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Owning a tortoise is a major responsibility. The tortoise is the longest lived animal kept as a domestic pet and their physiology and behaviour are so different from mammals that special knowledge is almost essential. There are several species of tortoise that are routinely kept, the commonest is Testudo graeca, the Greek or Spur-Thighed Tortoise.

A tortoise can now only be purchased under license and there are several breeding programmes that have tortoises for sale. However many people acquire a much older tortoise from a friend or relative with little detailed history of its management or hibernation history.

The commonest problems we see with tortoises are related to feeding and hibernation.

The major part of the diet should consist of any wild growing weeds, leaves and flowers, as seasonally available, that the tortoise will eat. Three good examples are dandelion, sow thistle and clover. Cultivated green vegetables such as cabbage, spinach, cress, broccoli may also be fed but these tend to be higher in protein and lower in fibre than the ideal and so should not form the bulk of the diet all year round. A proprietary concentrate food from a pet shop and a calcium/vitamin D supplement is also a sensible addition.

Hibernation is the tortoise’s way of dealing with reduced temperature and daylight during the winter months and involves cooling of the body and the slowing down or switching of many metabolic processes. Frequently hibernation progresses normally but if your tortoise is reluctant to eat when it wakes up this post-hibernation anorexia can be fatal.

There is much debate over the wisdom of hibernating small tortoises; in the wild hatchlings will hibernate for 3-4 months in their first winter. However weather conditions in this country are substantially different and it may be safer to prevent hibernation until a tortoise weighs at least 50g.

With older, larger tortoises their habits are the key factor. Individuals will hibernate for different periods of time and in different environments, eg cardboard box or in soil.

If you require advice or are not sure about anything please call us sooner rather than later. We are not tortoise specialists but we do have an interest in them!



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