If you own a tortoise that would hibernate in the wild - such as a Mediterranean tortoise - you need to start planning for its hibernation right now. Check with your vet or a reputable reptile-keeping organisation if you are unsure if, or how, your tortoise hibernates.
The big sleep usually begins in October/November and lasts for around 12 to 14 weeks. Although totally natural, there are several things an owner can do to make the hibernation as risk-free as possible. Tortoises need to be in prime condition so take yours to your vet for a pre-hibernation check.
Once the weather starts to get colder, tortoises start to eat less and slow down. If the tortoise is heavy enough and not sick, a pre-hibernation period of two to four weeks without food is recommended for an average-sized Mediterranean tortoise to clear its system of undigested food before it goes rotten. However, encourage them to drink before hibernation - regular bathing is the easiest way.
The next step is to weigh your tortoise again - your vet will be able to advise you on a healthy weight - to make sure it has enough body fat to survive.
Choose a fairly small box that can hold the tortoise quite snuggly, yet still allow for some insulating material of hay or crumpled newspaper around it. The box should be well-ventilated with a removable lid to allow for occasional inspections.
Place this box into a large outer box or carton made from wood or strong cardboard, lined on the inside with polystyrene. Packed shredded paper can also be used and there should be good ventilation through holes punched in the sides and lid.
The box should be put in a dry, frost-free room or brick-built garden shed, well protected against predators. The ideal temperature is 5C for Mediterranean tortoises - it's a good idea to put a thermometer on top of the box to make sure the temperature does not get too high or too low.
Never hibernate a tortoise if there is any suspicion of illness - always ask your vet for advice.
As soon as the tortoise emerges from hibernation, return it to a warm and light environment with UV light to encourage feeding. Bathing the tortoise will also encourage it to drink.
It's a good idea to contact your vet for a health check; this is essential if the tortoise does not feed or drink in the first two weeks after waking, or looks ill.
Remember if your pet is showing unusual symptoms bring it to your local vet.