Tortoises chill out for winter hibernation

Veterinary centres offers a unique services to tortoises embarking on a deep winter slumber.

A VETERINARY practice in North Devon is offering a unique service for hibernating tortoises to ensure they get through the winter safely.

Witten Lodge Veterinary Centre is one of the only places in the country to offer a ‘chiller’ service for the sleepy creatures during winter.

Practice partner and vet Gareth Cross said the centre had recently purchased a larger chiller than it previously had to cope with demand for the service.

Customers travel from as far as Bude and Tavistock to leave their hibernating tortoises in the chiller, and so far the centre has seven booked in with two more on the way.


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Mr Cross said: “The idea came about because myself and Henry, the other practice partner, both have tortoises and wanted to find somewhere safe they could hibernate.

“Tortoises can live for around 90 years but poor hibernation is one of the biggest killers.

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“It’s really important they hibernate at between five and 10 degrees; if they get too warm they will burn up their fat reserves and if they’re too cold they can get frostbite.

“We monitor the temperature of the chiller daily and check and weigh the tortoises once a week because if they lose more than 10 per cent of their body weight, they need to wake up.”

The centre has been offering this unique service for four years now, and in that time Mr Cross said the tortoises rarely lose any weight at all.

“Monty is 59-years-old and one of our regulars,” he said.

“His owners say as soon as they get him home after the three months he wakes up and walks straight across the kitchen to his food bowl like he’s only been asleep five minutes.”

Tortoises usually go into hibernation between November and March, and will remain in a deep slumber for around three months.

Before hibernation they must be starved for three to four weeks and given a bath so their bladder can absorb enough water to sustain them and to avoid kidney infections.

For more information on the hibernation service, call Witten Lodge Veterinary Centre in Northam on 01237 473278 or the East-the-Water branch on 01237 422657.

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