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Safer Hibernation and Your Tortoise


Please see new, updated text for latest, revised and current edition.

A C Highfield, with additional text By Annie Lancaster


It gives us considerable pleasure to be able to introduce you to this, the 5th and completely revised edition of "Safer Hibernation & your Tortoise". In the past 10 years over 70,000 copies of the previous editions have been distributed to tortoise owners in Europe, and a very great many lives have been saved as a direct result. It is my hope that this new edition for the United States will achieve similar success.

Unfortunately, a great deal of information presented to tortoise keepers in the past has been grossly inaccurate and sometimes positively lethal. Into this category falls such advice as "never disturb a hibernating tortoise", "make sure you leave plenty of air-holes in the hibernating box", "give your tortoise one last meal to see it through hibernation" and " provide plenty of cat or dog food in the diet". The first is simply incorrect, the last three can kill. How many unnecessary deaths have resulted from owners following such dangerous and misleading nonsense? We have a policy of continually revising and updating this booklet to ensure that it always provides the best information available.
Tortoises and turtles of all varieties are not 'easy' animals to care for properly. When the tortoise trade was at its height, more than 90% of all tortoises imported in any given year were dead within 2 years - most died during, or just after, hibernation. This booklet has been prepared by the Tortoise Trust to help you ensure your tortoise does not suffer the same fate.
All of the information presented has been carefully prepared by some of the most experienced tortoise keepers in the world in close consultation with leading veterinary surgeons. The techniques described are in daily use at our own tortoise sanctuaries in Britain, the USA, and South Africa, and have been tried and tested over many years. The effectiveness of these techniques is such that despite hibernating possibly more tortoises each year than anyone else, we have never suffered a single hibernation fatality. In each case, the methods used were those described in this booklet. With proper care and attention to detail, you too can achieve similar results.
Tortoises are now under threat worldwide, mainly from habitat loss and in some cases from collecting for the pet animal trade. Fortunately, some active steps to conserve these animals are at last being taken. Much more needs to be done. The endless destruction of natural habitats must be controlled, and conservation reserves created where these animals can continue to breed and survive without human predation. Land tortoises fresh water, and marine turtles all need our help and consideration if they are to survive as species. They must not be lost forever.

A.C.Highfield Wales, United Kingdom, 1998


Contrary to popular belief, most tortoises of the types most commonly kept as pets do actually hibernate in the wild. They do so, however, for much shorter periods than they are frequently subjected to in captive collections. It has been commonplace to attempt a hibernation of up to six or even seven months, whereas in the wild these same tortoises have been used to a hibernation rarely longer than ten to twelve weeks. We believe in replicating natural conditions as closely as possible in respect of hibernation periods, and so we do not recommend giving your tortoise an over-long hibernation. Most fatalities occur either near the beginning, or at the end of the hibernation period. The reasons for some of these fatalities will be discussed in detail later, but you can certainly improve your tortoise's chances greatly simply by limiting the period of hibernation to not more than 20 weeks at the outside. This, it should be stressed, is for a perfectly fit specimen which is fully up to weight. Tortoises which are anything less than l00% fit, or are in any way underweight, will require a proportionally shorter period of hibernation under carefully controlled conditions; possibly they may even need to be kept awake and feeding over the entire winter season.
None of these creatures are in any way suitable as pets for children, and should not be purchased as such.
The following information applies to the most common species of 'pet' tortoise; Testudo graeca ,Testudo hermanni and Testudo marginata. In general, the requirements of T. hermanni, T. graeca, and T. marginata and T. horsfieldii are all very similar.
Many of these tortoises exported to the United States are from the Mediterranean. Some continue to be, due to differences in laws. The same techniques are equally applicable to Gopherus agassizzi, the California Desert tortoise.
Many tortoise owners ask us to identify what species their particular tortoises belong to. The following notes should clarify the position, although specific identification can sometimes be very difficult for non-experts. This is mainly due to the very large range of natural variations in shell pattern, size and colorations encountered, even within members of the same species. However, the general characteristics of each principal terrestrial tortoise are as follows.

TESTUDO GRAECA ("Spur-Thighed" or "Greek" tortoise)

The main characteristic of T. graeca are the two small tubercles or 'spurs' found on the thighs, one to each side of the tail. There are a number of different races, and even full species, currently referred to Testudo graeca (e.g., Testudo ibera): there is unfortunately not sufficient space here to describe them all adequately. Their taxonomy is in any case far from straightforward and in some cases is disputed - the Tortoise Trust publishes several guides to identification so contact us if you require more information.

TESTUDO HERMANNI (Hermann's Tortoise)

The Hermann's Tortoise is quite obviously different from T. graeca; it lacks thigh tubercles or spurs; the tail is long and fairly pointed, with an additional hard, bony tip. The tail of a male specimen is, of course, much longer than that of a female.

TESTUDO MARGINATA (Marginated tortoise)

T. marginata are found naturally only in southern Greece - in fact they are the only 'Greek' tortoise which is actually exclusively Greek in origin. They are somewhat rare, and have been a protected species for a number of years. Adult specimens of T. marginata can grow up to 300 mm long, and they possess a distinctively 'flared' and elongated posterior margin - hence the name. Testudo marginata is a large and impressive tortoise, and has a quite distinct appearance. The males have a distinctly narrow waist and very large flared posterior marginals. Females are much 'rounder' overall, and do not have quite such a profound flare.

TESTUDO HORSFIELDI (Horsfield's or Russian tortoise)

This species originates in Central Asia, principally in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is of a generally light-golden hue with black markings, reaches a maximum of about 250 mm , and combines the miniature spurs with pointed tail similar to T. hermanni. It has a 'stubby' squarish body, a long neck, and, most distinctively, only four toes per foot. Hibernation is recommended, but extra-special care should be exercised as this tortoise is particularly prone to respiratory and skin complaints. It requires a very low humidity environment, and must never be subjected to damp. Large numbers have been collected in recent years, and wild-caught animals are common in the pet trade. Most do not survive for long.


At least 4 varieties are encountered in the pet trade, Terrapene carolina carolina (Carolina or Eastern box turtle), T. carolina triunguis (Three-toed box turtle), T. ornata (Ornate box turtle), and T. c. bauri (Florida box turtle). At the time of writing all species are still being sold as pets. Currently there is an export ban on box turtles, causing an incredible number of "surplus" turtles for sale in within the USA. Many who do have box turtles overseas have experienced great difficulty in trying to keep them alive in captivity. These turtles are extremely sensitive to their surroundings, and if proper conditions are not available they die all too easily.
In reality, box turtles are really only suitable for experienced reptile enthusiasts. Box turtles get their name from their hinged plastron (bottom of shell), which closes up completely concealing the animal's head and legs as a defense mechanism. Animals sold in pet shops are wild-caught (not captive bred) and are frequently very nervous and reluctant to feed. Box turtles are private, solitary animals. This stress inevitably causes illness. The Tortoise Trust publishes separate, detailed, advice dealing with their husbandry. However, the main points relative to their care are that box turtles require live worms, slugs and similar food items, fruits and vegetables, a moderately warm environment with reasonable humidity, and constant access to bathing and drinking water. Box turtles are NOT suitable vivarium animals and must NOT be kept in tanks or similar enclosures. Box turtles are attractive and fascinating animals, but do require quite different conditions than other turtles. They are NOT "normal" tortoises, however, and should never be treated as such.
Many species of tortoise appear in pet stores which DO NOT hibernate. It is important that when purchasing any animal, you identify it correctly, otherwise, obtaining accurate information on its environmental or dietary requirements will prove extremely difficult.

Hinge-back tortoises

Several African species: Kinixys belliana (Bell's hinged tortoise), Kinixys erosa (Eroded hinged tortoise), Kinixys natalensis (Natal hinged tortoise) and Kinixys homeana (Home's hinged tortoise). As their names imply, all have as a major distinguishing feature a flexible hinged carapace.
Hibernation should not be attempted with these species; they require a warm, very humid vivarium environment all year round, or at least can only go outside in mild weather. Otherwise, care is approximately the same as for box turtles. One interesting feature is that African hinge-back tortoises tend to be most active late and night and early in the morning, a reversal of the usual behavioral trend in tortoises. Their native diet includes fruit, mushrooms, giant land snails and millipedes. In captivity they enjoy melons, over-ripe fruits of all kinds and a very limited quantity of animal based food. A water bath should be provided at all times.


Although extremely rare, we have encountered several specimens of these little South African tortoises in captivity. There are five species, all endemic to S. Africa; Homopus femoralis (Greater padloper), H. areolatus (Parrot-beaked tortoise), H. boulengeri (Karoo tortoise), H. signatus (Speckled padloper) and a recently re-discovered species known as H. bergeri (Nama or Berger's padloper). Most occur in Cape province.

GEOCHELONE SULCATA (African spurred tortoise)

Please be careful not to confuse this tortoise with the similarly named Spur-THIGHED tortoise (Testudo graeca). Unfortunately, Geochelone sulcata, the African spurred tortoise is very frequently mis-described as the "African spur-thighed tortoise" which understandably causes a lot of confusion for everyone. The Spur-thighed tortoise (T. graeca) and African spurred tortoise (G. sulcata) are very different animals indeed. T. graeca is a relatively small tortoise rarely more than 10" in length, while an adult G. sulcata is two and a half-feet long and can weigh almost 200 pounds!! In addition, Testudo graeca can hibernate while G. sulcata does not. The Tortoise Trust has books and other information dealing specifically with Geochelone sulcata if required.


Geochelone pardalis is the African Leopard Tortoise. Geochelone carbonaria is the Red Footed Tortoise. Geochelone denticulata is the Yellow Foot Tortoise, and Manouria emys is the Burmese Brown Tortoise.
None of these creatures are in any way suitable as pets for children, and should not be purchased as such. They all require very specialized (and very expensive) housing and expert handling. They do not hibernate. Separate care-sheets are available from the Tortoise Trust which provide detailed information on many of the species named above. The Tortoise Trust also has a video and booklet available dealing with South African species


  • Do not attempt to hibernate ANY tortoise if you suspect it may be a tropical variety. Consult us for help with identification. The Tortoise Trust can assist with identifying any tortoise, so if you do have a tortoise you are not certain about, and you send us a reasonable quality photograph, we can often help.
  • When purchasing a tortoise from a pet supplier, it is certain to be a species requiring very special care. Obtain an accurate statement from the supplier as to what it actually is, and be sure that you are going to be able to provide the environment it needs. Unfortunately, in our experience, the vast majority of ordinary pet traders are not very knowledgeable about the real needs of reptiles, so cross-check any information you are given with a reliable, independent source.
  • Remember that in general the smaller the tortoise the more likely it is to end up as a hibernation casualty. Very small tortoises must be given a shorter, carefully controlled hibernation.
  • Never ever attempt to hibernate a tortoise which you suspect is ill. To put a sick or underweight tortoise into hibernation is to condemn it to certain death.

Dietary management

Tortoises which are provided with the incorrect diet for their species can suffer serious problems, particularly in respect of the liver and kidneys. If these are damaged, the risks associated with hibernation are very greatly increased. While some tropical tortoises and box turtles do require animal protein, desert species do not, and nor do 'common' or Mediterranean tortoises. So, despite what you may have read elsewhere, never provide meat products to 'common' tortoises. In the long term, it can and does kill. Tortoises require a diet which is HIGH in minerals and vitamins, LOW in fats and proteins and HIGH in dietary fiber. Meat products are totally the opposite, and lead to enhanced urea levels, which damage the kidneys and cause a massive build-up of fats in the liver. The high phosphorous content of most meat products also seriously affects the Calcium-Phosphorous (Ca:P) ratio of the diet, which in turn leads to acute nutritional osteo-dystrophy or "lumpy shell syndrome". Our own tortoises not only survive, but thrive without any meat products whatsoever, they breed successfully, and the hatchlings have beautiful, perfectly formed shells without lumps, bumps or pyramids. Living proof that claims of the "necessity" of meat for tortoises are entirely inaccurate.
Suitable dietary items for Mediterranean and Desert tortoises can include:

Romaine or red leaf lettuce, in very limited quantities. Never use head lettuces such as iceberg, head lettuces contain very little in the way of adequate vitamins or minerals. Opuntia (spineless) prickly pear cactus, pads and fruit. Sometimes referred to as "Nopales", the fruit are often referred to as "tunas", watercress, dandelion, naturally occurring non-toxic weeds, hibiscus flowers and leaves, white (Dutch) clover, both leaves and flowers, rose leaves and petals, and sowthistle.
Most land tortoises can and do fare quite well when allowed to graze, offering the other listed items as supplements. Never offer cabbage, spinach, chard, bok choy, or any vegetable related to these, as they inhibit calcium absorption and can cause tremendous health problems.

We do not generally recommend the use of pellet-type commercial prepared diets, though some of these can have a role when rehabilitating sick or severely underweight tortoises. In general, their energy and protein levels, as well as their calcium to phorsphorus ratios are such as to make them unsuitable for use on a regular basis.

Add a mineral-vitamin supplement + extra calcium. The use of cuttlebone left in the enclosures allows tortoises to regulate the amount of calcium in the diet. Some tortoises like this very much, while others will not eat it. For those that won't, the use of a phosphorous free calcium supplement is recommended.

Grass is actually quite a useful food for tortoises (especially Desert, Leopard and African Spurred tortoises) , but is not adequate by itself. It is particularly useful as a source of dietary fibre. Certainly many giant tortoises enjoy it as part of their natural diet, and young grass shoots are equally favored by many other species. Dandelions and parsley are excellent, having a positive Ca:P ratio and being particularly rich in vitamin A (14,000 i.u/100g for dandelion, 11,000 i.u/100g in the case of parsley). When feeding weeds or wild flowers, be sure that they are free of weed killer or other lethal contaminants. On the same subject, never use slug pellets or other garden chemicals anywhere near tortoises.

See our main article AVOIDING DIETARY DISASTERS for more on feeding and nutrition.


Many people are surprised when we ask this question, not as the first frosts are beginning to make their presence felt, but as early as mid-August, when the days may still be bright and hot! We ask in mid-August because, as far as your tortoise is concerned, this is when it reaches a classic 'go-no-go' situation as far as its biological clock is concerned. Leaving the decision on hibernation until September, October or November is simply too late. If a tortoise is not fit to hibernate by the end of August, then it is not going to be fit in October. In order to survive hibernation in good condition, tortoises need to have built up sufficient reserves of body fat; this in turn stores vitamins and water. Without fat, vitamins and water tortoises die of starvation or dehydration. Adequate reserves of body fat are vital to tortoises in hibernation; they live off these reserves, and if the reserves run out too soon then the animal's body will begin to use up the fat contained within the muscles and internal organs, eventually these too will become exhausted. At this point the tortoise will simply die in hibernation.


  • BOTH EYES: for signs of swelling, inflammation or discharge. If there is a problem, consult a veterinary surgeon with extensive experience of treating reptile patients.
  • THE NOSE: For signs of discharge; a persistently runny nose requires urgent veterinary investigation. Tortoises with this symptom must also be isolated from contact with others, as some varieties of RNS ('Runny Nose Syndrome') are highly infectious. The presence of excess mucus also encourages bacterial growth, and hence places the tortoise in additional danger from diseases such as necrotic stomatitis.
  • THE TAIL: For inflammation or internal infection; tortoises with cloacitis 'leak' from the tail and smell strongly. Any signs of abnormality should be investigated by a veterinary surgeon. It will help if you take a fresh sample of cloacal excretion for a veterinarian to examine under the microscope.
  • LEGS: Look for any unusual lumps or swellings; abscesses are common in reptiles and if left untreated can result in loss of limb or even death. Report any unusual findings to a competent veterinary surgeon who may want to X-ray the affected part.
  • EARS: The membranes covering the inner ear should be either flat or slightly concave; ear abscesses are very common and can have fatal consequences if treatment is not obtained. The ear scales, the tympanic membranes, are the two large 'scales' just behind the jaw-bone.
  • INSIDE THE MOUTH: Look for any sign of abnormality; necrotic stomatitis or 'mouth-rot' is a highly contagious disease of captive reptiles. It is characterized by the appearance of a yellow 'cheesy' substance in the mouth, or by a deep red-purple tinge, or by the appearance of small blood-spots. Sometimes all three symptoms are present. Expert veterinary treatment is called for as a matter of urgency if the animal is to be saved.

These basic checks form your essential pre-hibernation examination. Provided your tortoise is up to weight and no other abnormalities can be detected, then you may begin preparation for hibernation. The golden rule, however, at all times is IF IN DOUBT SEEK EXPERT ADVICE. Our experience is that owners who fail to act promptly when problems occur usually end up, sooner or later, with a dead tortoise. One final, and critically important point before we actually deal with how to hibernate your tortoise. Very many tortoises die each year because owners attempt to hibernate them while they still contain undigested food matter within their gastro-intestinal system. It is natural for tortoises to gradually reduce their food intake as fall approaches (this is one reason why, if they are underweight in August, they will certainly not have put on any extra weight by October). A tortoise's digestive system is governed to a great extent by temperature, but generally speaking, when the animal's biological processes are slowing down it takes between 4-6 weeks for the food last consumed to pass completely through the gastro-intestinal tract. In other words, do not attempt to hibernate any tortoise if it has eaten within the last month to six weeks. Delay hibernation rather than allow a tortoise to hibernate while the possibility of undigested food matter within the intestine remains.
Tortoises which are hibernated with food still remaining inside are unlikely to survive in good health. The food decays, produces large quantities of gas and causing tympanic colic which brings about asphyxiation due to internal pressure on the lungs. This error of husbandry is also responsible for a number of serious, and usually fatal, bacterial infections inside the tortoise.


The two biggest killers of captive tortoises are:

  1. Attempting to hibernate unfit specimens and
  2. Failure to provide adequate protection during hibernation.

Hopefully you have taken note of the advice given on fitness for hibernation and so will avoid this problem. Even fit tortoises can die in hibernation if the conditions to which they are subjected are biologically incorrect; essentially this means:

  • · Keeping the tortoise dry and well insulated in properly prepared accommodation (unless otherwise noted for certain species).
  • · Making absolutely certain that temperatures are stable, and within safe tolerances, i.e. neither too hot nor too cold.

In practice the first is more easily accomplished. We will deal with both accommodation and conditions separately, and in some detail.


Our recommendations are for an outer box or carton made from either wood or substantial cardboard. The inside of this should be lined with blocks or chippings of polystyrene, of the sort used in house insulation or packaging. Alternatively, tightly packed shredded paper can be used.
Select a second, (this time much smaller) box. Ideally this box should accommodate the tortoise fairly tightly, whilst still allowing for a couple of inches of insulating material all around the animal. We are sometimes asked why two individual boxes are necessary. To answer this question one has only to monitor carefully the behavior of a hibernating tortoise. A tortoise in hibernation does not stay in one place, but attempts to move, and it either digs deeper into its box, or climbs to the surface. If it is allowed unrestrained movement, there is a grave danger that it may burrow through the protective insulating layers and come into contact with the walls of the hibernation box. Here it is virtually unprotected, and could very easily freeze to death. Our sanctuary hospital is often full of frozen tortoises in the spring, due to precisely this error on the part of owners. It is all rather sad and unnecessary, as the problem is so easily avoided with a little care.


The critical factor here is TEMPERATURE. Temperature is absolutely critical to a successful and healthy hibernation. Insulation merely slows down the rate of heat exchange, it does not prevent it altogether. Thus, no matter how well you insulate, if you subject your tortoise's hibernation box to sub-zero temperatures for an extended period it will still get too cold. Similarly, if you allow your tortoise's hibernation box to get too warm for too long it will begin to use up valuable fat and energy reserves, and may even wake up early.

These critical temperatures are:

  • MAXIMUM = 50 °F or l0 °C
  • MINIMUM = 32 °F or 0 °C (Freezing Point)


Under no circumstances whatsoever should a hibernating tortoise be subjected to prolonged exposure to temperatures higher or lower than these. Failure to appreciate the importance of this invariably leads to death and injury in hibernation. Blindness due to the eyes quite literally freezing solid is a particularly unpleasant consequence of allowing temperatures to fall too low.
The easiest way to check temperatures is to obtain a maximum-minimum reading greenhouse thermometer from any garden or hardware store. Check it at regular intervals, hourly if necessary in very cold spells. If sustained low or high temperatures are noted, temporarily move the tortoises into a more suitable place until temperatures stabilize to a satisfactory level again. Today, some excellent electronic thermometers are available with built-in alarms if the temperature goes outside pre-set points. These are truly excellent, and can make a major contribution to hibernation safety.
An ideal temperature for hibernation is 5 °C, or 40 °F. At this temperature tortoises remain safely asleep, but are in no danger of freezing. Incidentally, it is important to point out that the advice that a hibernating tortoise should never be disturbed is completely invalid. It has absolutely no basis in biological or veterinary science, and should be ignored. You cannot possibly harm a hibernating tortoise simply by handling it.
We routinely handle our tortoises during hibernation to conduct checks on weight. Provided the animals are carefully replaced in their protective insulation, this is an excellent method of checking on their general condition. A tortoise which is losing weight to the extent that it is approaching the danger line should be taken out of hibernation and artificially sustained for the remainder of the winter. Most healthy adult tortoises lose about l% of their body weight each month in hibernation. This is very easy to calculate. A l600 g tortoise put into hibernation in October will lose about l6 g every month. After 5 months hibernation it will probably weight l600 minus 5 x l6 = 80, i.e. l520 g.
While tortoises must not be put into hibernation with a stomach containing food matter, their bladders should contain water. Therefore tortoises should be encouraged to drink before hibernation, even though they are not allowed to feed.
If, when checking a hibernating tortoise you notice that it has urinated, get it up immediately do not put it back. Recent evidence leads us to believe that should this occur, the animal is in grave danger of death from sudden, acute dehydration. If this action does occur, begin re-hydration immediately, and over-winter for the remaining hibernation period. We are undertaking further research into this phenomena, but early results indicate that the problem is most likely to occur towards the end of the hibernation period, or in spells of unusually mild weather where the temperature rises above 10 °C or 50 °F. Check the tortoise regularly at such times.

Hibernating Box Turtles (Terrapene species)

Box turtles require a higher level of humidity than do turtles or tortoises of other species. Also, the period of hibernation might need to be shorter, regular checks on your box turtle are simple, and will enable you to asses it's overall health status. Weight checks as well as visual examinations to check for respiratory problems during the hibernation period may be performed on a bi-weekly basis with little disturbance to the animal.

The correct hibernation protocols for box turtles should be as follows:

  • An area not subject to freezing temperatures. Freezing will kill your turtle. In the wild, these turtles bury themselves deep within the soil, below the frost line, in order to keep from freezing.
  • Proper hibernation medium. Many keepers have successfully used a combination of the following for box turtles to hibernate in:
  • Organic potting soil, with no polymers, such as Vermiculite™, Pearlite™, or other additives.
  • Sphagnum moss, shredded.

All of these items can be mixed together after soaking the sphagnum moss in a bucket of water, then squeezing it out so it is not "soggy," but still quite wet. Combining the sphagnum moss with the organic soil helps it to retain a good level of humidity, but not creating so much that the turtle is exposed to a "wet" environment. In the wild, box turtles are often found hibernating beneath the earth, under fallen logs, under rocks, or other areas that might have been used in the past by other animals. This allows the animals to maintain the humidity they need so they don't become dehydrated, and also provides shelter during rain or snow, at a temperature that is suitable. Depending on the soil temperature, the turtle will move up toward the surface or burrow deeper, keeping itself at a good constant temperature. In captivity, box turtles are often kept in areas that have little or no resemblance to their home territories. In order to ensure safe hibernation, please study the following guidelines.


  • Hibernate a box turtle that has shown ANY sign of illness, weight loss, or other ailment within the past year.
  • Hibernate a box turtle the first season you have it, as potential health problems may be latent and might not have shown as outward symptoms.
  • Hibernate a box turtle that hasn't been completely cleared of internal parasites.
  • Ever hibernate a box turtle in an area where there is ANY chance of flooding. They can and do drown!
  • Hibernate in an area where the temperature is below freezing if they are unable to dig deeply into the soil for protection. This will either kill, cause blindness or limb paralysis.
  • DO provide a safe area, protected from rodents of any type. Garages often work well for this purpose, provided the temperatures do not get too low.

In many areas of the USA, box turtles can safely be hibernated in a place that they choose. If the area is on high ground, the soil is soft enough for them to dig deep enough to avoid freezing, and is an area that stays damp, then a healthy turtle can be hibernated outside. Rainfall is fine, and will not hurt a box turtle unless flooding occurs. You can help the turtle along by covering the area with dry leaves once they have "dug in" to help prevent problems with frost. They often choose an area such as the base of a bush, tree, or other vegetation for their natural hibernaculum.
The method we have used most successfully for box turtles which cannot hibernate outdoors includes the use of VERY large Rubbermaid type containers that are deep as well as long. After the turtle has stopped eating, or starts to slow down, it is preparing for hibernation. DO NOT offer any more food, it is extremely important that the gut be free of any food items, as they may ferment and rot in the gut during hibernation, often causing death.
Add the mixture of sphagnum moss and organic soil. Filling to within roughly 5 inches of the top. Substrate should be at least 2 feet deep. If well mixed, the substrate should remain nice and damp. Occasional spraying or adding of water will keep it moist. With the sphagnum mixed in, a far longer period can pass without having to re-moisten the substrate. Sphagnum moss does not seem to cause any problem with mold or mildew. Place the sleeping box turtle into the container. It will, even if it has fallen asleep for the winter, burrow itself to the level it feels it needs to be.
We usually allow box turtles to start their hibernation outside, long before freezing weather has a chance to hit, and then transfer them a little later to our chosen area. The transition always seems to go smoothly. Using this method, place a probe thermometer into the soil to monitor soil temperature. Also, another thermometer is used to monitor the temperature of the outside air temperature. Place a thick sheet of cardboard between the floor and the hibernation container, as most floors are either concrete or stone, and can cause problems with the temperatures in the container. The container may also be placed on a shelf.

NEVER place a sealed lid on the top of the container! These turtles need to have a good oxygen exchange during hibernation. Sealing a container will cause a build up of lethal gasses. With many of the Rubbermaid type containers, a lid is provided. Holes may be drilled through the lid, at 2" intervals. Make certain the holes are large, but not large enough to let any predator inside! This helps to keep humidity up, keeps rodents and other pests out, and allows for good oxygen exchange.

Successful hibernation requires free air circulation. 40/45° F is a good temperature to aim for, but the temperature does not need to stay constant, as the turtles will move up and down in the substrate as needed. This method also makes it far easier to carry out regular health status checks. If you do find that one of your turtles has become ill or appears to be dropping too much weight, it is always possible to bring it out of hibernation by letting it slowly warm to room temperature inside. No turtle exhibiting any symptom of illness or weight loss should ever be replaced to the hibernation container.
Provided that this is appreciated, then American box turtles can certainly be maintained very successfully, and even bred in captivity.


Sometimes, either for specific health reasons or because the animal is of a tropical variety, hibernation may not be possible. Where this is the case, the objective must be to keep the animal alert, feeding and in good general condition throughout the winter period. Provided that temperatures are adequate, and that both food and light are also available in sufficient quantity and quality, over-wintering tortoises is not particularly difficult. Suitable accommodation must be provided. Can we please stress that no matter how warm it is, an ordinary room in a house will not by itself keep a tortoise feeding and in good health. A very special combination of background heat, localized radiated heat, and high intensity illumination is absolutely essential. The tortoise requires this 'spot' or radiant heat source to thermoregulate properly and to maintain its own body temperature (when measured in the cloaca) at around 2-3 °C above that of the surrounding area (it does this by heat absorption, rather like a dark colored stone absorbs a great deal of heat from the sun). You cannot keep a tortoise feeding adequately by background heat alone, so please do not try. At night the tortoise can be removed from its daytime accommodation and placed in a warm box situated next to a radiator to sleep. Again, it is important not to let it get too cold, certainly never below about 45 °F. In the morning replace it in its heated area for the day. Tortoises need approximately l4 hours of adequate heat and light per day in order to feed properly and remain in good health. Your task, as owner, is to provide them with an artificial summer.
You can help your tortoise considerably by providing a dietary vitamin and mineral supplement such as "Vionate", or "Herptivite" (Rep-Cal) regularly, this is particularly important when overwintering, as it contains vitamin D3 which is usually synthesized from sunlight. Vionate and Herptivite are excellent all round products which are particularly well suited to reptiles. It is obtainable through some pet shops, veterinary surgeons, or from the address on the back page
Hatchling tortoises should definitely be given Herptivite on a regular basis, not so much for its vitamin content as for its mineral ingredients. Additional calcium is also required, to reach a correct Ca:P ratio of around 6 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorous. These minerals are essential to proper bone and shell development. Avoid all foods which have a strongly negative Ca:P balance such as peas or beans, cabbage, spinach, bok choy, or chard. Hatchlings can be hibernated if their health and weight is good. A hibernation of about 6 to l0 weeks is satisfactory. Extended hibernations should never be attempted.
This is perhaps an appropriate point to remark on vitamin injections. Unless the tortoise is suffering from a specific vitamin deficiency disease, injections are not recommended, and often cause potentially fatal damage. Certainly we do not approve of 'routine' vitamin injections before hibernation. If a tortoise is truly vitamin-deficient at this point - and this is extremely unlikely if it has been given a reasonable diet - then do not hibernate it. Injections will not cure the problem. Far better to build up vitamin and mineral stores gradually by providing a well balanced diet. Genuine cases of acute vitamin deficiency in tortoises are actually quite rare; it is usually only found in those which have been subjected to an extremely poor diet over a very long period or where the tortoise is otherwise ill. We suggest, therefore, that you do not have your tortoise injected with vitamins, which it almost certainly does not need. Vitamin injections in any case do not help tortoises to survive hibernation. This is accomplished by good husbandry alone. One final point. Dehydration is a particular problem of over-wintering, and should be avoided by providing your tortoise with a daily opportunity to drink. For details on how tortoises can best be encouraged to drink see the next section.


As the average mean ambient temperature begins to approach the critical l0 °C or 50 °F point, a tortoise's metabolism will begin to reactivate in readiness for waking. Certain complex chemical and biological processes are initiated as the animal prepares to emerge into the spring sunshine. Upon first emerging from hibernation a tortoise is depleted in strength, has a low White Blood Cell (WBC) count, and is very vulnerable to infection. Unless it receives adequate quantities of heat and light it will simply 'not get going properly', and instead of starting to regain weight and strength lost during hibernation, may well refuse to eat, and begin to decline. This condition in its most serious form is known as POST HIBERNATION ANOREXIA, and has been the subject of some intense veterinary research over the past few years. How to deal with it is discussed in the next section. Hopefully you will have followed our previous instructions, and your tortoise will emerge in good condition. As the temperature rises listen carefully to the hibernating box - you should begin to hear the first sounds of movement.
At this point, rather than follow tradition and wait for your tortoise to emerge from its hibernating box itself, you should remove the hibernating box from its winter quarters and warm it up by placing it near a heater, and allow it to warm gradually. After a few hours remove the tortoise from its box and place it in a warm, bright environment. Repeat the pre-hibernation health checks, then offer the tortoise a drink as soon as it is fully awake. Provided the temperature is correct, this should only take a matter of an hour or two.
Many people experience problems in getting tortoises to drink - in fact almost all tortoises will drink provided water is offered in a suitable manner. We recommend placing the entire tortoise in a sink, bath tub, or large container suitable to the size of the tortoise, such as a cat litter pan filled with about l" of very slightly warm water - less in the case of very small tortoises, a little more for giant specimens. Simply offering a small dish of water to the tortoise is not likely to stimulate a good drinking response, but actually placing it in water is usually successful.
The importance of getting the tortoise to drink cannot be overstated. Indeed, this is essential as during hibernation the kidneys in particular accumulate large quantities of dangerous toxins. These must be 'flushed out' as quickly as possible, or the tortoise may begin to suffer from poisoning. It will certainly feel ill and remain disinclined to eat.
Drinking is, at this stage, far more important than feeding. Both dehydration and the presence in the body of toxins dictate that every effort must be made to encourage drinking first, feeding later. The tortoise must also be kept warm as described previously- it is absolutely vital that such temperatures are maintained in order to speed up activation of the tortoise's digestive system. As the tortoise awakes certain biological changes take place; one of the most important of these is the release into the bloodstream of a chemical called glycogen, which has been stored in the liver. This provides extra energy to give the tortoise an initial 'boost'. Feeding must take place before this is exhausted, or the animal will begin to decline. The glycogen level can be artificially boosted by providing water with glucose in solution daily - about 2 teaspoons per 250 ml dilution, at about l0-20 ml per day for an average sized animal. The use of Pedialyte™ is also successful. Do not continue this therapy indefinitely, or dangerously high blood-sugar levels may be attained.

All tortoises should very definitely feed within ONE WEEK of emerging from hibernation. If they do not there is either;

  • A health problem, or
  • A husbandry problem.

If your tortoise is not feeding by itself within one week of waking up, take the steps described in the next chapter, and if this does not produce results within a further three days, do not delay any longer - consult a veterinary surgeon who has particular experience of reptile husbandry, physiology and treatment. Seek the underlying cause of the problem, and do not be satisfied with non-specific 'vitamin injection' therapy. There is always a logical and very good reason for a tortoise persistently refusing to eat, and generalized vitamin deficiencies are highly unlikely to be responsible. Good diagnostic techniques, combined with an understanding of reptile metabolism and function, will invariably produce a satisfactory answer. Out of literally thousands of tortoises we have seen over the years with feeding problems, from ancient Galapagos giants to tiny newly hatched babies, we have never yet seen one suffering from anything which a general non-specific 'vitamin injection' would correct. It is highly unlikely, to say the least, that yours is the exception. Whatever you do, please do not delay. A tortoise which refuses to feed after a week or more of correct temperatures has a problem. It is your responsibility to find out what the problem is and to deal with it effectively.


In all probability, if your tortoise persistently refuses to eat it is seriously ill. You need expert help - without delay. As a general guide the problem is most often caused by one of the following conditions. The ability of owners to recognize or eliminate these possibilities is all part of good husbandry, so you should very definitely familiarize yourself with the basic symptoms of these common health problems. All can result in a refusal to feed.


Usually due to freezing during hibernation. Symptoms: lack of response to visual stimuli, refusal to feed, reluctance to walk, collision with objects when walking, moving round in circles. Treatment: force feeding or hand-feeding, time and careful nursing. Once again however, dehydration is the main danger. We use Hartmann's solution Also known as Lactated Ringer's Solution (an I.V. drip compound sodium lactate) given orally at 5% of total bodyweight daily in cases of severe dehydration, reducing as urination begins and the electrolyte balance is restored. Other products, such as Pedialyte™ can be successfully used. High doses of vitamin-A have definitely been shown to assist, particularly in cases of retinal damage and (to a lesser extent) in cases of cataracts on the lenses. Most cases in our experience make a good recovery eventually, but in severe cases this can take several years. Identifying this requires expert diagnosis by vet. Blind or sight damaged tortoises should not be routinely destroyed. The Tortoise Trust Sanctuary can accept such animals for long term residency. We also have a separate caresheet on how to deal with such tortoises.


Can result from local infections or general debility. In box turtles the cause is generally one of husbandry, especially a lack of access to wading water and insufficient air humidity. However, veterinary diagnosis is essential in all cases. In VERY rare cases swollen eyes can also be an indication of acute Vitamin-A deficiency, especially in hatchling tortoises.


Symptoms: swelling in area of ear flap, refusal to feed. Treatment: surgical removal by veterinary surgeon. If left untreated, not only is much suffering caused, but eventually fatality will result as the infection spreads. The same comments apply to abscesses in other locations; the legs are particularly vulnerable. Check legs (and especially the joints) for signs of unusual swelling or stiffness regularly. Reptile abscesses are usually hard, caseous lumps and contain cheesy yellowish pus and other infected matter. They do not respond purely to systemic therapy, surgical excision is essential in addition. We see many abscesses, the most frequent sites are the ears, the legs, the inside of the mouth and the nares (the nose). Tumours are very rare in tortoises, so if you encounter a "growth" you can almost guarantee it is an abscess or cyst. This condition is extremely common in American box turtles.


May be mistaken for an ordinary cold. Rapidly fatal unless treated properly. Symptoms: mucous and saliva in plentiful evidence, sometimes foaming and frothing at mouth. Obvious difficulty breathing in acute cases. The tortoise holds its head high, at an unusual angle whiles gaping and gasping for breath. This phase is followed by collapse, unconsciousness, and eventual death. From first symptoms to death in acute cases can be as little as 4 hours, hence, at first sign of breathing difficulty obtain expert help without delay. Do not deliver antibiotics to tortoises orally:- it is impossible to gauge the resultant blood serum level, and it will also have catastrophic effects upon the digestive system. Treatment: Always treat parenterally (by injection) or topically (by direct application) as appropriate. Meanwhile keep the tortoise warm and fully hydrated (by stomach tube if it refuses to drink for itself). Prevention is obviously better than cure, so at first sign of 'cold-like' symptoms place under close observation. Pneumonia is unfortunately common in all debilitated tortoises, box turtles, and terrapins. The symptoms of a potential pneumonia should never be ignored - seek expert veterinary help at once if you suspect that it may be developing.


Another very serious and unpleasant disease, usually of bacterial origin (although viral forms are known), and one which is invariably fatal without prompt and appropriate treatment. Sometimes called 'mouth-canker' or 'mouth rot'. Symptoms: excess saliva production, refusal to eat, upon opening the mouth a sponge or cheese-like yellowish deposit may be visible. In addition, gums and tongue may have a deep red or purple tinge, possibly speckled with blood. This disease should be regarded as highly contagious to other tortoises. Isolate suspected cases immediately, and enforce strict hygiene precautions. Treatment: as much infected matter as possible should be removed gently using cotton swabs dipped in chlorhexidine solution. This should be repeated twice daily. Also the mouth can be gently rinsed with dilute 'BETADINE' solution. WARNING: some cases of stomatitis are unusually resistant to specific antibiotics. In such cases a laboratory analysis and sensitivity assay is essential. The oral cephalosporins have proved highly effective in some otherwise resistant cases. Tortoises with stomatitis will often need to drink each day, and may also require stomach tube feeding. Reptiles suffering from stomatitis are at considerable risk of secondary infections, principally pneumonia, and require expert handling under conditions of exceptional hygiene.


In connection with hibernation, often the result of attack by rats or similar predators (e,g,racoons). This is entirely preventable, so take adequate precautions (surround boxes with wire mesh and check regularly). If the worst does happen clean with 50% dilute 'BETADINE' or Chlorhexidine solution, and seek veterinary advice at once. Treatment: essentially same as for any wound. If rats are the culprits then preventative antibiotic therapy will be in order. The same treatment is followed for minor cases of shell damage but be careful not to confuse a minor injury with the first symptoms of something more serious such as necrotic dermatitis, for example. Really major traumatic injuries require expert treatment - however, tortoises are incredibly resilient creatures, and with the proper care can often recover from what at first sight appear quite horrendous injuries - even when confronted by a tortoise with a leg torn off, for example, it is important not to panic. With prompt expert treatment such animals can not only survive but go on to lead a normal life and even produce hatchlings. Keep all sick tortoises or tortoises with wounds indoors as maggots can appear with frightening rapidity, especially in the eyes, or around the nose. If discovered in this condition, remove the maggots and wash well immediately with a mild antiseptic solution.


Spontaneous vomiting should always be regarded as a serious symptom. Caused by: a) Lack of digestive enzyme activity due to too low a temperature, b) Parasite infestation ('worms' or flagellates), or ingestion of toxic material affecting digestive system, or, c) Resulting from widespread septicaemia or bacteraemia. Vomiting may also occur during force-feeding, or when handling too roughly. Treatment: identify causal factor.


'Runny Nose Syndrome' appears to have several causes. Symptoms; may refuse to eat. Treatment: Place all infected animals in strict quarantine, as certain forms of the disease are highly infectious. Keep animal warm, but maintain good air circulation. MANY CASES ARE DUE TO ENVIRONMENTAL CAUSES - INDOOR ENVIRONMENTS AND VIVARIUMS ARE OFTEN IMPLICATED. In persistent cases we have found that combining topical therapy with a broad spectrum injected antibiotic produces consistently good results. The organisms responsible are almost always Gram-negative pathogens such as pseudomonas, klebsiella or citrobacter. Mycoplasma organisms are also often involved.


Often the result of either dehydration or fatty degeneration of the liver due to incorrect diet. Symptoms: tortoise reluctant to feed, inclined to hide in corners or bury itself. Mouth inspection may (but not always) reveal a yellowish tinge to mucous membrane and tongue. Undigested food matter may also be passed. Treatment: veterinary diagnosis essential. Keep well hydrated using plenty of water with just a pinch of glucose. Serious cases will require medication.


Also known as 'shell rot'. An unpleasant disease of bacterial origin - any one of several specific organisms may be responsible. Symptoms: Fluid, sometimes bloody, 'leaking' from shell. Fluid can often be seen underneath the plates, which may also develop a reddish tinge. Treatment: depends upon what bacteria involved, and how advanced. However, exceptional hygiene is a must. Daily scrubs with undiluted 'BETADINE', and a topical antibiotic applied daily. Surgery may also be required. A disease which requires expert diagnosis and treatment if the animal is to survive. Untreated cases invariably prove fatal.


Common in debilitated animals. Symptoms: pale mucous membranes, weak and listless. Treatment: depends on cause. It should be stressed that an accurate veterinary diagnosis of the cause is vital - parasite infestations are one likely factor as are acute renal or hepatic problems.


Symptoms: manifests as a smelly, unpleasant leak or discharge from the tail. Treatment: irrigation of cloaca with 'BETADINE' solution via catheter. Veterinary diagnosis essential, as one possible contributory factor is flagellate infection - this will require special treatment - see under 'PARASITES'.


Frequently associated with parasite infestation. A sample can be examined by your veterinary surgeon for traces of flagellate cysts or worm ova.


Tortoises are particularly prone to two types of worm, long, greyish-looking creatures called ASCARIDS, and a smaller, very thin whitish type called OXYURIDS. Both respond to treatment with a Fenbendazole-type wormer. ON NO ACCOUNT ADMINISTER ORDINARY CAT OR DOG WORMING POWDERS OR TABLETS TO TORTOISES!!!! These may include chemicals which are toxic to reptiles. Flagellate protozoan organisms are another potential parasite. Flagellate infection often manifests as diarrhoea, sometimes tinged with blood and mucous. It can be serious, and expert veterinary advice should be sought. The recommended course of treatment often involves the use of metronidazole (e.g. 'FLAGYL'). Keeping tortoises too warm overnight appears to encourage protozoan proliferation. The main problem is likely to be in re-establishing normal digestion following a very severe flagellate attack. Hexamitiasis is a highly pathogenic infection of the urinary and renal system, symptoms include thickened urine which smells strongly of ammonia. This is invariably very serious, but can be treated with metronidazole. Never ignore such a symptom, or irreparable renal damage or death may occur.


Generalized septicemia can occur as a secondary result of any bacterial infection, but is particularly common in connection with necrotic dermatitis and abscesses. Symptoms: weakness, vomiting, collapse, unconsciousness, sometimes delirium. Treatment: antibiotic required urgently.


Avoid extended use of antibiotics where possible. Some antibiotics, such as Lincomycin or Oxytetracycline, or even Baytril can cause considerable digestive upset. Lincomycin is not especially useful, but there are times when oxytetracycline can be extremely valuable, so apart from minimizing the side effects by proper dosing and administration, few alternative options may exist. Some smaller species such as T. kleinmanni can react very badly to some antibiotics such as Ampicillin and Oxytetracycline as can hatchlings. In such cases, antibiotics must be used with extreme caution, and under conditions of intensive care where any subsequent dehydration or digestive flora 'scour' can be immediately controlled. Many bacterial organisms are found in tortoises, one of the most difficult of which to eliminate is Pseudomonas and similar Gram-negative organisms (e.g Citrobacter and Klebsiella). It is important to identify these where present, and to ensure by laboratory tests that they are sensitive to the antibiotic employed. Pseudomonas is found extensively in necrotic stomatitis. Where a definite non-response is noted, resistance may be suspected, so change the antibiotic.

This is not a complete list of tortoise diseases, nor a recommendation for "do it yourself" therapy as far as treatment is concerned. It is merely a guide to what CAN happen, and what to expect if it does. The main keys to successful treatment of sick tortoises are prompt recognition, and accurate diagnosis followed by appropriate medication. Never rely upon guess-work and always seek the underlying cause of any problem. Examinations should be thorough and complete, and where necessary laboratory diagnostic tests should be employed. Always, without exception, consult a qualified veterinarian and never attempt self-treatment or use antibiotics or other prescription medicines without veterinary supervision. Do not be afraid to seek out a veterinarian with special knowledge and experience of reptile treatment.


Most of the hatchlings we see have been seriously damaged by incorrect diets provided by insufficiently expert owners. "Lumpy" shells and otherwise distorted carapaces are 100% avoidable if the correct steps are taken without delay. Hatchlings are very small and very sensitive. They cannot tolerate mishandling. The diet and environment must be exactly right if they are to survive and develop normally. Do not try to raise hatchlings by guesswork or by relying on outdated myths. Obtain expert advice at the earliest possible opportunity. The Tortoise Trust has excellent material available on all aspects of captive breeding and raising all kinds of tortoises and turtles.


With all reptiles there are times when it may become necessary to resort to either force or hand feeding; particularly so in the case of anorexia, sight damage or where a tortoise for some other reason is unable to feed itself. Fortunately tortoises do not find this as distressing as mammals, and from the owner's point of view the procedure is both safe and relatively simple. We classify force-feeding in three basic stages; hand-feeding, which is really no more than an encouragement to feed normally; syringe feeding, which is less time-consuming and where alternative foods can be employed; and finally, stomach-tube feeding, where semi-liquid food matter is introduced directly into the digestive system by means of a tube passed down the animal's throat.


Ideal in animals which are not in a serious condition, and where encouragement to take food into the mouth is all that is required. It is frequently highly successful with sight-damaged animals. Suitable foods: sliced apple, pears, cucumber and melon, lightly dusted withRep-Cal and Herptivite. Technique: simply open tortoises mouth, and place food within. To open a tortoise's mouth efficiently and safely, simply grasp the animal firmly behind the ears and jaw with the thumb and second finger of one hand, and firmly force down the lower jaw with the thumb and first finger of the other hand.


Obtain a 5 ml or l0 ml syringe from your veterinarian. Alternatively suitable syringes are often sold in pet stores as baby bird feeders. This method can be used in conjunction with the hand-feeding (above). Suitable foods: liquidized fruits - prepared baby foods are ideal. To these can be added 'VIONATE' or other vitamin supplements. Technique: open tortoise's mouth manually (as above), and simply syringe small quantities of food onto the tongue to be swallowed naturally.


This sounds more drastic and difficult than it actually is. However, care must be taken a) not to cause physical damage, and b) not to spread infection. To avoid the former proceed slowly and gently, to avoid the second sterilize all implements thoroughly in 'MILTON' or Chlorhexidine. The method is invaluable with very debilitated or sick tortoises who are unable to swallow, or who need food by the quickest possible route. Special diets can be given using this method, and the precise quantity of food taken can be carefully controlled. It is also possible to deliver vitamins, drugs or other substances in exact quantities where required. Suitable foods: liquids such as plain water, water containing vitamin powders in dilution. Semi-solid foods such as plain fruit baby foods, again with added vitamins as required. We are opposed to the use of (lactose) milk-based high protein food preparations, even in severe cases of undernourishment. We have often noted serious side-effects where these are employed, possibly due to lactose intolerance in some animals, and in other cases we suspect that the high protein input is causing liver and kidney damage. We have, in any case, rehabilitated so many extremely underweight and undernourished tortoises without such materials that we can honestly see no need for them. Our general policy with ALL feeding is LOW protein, HIGH vitamin and mineral content, LOW fat and HIGH fiber. This most closely approximates the diet of a wild tortoise, and we are becoming increasingly convinced that excessive force feeding on unnatural substances is one reason why so many people experience high rates of mortality in such cases whereas our own experience is that such tortoises usually make a very rapid recovery. Technique: it is best if you see this actually demonstrated before attempting to apply it (the Tortoise Trust has some videos which show this procedure). For the record, however, the technique is as follows: Obtain a 5 ml or l0 ml syringe, also a dog catheter. Cut to size and fix to end of syringe (length of tube = just over half the length of tortoise). Lubricate lightly with vegetable oil. Place tortoise in an almost vertical position, extend neck and head fully in a straight line. Gently and slowly pass tube down throat, carefully avoiding the trachea, which is located just behind the tongue. Gently and slowly empty the contents of the syringe into the tortoise. The amount of food which should be introduced in this fashion has been the subject of some confusion. Our general recommendations are as follows. These figures have been extracted from our case records based upon several hundred animals and we believe them to be highly accurate. Sometimes figures are quoted which are many times in excess of these, but we believe that such over-feeding can prove extremelyhazardous, especially to a sick or relatively inactive animal.

  • VERY SMALL TORTOISES Between 75-l20 mm long - 2 ml twice per day semi-solid food.
  • SMALL TORTOISES Between l50-l80 mm long - 3-4 ml twice per day semi-solid food.
  • MEDIUM TORTOISES Between l80-220 mm long - 4-5 ml twice per day semi-solid food.
  • LARGE TORTOISES Between 220-260 mm long - up to l0 ml twice per day.

Very large tortoises will require more. Monitor weight daily. Alternatively, 10 ml per Kg total bodyweight maximum per 24 hours plus fluids. Remember, these are approximate guidelines only. If the tortoise has been starved for a long time prior to beginning tube feeding reduce the quantity initially. Liquids should be provided in addition, preferably by inducing the tortoise to drink voluntarily. In cases of severe dehydration, begin hydrating with fluid at a rate of 4-5% of total bodyweight daily. If edema (puffiness, or swelling) is noted, and urination is not present, reduce level and seek expert advice; a diuretic may be necessary, as kidney function may be impaired. The most common cause of renal distress is due to solid deposits of uric acid literally blocking the kidneys; a combination of diuretic and oral Hartmann's solution is the most effective therapy, assisted by daily lukewarm baths and physiotherapy of the back legs.