COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – an update for our clients.

Helping Wiltshire and Somerset tortoises wake up from hibernation safely


Wakey wakey, rise and shine you magnificent, shelled creatures! In this guide, the team from Garston Vets share key advice for helping Wiltshire and Somerset tortoises come out of their hibernation period in the safest and healthiest way.

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Contact us if your tortoise is unwell

How long do tortoises hibernate?

In the UK, many tortoises hibernate from around November to March. Hibernation is a natural part of their lifecycle and helps them stay healthy. Most of the year they live on a diet of greens and grass in their enclosure and in autumn they will eat more food to build up fat reserves, ready to hibernate through the winter.

Not all species of tortoise hibernate for the same length of time, or at all. Be sure to research your species as well as the best type of tortoise hibernation box and location. If they appear unwell or underweight, bring them for a Vet check-up before the ‘big sleep’.

Tortoise hibernation ‘recovery room’

When your tortoise is due to emerge from hibernation in the spring, UK temperatures do not get high enough for them to live outdoors. Therefore, for the duration of your tortoise’s recovery from hibernation and the remaining cooler months, you will need to provide an indoor home with sufficient lighting and heating.

Helping your tortoise wake up from hibernation

The best way to help your tortoise wake up safely is to do it gradually. A shock to the system will not be good for their wellbeing. Follow these steps:

  1. Place your tortoise hibernation box in a warm room to allow their body temperature to acclimatise.
  2. Once your pet is awake and moving around (this can take up to two days), you will need to move them to their vivarium where you can regulate a warmer temperature via the heat lamp – start at 22-24 degrees Celsius (the UV light must be on too).
  3. After a couple of days of movement, your tortoise will need a lukewarm bath every day for 10 days to rehydrate – read more about this below – always provide drinking water too.
  4. Every other day during this period, you should increase the vivarium temperature by one degree until 26-28 degrees Celsius is achieved.

Tortoise bath time!

Your tortoise will be dehydrated after several weeks of hibernation. Hydration is more important than food in the initial stages of waking up and drinking will help to flush out the toxins that have built up. A bath will rehydrate them quicker than simply offering them water to drink from a bowl. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Use an empty ice-cream tub or a bowl – fill it with lukewarm water up to your tortoise’s mouth so they can dunk their head under and drink without being fully submerged
  • Place your tortoise in the container on the floor for about 10 minutes – they may take themselves out of it earlier
  • After a week, continue to make a tub of water available in your tortoise’s enclosure
  • Remember to tip the contents down the drain rather than the sink and don’t use it for anything else (for hygiene regularly clean the tub separately from other items with reptile-safe disinfectant

Feeding your tortoise after hibernation

Once your tortoise is hydrated you can start to offer food. Try offering fresh tomato as it will rehydrate as well as feed them. Vitamin supplements can be added but follow the instructions carefully. If your tortoise won’t eat after a week, you should contact our Vets for advice. Your pet may have been hibernating for too long, has a health condition, or their post-hibernation temperature is too low.

Looking after your tortoise’s health

Your tortoise will be especially vulnerable after waking up due to weight loss and dehydration. Therefore, you should look out for these issues as in many cases rapid veterinary treatment will be needed. Check your tortoise regularly for eyesight issues (including cloudiness and blindness), frostbite and gangrene on the legs, swellings, and green urine.

Finally, here are some top tortoise hibernation tips:

Top tip #1 – If you hear your tortoise moving about or scratching during hibernation, they have probably woken up due to it being too warm. Hibernation temperatures should stay between 3 – 7 degrees Celsius.

Top tip #2 – If your tortoise does wake up early and starts moving around, metabolic processes will be awakening too. Putting a tortoise back into hibernation can be dangerous for them.

Top tip #3 – If your tortoise poops during hibernation, it is probably ok so long as it’s not runny – this could cause dehydration. Urinating during hibernation can cause severe dehydration so you should wake your pet up if they do this.

Don’t forget to share this article on your Facebook profile to help other tortoise owners in your area.

Contact us for more advice

Read our advice on keeping ferrets cool in summer

Did you know that ferrets don’t sweat, at all? They don’t pant either to try and expel heat. For these reasons, heatstroke can pose a serious threat to your ferret’s health during summer.

Read our advice below on how to cool your ferret down when the temperature is heating up.

What temperature is too hot for ferrets?

Your ferret’s health is at risk when the temperature around their cage reaches above 27 degrees Celsius. Without the ability to sweat or pant to cool down, your pet ferret will be relying on you to help them stay happy and healthy this summer.

How to cool your ferret:

Water is great for cooling ferrets down. Here are some different ways you can use it:

  1. Put a shallow bowl of water in your ferret’s cage for them to take a cool soak and splash about in.
  2. Remove labels off a plastic bottle and fill it with water, leaving enough room at the top so the water can expand when frozen – pop it in the freezer. Wrap the frozen bottle in a towel and place it in your ferret’s cage for them to use as a cooling station.
  3. Put some ice cubes in your ferret’s drinking bowl – do this several times on a hot day.
  4. Put some cold water in a misting bottle and give your ferret a light misting morning, noon, and night. Avoid getting their bedding really wet and change it often to avoid fly issues.

How to cool the room or hutch:

Getting the air circulating around the room can help, so long as the hot air can get out and fresh cool air can come in. It’s also important to keep the humidity at a comfortable level.

  • If you have air conditioning or a room fan, point them away from your ferret’s cage. Top tip, if the vent goes out of a window, make sure your ferret can’t escape!
  • If your ferret is in a hutch, place it in a north facing part of the garden. Try using a parasol or a shade sail is also a great way to keep their house cool.

As the best temperature for ferrets is below 27 degrees Celsius, we suggest moving their cage to a cooler and less humid place in your home in exceptionally hot weather. The garage and kitchen are usually cool spots when the rest of your house is hot.

Symptoms of heatstroke in ferrets: severe lethargy, lying flat on the floor, excess mucus/drool, gasping/shallow breaths, mouth hanging open, vomiting, red/flushed appearance, footpads turning red, glassy-eyed, and seizure.

If you have any concerns about your ferret, call us on 01373 452225 or see our emergency information.

Summer heat basking tips for bearded dragons

If your pet of choice is a bearded dragon, you’ll be familiar with their need to bask in an external heat source. But what happens when we get some actual summer heat in – is there such as thing as ‘too hot’ for bearded dragons?

Our veterinary team have put together their top tips for keeping your dragon’s vivarium at an optimal temperature for basking this summer.

Eight summer heat basking tips for bearded dragon owners:

1. Opt for an all-in-one heat bulb with UV light – UV light helps to prevent metabolic bone disease, and heat is needed to warm up your exothermic pet’s body to its optimal temperature. This mimics their natural environment and ensures essential functions like digestion work properly. Our team found this by doing a quick search online (others are available) – Combined UV heat lamp for reptiles

2. Install a thermostat – This vital piece of equipment will dim the heat lamp when the set temperature is reached, reducing its heat output. Look for a high-range dimming thermostat. In hot weather you can adjust the thermostat to keep the vivarium at the optimal temperature. Without one, your bearded dragon could be exposed to dangerous temperatures of 42+ degrees with nowhere cold enough to cool down.

The optimal temperature for a bearded dragon is 38 – 42 degrees celcius in the bright end of their vivarium for basking in, and 22 – 26 degrees in the shaded end. The heat lamp (and UV bulb if separate) should be on first thing so your dragon can spend about an hour energising for the day.

3. Install some fans – Attach fans to the vivarium vents to blow fresh air in and suck stale air out. This will create a steady airflow exchange in the enclosure and help cool it by a few degrees. Room fans on especially hot days can help a little too.

4. Add more ventilation – During hot summers, you might want extra ventilation in your dragon’s enclosure to help cool it down and reduce humidity (and risk of bacteria). If you’re a keen DIYer or know someone who can help, try adding some secure mesh panels to the walls of the enclosure.

5. Try water misting – Cool down your dragon’s home in the morning, afternoon, and evening with a quick misting.

6. Water ‘bath’ bowls – Give your bearded dragon a large, shallow water bowl they can easily climb in and out of. This will make an excellent summer soaking tub to cool down in if they so desire.

7. Create a dragon ‘cooling room’ – In the darker end, create a shaded, moist area for your dragon to cool down in if needed. Line it with a bed of sphagnum moss, which you can buy online.

8. Substrate digging – Bearded dragons naturally like to dig. Besides doing it for enrichment, hunting, and foraging, burrowing is great for staying warm at night and cooling down in the midday heat. To achieve a good substrate, try using a play-sand/topsoil mix, slightly heavier on the topsoil.

We hope our hot weather basking temperature tips have been helpful. If you have any tips for other dragon owners, please do share them on our Facebook page.

Here’s one final piece of advice from our team – it’s not normal or healthy for bearded dragons to sleep all day in the summer as they can miss vital basking time. If your pet has become lazy, lethargic, and isn’t eating, this could be a sign of being too hot (or something else). As a first check, look at the vivarium temperature and follow our advice above.

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