Hibernation of a tortoise is always a nerve-racking time for owners, whether it’s the first or sixth time of carrying out the process. There is a lot to think about before hibernation, so your tortoise can get through the process with no issues. Gaining their weight down to the environment, they will be kept. However, you may be a little perplexed when you come to researching what to do when your tortoise wakes up from hibernation, and there is little information.
Tortoise after hibernation will be seeking to rehydrate, giving your tortoise water and feeding them foods with high concentrates of water will help them quickly rehydrate. The best foods will be small chunks of tomato and cucumber and iceberg lettuce, which all have high water content.
Ok, so there is the simple answer, and when I first hibernated my tortoise, I was shocked how little information was available for when they first woke. I have compiled the way I look after feeding my tortoise after hibernation, which has stood me in good stead over the years.
Offer Water First
After a long hibernation period, your tortoise will most likely not feel like eating. My tortoises are always off their food for the first couple of days, so encouraging them to drink is the best way to get them back onto their food.
As we know, Tortoises are cold-blooded animals, so getting them warm will help liven them up and get their metabolism going. I find giving my tortoise a lukewarm bath every day for the first week after hibernation helps warm their blood and quickly gets them back to their usual self.
I found lukewarm was better as my tortoise seemed to get back to their usual selves a lot faster. The tortoise will take big gulps of water to take on water and hydrate, and the warmer water will warm their blood.
Moving on to Food
It’s not all about water; your tortoise will lose around 1% of its body weight for every month they are hibernating. The maximum bodyweight a tortoise will lose will be 10% throughout its hibernation. So giving your tortoise food is part of the process of getting them back to themselves after hibernation. As part of that, body weight loss will be muscle tissue and nutrients, and food will help quickly resupply your tortoise.
Best food for tortoises after hibernation
Our aim in choosing the best food after hibernation is to offer your tortoise foods that provide the moisture and nutrients they have lost throughout hibernation.
The best foods that I have found over the years that I offer my tortoise after hibernation are:
- Iceberg Lettuce
The above foods should offer your tortoise the added moisture and nutrients to kick their metabolism into gear. The dandelions are a source of fiber, which your tortoise will also need.
We should try to avoid overly sugary fruits as these can upset your tortoise stomach after such a long time hibernating.
With that said, you may find your tortoise struggles to get its appetite back and to offer them small chunks of strawberry and watermelon can get them eating again. However, you have to be careful not to give too much and encourage them to start eating only.
After they start to eat over a week or two, I slowly start introducing their regular tortoise diet. My tortoise can be super picky after hibernation, so I found swapping over their diet helps significantly keep them on the food.
Extra help after hibernation
There are many supplements on the market for humans, and the world of tortoise keeping doesn’t escape to the vast array of supplements.
After hibernation, supplements are now a must for me, and the one I personally use is B12, also called cyanocobalamin. It helps stimulant your tortoise’s appetite and gives them many vitamins and minerals.
You can now purchase dry tortoise food as you would for a dog. If you are ever to use them, then after hibernation may possible be the best time. Having vitamins and minerals already inside, they offer your tortoise all they will need.
Why Tortoise is not eating after Hibernation
One of the most concerning things after your tortoise awakes after hibernation is not eating correctly.
Your tortoise will be a little stressed, which is normal, and in most cases, following the above advice will slowly get your tortoise back to its regular eating habits. I find my tortoises can take around two weeks to get back to their regular eating habits. At first, this can make you nervous, but once you have hibernated your tortoise a couple of times, you will find it normal.
After you have completed hibernation a couple of times, you will be able to spot when things are just not quite right quickly.
Is it just Anorexia causing the problem?
If your tortoise has not drunk for 48 hours or is not back onto their food within 14 days, then your tortoise may have PHA (Post Hibernation Anorexia).
There are thought to be many things that can bring on PHA, and some are pre-hibernation problems. Hence the reason you need to make sure your tortoise is in tip-top condition before hibernation.
Pre-hibernation Problems that cause Post Hibernation Anorexia:
- Undetected concurrent disease
- Undetected concurrent injury
- Low weight
During hibernation Problems that cause Post Hibernation Anorexia:
- Poor regulation of temperature
- Excessive length of hibernation
- Injury sustained during hibernation
Hibernation could be the trigger that manifests some of the above problems due to some being hard to spot. However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid hibernation, and you can take steps during the hibernation process to spot them happening.
There is a misconception that we should not disturb our tortoise during hibernation, which has been proven wrong. Regularly taking your tortoise weight during the hibernation process can help you quickly spot PHA.
A 1% weight loss per month is perfectly normal and what you would expect. Your tortoise will lose between 8-10% of its body weight throughout the whole hibernation.
If you discover excessive weight loss or any other health issues during your inspection, you should slowly wake up your tortoise. A tortoise should be woken slowly over several hours, bringing the temperature up to 15C.
If you have any concerns about waking up a tortoise during their hibernation, a visit to your vet for advice would be best practice. Having a tortoise weight log to show your vet will help them decide if it would be best to wake up your tortoise.
How to treat Post Hibernation Anorexia
Suppose your tortoise refuses to drink for 48 hours or is not entirely back to its regular eating habits within 14 days. You should seek veterinarian advice straight away to rule out PHA or confirm.
Unfortunately, PHA is not treatable at home and will require hospitalization for your tortoise to be fitted with a pharyngostomy tube. The pharyngostomy tube is feed into the tortoise stomach so they can be fed. If PHA is left untreated, then it will eventually become deadly to your tortoise.
The pharyngostomy tube allows you to take your tortoise home for recovery, which can take anything from 10 days to several months. During this time, you will feed your tortoise through the pharyngostomy tube.
Hibinatinating, your tortoise, can be daunting; and the process after hibernation can just be as scary when it’s the first time carrying out the process.
Your tortoise will be dehydrated, so offering them water is best practice then moving onto foods high in water content like Cucumber, Courgette, Tomato, Iceberg Lettuce.
Offering them water then foods high in water should have them slowly back to their regular eating habits. If you have any concerns about PHA, then take your tortoise to the vet immediately, as not doing could be life-threatening to your tortoise.