of course be able to gauge far better what is normal if you’ve put your tortoise into hibernation before. If you’re doing it for the first time it can be far more nerve wracking.
That being said if your tortoise does not consume water within the first couple of days of waking, or consume food after a couple of weeks, there is a chance they are suffering from a condition known as ‘Post Hibernation Anorexia’.
This condition is thought to be triggered by a number of possible causes, including: chronic illness or illness or injury sustained during hibernation, poor health or low weight prior to hibernation, or continuing to hibernate for longer than would be considered necessary for the age and size of the tortoise.
Make Sure Hibernation isn’t the Only Cause of Anorexia
So it could be that hibernation is simply the trigger that brings a number of other issues to the surface – your tortoise might have been suffering from one or more other ailments for some time, but it simply hasn’t been obvious to you until now.
To try and avoid such issues, you should only allow your tortoise to hibernate if you are sure they are in peak physical condition.
This means providing the optimal diet and living conditions year round right up to the point of entering hibernation, but also keeping careful track of the tortoise’s health throughout the year. So things like noting how often the tortoise urinates and defecates, and if there are any signs of illness at any point such as nasal discharge or lethargy.
As well as informing you of your tortoise’s health, this information can prove invaluable if you do need to consult with a vet, either post hibernation, or at any other point you have a concern.
Treating Post Hibernation Anorexia
If your tortoise hasn’t drunk anything two days after emerging from hibernation, or eaten anything after 14 days, it’s a good idea to seek veterinary assistance.
A vet will be able to safely fit a tube directly into the esophagus (food pipe) of the tortoise, which can then be used by the you to directly feed the tortoise for as long as is necessary, until the tortoise has returned to full health. This could be as long as two months in the most serious cases.