Step by step guide to the pre-hibernation health check
The nights are drawing in and everyone here at the Orlestone Tortoise Sanctuary has noticed. After a glorious summer in our little corner of Kent, the rain has arrived and we're now spending most days indoors.
This is the perfect time for everyone's pre-hibernation health check. Close enough to hibernation, but I've still got time to treat any problems.
We follow a simple 5-step routine for everyone's health check:
Step 1: Skin & Shell
Skin: we're looking for any sores, red patches or ulcers, checking thoroughly in the folds of the limbs, paying special attention to the junction of skin & shell. Any lesions must be cleaned, treated with topical antibacterials / antiseptics (eg F10) and totally healed before hibernation.
Shell: we're looking for any small holes, flaky patches or softness. Poke every scute & junction - everything should be rock hard. Shell rot is a fungal infection that creeps under the shell after too much contact with damp grass or through any small puncture holes. Early lesions are pin-prick holes with a dark halo around them, this will progress to soft dark areas as it under-runs the shell. Its important to know the difference between active infection and old damage, so we take photos every year to record everyone's shell. Treat lesions with povidone-iodine scrub daily, using a tooth brush to get right into the damaged area. F10 spray helps too.
Step 2: Eyes and Nose
Eyes: should be black and shiny. Look for any white discolouration or clouding to the cornea. Check for puffy eyelids and discharge - this would suggest conjunctivitis or herpes infection which need treating before hibernation.
Nose: must be dry. Runny noses are very common, especially in herpes carriers. In 'runny nose syndrome' bubbles of thick, clear fluid app
ear at the nostrils. This needs treating with a course of intra-nasal antibiotics (eg marbofloxacin) or antibacterials (dilute F10).
Dry whistling noises are very common, especially in very mature tortoises. So long as the
re is no discharge, don't worry.
Step 3: Beak & Mouth
Beaks: if your tortoise has the perfect beak shape - you're one of the lucky ones! Most have some degree of over or under bite. Now is the perfect time to burr them into the best shape possible, I use a human podiatry burr.
Mouth: the gums should be pale pink, some yellowness is normal. The tongue should be salmon pink & coarse. Most mouth problems (such as 'stomatitis') occur after hibernation if the tortoise has gone to sleep with food stuck in their mouth. The 3-week wind-down process pre-hibernation & lots of baths will help prevent this, but to be totally sure its best to check your tort's mouth on the day of hibernation to check for food residue.
Step 4: Weight
Kitchen scales + mug = perfect tools!
Weigh your tort regularly throughout the year to gauge their normal range.
We will weigh our tortoises once a week during their fridge-hibernation. We will stop hibernation if anyone looses more than 3% of their body weight.
For example this is Marion, she weighs 3179g. So her max loss is 3179x0.03 = 95g.
Step 5: Worming
A low level of intestinal worms is not a problem, especially pinworms. However a heavy burden of strongyle worms needs clearing before hibernation. Collect some poo and send it off for worm-egg counting. Ignore low results, and treat medium-heavy results with either fenbendazole or organically with a 5-day course of diatomaceous earth & high tanin diet.
All my blog readers are given a 50% discount off their worm-egg counts at wormadvice.com, just put 'BLOG' in the offer code box.
Good luck in health checking your tortoise!
Next blog will follow our tortoises through their fridge hibernation, follow Orlestone Farm on facebook to keep up to date with blogs & Orlestone.tortoise.sanctuary on instagram to watch the progress of our rescue torts.