Why Do Tortoises Die in Hibernation?

Hibernation is a period of time when tortoises go into a state of hibernation. During this time the reptile’s body will stop eating and drinking, and its metabolism will slow down to the point where it appears as if the tortoise isn’t alive.

Tortoises don’t enter hibernation abruptly; instead the process is a methodical one, with the reptile gradually going into its energy conservation phase over a number of weeks and months. This is why it’s important to learn the normal signs of hibernation so you can prepare your tortoise for the transition in time and ensure he or she is healthy and happy before the actual time arrives.

When your tortoise first starts to enter this stage of hibernation it will often eat less and move around less, as if it’s trying to conserve energy and resources. This can be a worrying sight, but it’s actually normal behaviour and should not cause you any alarm.

Once the body is in this energy conservation mode it will start to lose weight and the animal’s metabolic rate will decrease dramatically. This is because the tortoise’s body will be using up its reserves of fat, vitamins and water.

If the tortoise’s reserves run out too soon or it doesn’t drink enough, the tortoise will eventually die of dehydration. In extreme cases, the tortoise’s liver may even die.

Another major hazard during this period is the risk of freezing. If a tortoise is placed in a shed, loft or other unheated room to hibernate and the temperature drops to below 0 C (frozen air can be at this temperature for very short periods) it will quickly suffer frost damage, if not death, in a matter of hours.

This is why it’s so vital to check your tortoise’s temperatures constantly and keep an eye out for changes. Ideally you should monitor them at least twice a day, and if they do fall below the’safe’ temperature band you can move them immediately to a warm room where they will be safe.

Your tortoise will probably wake up a few times over the course of their hibernation period to eat and use the bathroom. However, this should only be done after you’ve woken them up gradually and ensured they have been given plenty of food and water in their wake.

During the waking up process, it’s also a good idea to soak your tortoise in a bowl of warm water. This helps to flush out toxins and will prevent diarrhoea which can lead to bloating and ultimately to dehydration, which is dangerous for your tortoise.

After your tortoise has woken up, it’s a good idea to weigh them, and ensure they are well-hydrated. This is because during hibernation the body’s water storage can be used up quickly and dehydration can be fatal.

In addition, you should be sure to check the tortoise’s faeces aren’t runny or that they’ve not urinated recently, as this can dehydrate them further.