When it comes to reptiles things get a bit more specialist, cold blooded creatures just have a whole different set of requirements.
This is even more true when your pet is living in the UK, where climate and other conditions may be markedly different from in its native environment.
One way that many turtles get through winter is to slow their metabolism down and enter a state of hibernation (more properly termed brumation in reptiles, but only the rigidly scientific will care, so we’ll stick with hibernation here!)
So, How to Care for a Pet Turtle in Winter?
Some species, such as Asian Box Turtles come from warmer climates and in their natural conditions don’t use this strategy, so you shouldn’t try to provide the conditions that will encourage hibernation, they’ll most likely die.
Even turtles that will hibernate in their native environment may not need to when kept as pets. If you keep them warm enough and supply food through the winter, your turtle won’t need to use this ‘extreme conditions’ survival technique.
Some turtle owners maintain that when hibernation is a natural part of your turtle’s lifecycle you should allow it, especially if you wish your turtle to breed. All turtle owners would agree however that there are some contraindications to allowing hibernation.
Reasons Not To Allow Your Turtle to Hibernate
- Low Body Weight;
- Any sign of disease;
- Presence of parasites;
An underweight turtle won’t have the body resources to get through hibernation safely and in the hibernation state the immune system is less efficient. Any turtle allowed to enter hibernation with a health problem is likely to become even more unwell. If in doubt consult your vet or a local expert before preparing your turtle for hibernation.
Hibernation for Aquatic Turtles
This is relatively easy, so long as your turtle has a deep enough pond, 3 foot or more is generally recommended and there is mud and debris at the bottom of the pond your water turtle will dig him or herself in when it gets cold.
How to Recognise that A Land Based Turtle is Ready to Hibernate
You’ll notice that your turtle is moving more slowly and has stopped eating. Despite the importance of a healthy body weight it’s also important that a turtle has a period of fasting before entering hibernation, food in the digestive tract during this state of slow metabolism could make your turtle seriously ill.
Hibernation for Land Based Turtles
Your outdoor land based turtle will appreciate a pile of leaves, brown rather than green and deep enough to bury him or herself in. The idea is to provide a cool but not freezing environment. Alternatively, you can hibernate a turtle indoors in a box filled with a mixture of newspaper and peat moss.
Make sure there are air holes in the box and keep it in a room that’s around 5-10 C. Before hibernation ensure that your turtle is well hydrated and monitor your turtle’s weight during the hibernation period. One-percent, per month weight loss is fine, more than this could result in your turtle running out of fuel to you should move it into a warm space, let it wake up and feed it.
The Danger of the Point Between
Keep your turtle warm and they won’t hibernate. Provide a cool environment for a turtle that in the wild would hibernate and they will. The danger point is when your turtle spends prolonged periods of time in temperatures that are chilly enough to start the metabolic changes that are associated with hibernation but not cold enough to fully enter the state.
In this situation your pet could get sluggish and slow, and stop eating but not actually enter the slow metabolic state that is hibernation. The exact temperature range where this could happen will depend on the species but long periods of time around 10-15 C could be a problem. Consult your vet or a turtle expert if you’re concerned.
At Balham Doggy Centre we’re always ready and waiting to help you out with your beloved pets! So, if there’s anything you need, just give us a call. We’d love to hear from you.