With the past few days of sunny weather, Spring has sprung and we can expect tortoises to start rousing from hibernation over the coming weeks. Yesterday I saw my first tortoise of the season, Plod (pictured) who is in great health and will be up and about over the next week or two.
The post-hibernation period is one of the most critical times for pet tortoises, and I have to treat several poorly patients every Spring. One of the most common problems we see in the clinic is post-hibernation anorexia. Infections in the mouth, respiratory diseases or aural abscesses within the ears are not uncommon either. With our summer weather getting more and more unreliable, tortoises are having a hard time building up enough energy reserves to get through the hibernation period and emerge healthy and well in Spring. The past two wet summers in particular have caused big problems, and often these are slow to develop and difficult to recognise until quite advanced. For these reasons we always recommend a pre-hibernation check in late Autumn with an experienced reptile vet. We check their weight and body condition, as well as a general health check and possibly parasite screen depending on history.
A post-hibernation check is equally if not more important and generally includes a detailed examination, assessment of weight loss and body condition, and in some cases submitting a faecal sample to screen for parasites if for example we haven’t performed this test in Autumn. If your tortoise refuses to feed or shows any signs of ill-health in the first 1-2 weeks after rousing it is extremely important to get it checked by a vet as a matter of urgency.
Sadly, each year I invariably see tortoises that present too late to clinic with chronic anorexia or pneumonia, both of which can be difficult to treat or even fatal. A quick post-hibernation check, with appropriate advice and perhaps timely treatment to stimulate appetite in this critical period can be the difference between life and death. These are specialised long-lived pets if cared for correctly. Unfortunately with the changing climates and poor summers we have been experiencing in recent times, the outdoor garden lifestyle does not support long term health for most species so supplemental indoor heating and lighting arrangement have to be provided in poor weather conditions.
For more information, please refer to the Tortoise trust articles such as: http://tortoisetrust.org/articles/hib.html