Tag Archives: guide



Dogs expel heat by panting; however, this is ineffective if the environment is too humid or hot. In cases of heat-stroke, a dog’s body temperature can rise over 42°c (normal body temperature is around 38°c).

Signs of heat-stroke

Signs of heat-stroke include panting excessively, anxious behaviour, very red gums (turning blue in extreme circumstances), salivating, very rapid heart rate, collapse, convulsions or shock.
Heat-stroke must be treated IMMEDIATELY otherwise it can be fatal.

What to do if your dog is suffering from heat-stroke:

Remove the dog from the hot environment.
Reduce the body temperature GRADUALLY by using a shower spray and fan (to increase air flow). Then douse the dog in cool water, especially the head and neck (DO NOT USE ICE COLD WATER) or cover your dog in wet sheets. Continue until his breathing starts to settle.
Allow your dog to drink as much as he wants in small quantities at a time.
Seek veterinary advice immediately as it can be difficult to be sure how serious the situation is and urgent treatment may be needed.

If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at http://www.tiptreevets.co.uk or http://www.willows-vets.co.uk

Caring for your rat



Female: Doe
Male: Buck
Young: Pups
Lifespan: 2-4 years
Average weight: 400-800gms
Diet: Omnivorous (average 20-25 grams per day)


Rats can be housed in a wire cage with a plastic base, a plastic rat home or in a large viviarium with a well-ventilated cover. Wooden cages should not be used as rats will chew their way out. A rat enclosure can never be too big as they love to explore and exercise. Multi-level cages are a good idea as they add interest for the rat.

Rats are best kept indoors in an area with a constant temperature, away from direct sunlight and draughts and out of reach of other pets. Their hearing is extremely sensitive so they should be kept away from loud noises such as a stereo or washing machine.

Cages should be cleaned out on a regular basis. Rats should be provided with absorbent, dust-extracted bedding.

Feeding your rat:

It is not recommended to feed your rat human food as this may be high in sugars and fat. They should be given food specially designed for them, preferably one portion in the morning and one in the evening. Follow the feeding guidelines on the pack. A mono component diet will prevent selective feeding and ensure that your pet gets all the nutrients it needs.

Treating your rat:

Rats can occasionally have treats, as long as they are good for them. Try hiding some in the cage to encourage them to forage.


You need to provide a large, secure run for daily exercise. This can be free-standing or attached to the cage. You could use a large cardboard box and put bedding on the bottom. Put in some toilet rolls and hang a piece of rope for them to climb on. They will also love a piece of apple wood to gnaw on. Make sure you always keep an eye on your rat while it’s in the play area.

If you provide a wheel, make sure it is big enough for them to run in without bending their back. Also ensure that it has a solid floor and not rungs, as they can cause injuries to their feet and tail. Although rats sleep during the day, they are really energetic and will exercise for 3-4 hours a night.

Handling your rat:

Make sure your rat is awake before handling them, as they may bite if startled. Let them sniff your hand and climb into your open palm if possible. If they don’t approach you, you can grasp them around the shoulders, with your thumb just behind the front leg and supporting the hindfeet with the other hand. Never pick up a rat by its tail.


Rats are social animals and will become unhappy if left alone. Keeping them in pairs or single-sex groups from the same litter are best. Rats enjoy play-fighting but may fight seriously if you introduce an older rat to a younger one. Males should be neutered to avoid unwanted litters.

Common illnesses:

Mites: You may see your rat itching, especially around the neck, shoulders and ears. Scratching can damage the skin so seek treatment from a veterinarian.

Respiratory disease: Signs include struggling to breathe, ‘rattling’ breathing sounds, snuffling, sneezing, nasal discharge, lethargy, weight loss and ruffled coat. Take your pet to the vet at the first signs of illness.

Overgrown teeth: Rats’ teeth continue to grow throughout their life, so they need to gnaw to keep their teeth in trim. If there is a chipped tooth or their teeth don’t meet, your vet can trim them.

Overgrown nails: Nails can also become overgrown and therefore should be trimmed by a vet to ensure that your rat is comfortable.

Always consult a vet if you have any reason for concern.


If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at www.tiptreevets.co.uk or www.willows-vets.co.uk

Caring for your hamster


Female: Sow
Male: Boar
Young: Pups
Life span: 1-3 years
Litter size: 4-12 pups
Gestation period: 15-18 days
Average weight: 85-150 grams


There are over 20 different breeds of hamsters, each with their own individual markings and colours.


Hamsters can be housed in a wire cage with a firm plastic base, a plastic hamster home or an adapted aquarium (viviarium) with a well ventilated cover. Wooden cages should not be used as hamsters can chew their way out. Hamsters love to explore, so a big cage with multiple levels is ideal. Your hamster must always have a place to rest and hide and another area to play and feed.

Your hamster needs warm, absorbent bedding. Do not use synthetic bedding as it could harm your hamster if eaten.

The temperature should be constant (out of direct sunlight or draughts) and should be away from loud noise (radios and tvs).


Hamsters should be fed every day, preferably in the evening as they are nocturnal. A metal bowl is ideal as they will chew plastic ones. Follow the recommended daily allowance on the food bag to ensure your hamster has enough food and make sure that fresh water is always available, preferably in a water bottle.

Treats should only be given occasionally and should be specially designed for hamsters as some human foods can be harmful to them.


Hamsters need daily exercise, either in a ball or a wheel. The wheel must be big enough that they don’t need to bend their back to fit in it, and must have a solid floor rather than rungs. Most hamsters will exercise for 3-4 hours a night. They will enjoy playing in tubes and boxes and having willow branches to chew on. You can also hide your hamsters food around the cage to encourage them to forage.


Make sure that your hamster is awake before handling them, as they may bite if startled. If possible, let it approach you and sniff your hand first. Then slowly offer your palm. Some hamsters will crawl into your hand. Alternatively you can scoop your hamster up and cup it in both palms to make sure it’s safe. Lift it slowly and either place it into your lap or hold it close to your chest while carrying it.


Some dwarf hamsters can be sociable but hamsters like Russian, Syrian or Chinese, are solitary and therefore should be housed alone to avoid fighting. If you have more than one hamster than a larger cage will be needed.

Common illnesses:

Diarrhoea: Generally caused by feeding too much green food. Stop feeding green food and instead just give your hamster its dry food. If the problem persists, consult your vet.

Constipation: A lack of droppings or hunched appearance may be a sign of constipation. Feed your hamster a small amount of green vegetables and see a vet if the problem persists.

Wet tail: A bacterial infection that can cause extreme diarrhoea. The anus and tail area appear wet and sticky. The hamster may appear hunched up as if it is in pain. This condition is highly infectious so affected hamsters should be housed separately. Clean the cage with AntiBAC+ and seek advice from your vet immediately.

Overgrown teeth: Hamsters teeth grow continually and they therefore need to gnaw to keep them short. Make sure your hamster has lots of things to gnaw on and consult a vet if they are struggling to eat.

Overgrown nails: Nails should be trimmed regularly by a vet to ensure that your hamster is comfortable.

If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at www.tiptreevets.co.uk or www.willows-vets.co.uk

Caring for your guinea pig


Female: Sow
Male: Boar
Young: Piglets
Lifespan: 5-8 years
Litter size: 1-6 piglets
Gestation period: 59-72 days
Average weight: 750-1000gms


Guinea pigs should be housed in a hutch, with access to plenty of sunshine (though out of direct sunlight) and fresh air. The minimum size should be 91cm x 61cm x 45cm. It should be around 4-5 times the length of the guinea pig when stretched out. In the winter, guinea pigs should be housed indoors at a temperature between 18-26 degrees celsius.

Place the hutch on bricks to avoid it getting damp in wet weather. Ensure the roof is sloping, waterproof and overhangs slightly. Always ensure the doors are locked.

It’s important to have fresh safe bedding and to clean the hutch out regularly to avoid attracting flies. Flies can lay eggs, leading to an infestation of maggots. In the winter, bedding can become damp and mouldy.


Guinea pigs need a balanced diet of specially formulated guinea pig food and hay daily. The food must include vitamin C as guinea pigs cannot generate their own and will become ill without it. Hay provides fibre and helps wear down their continuously growing teeth. We recommend a mono-component diet (where all the ingredients are mixed into biscuits) to avoid selective feeding. A water bottle should also be provided to keep the water fresh.

Treats should only be given occasionally and should be specially designed for guinea pigs as some human foods can be poisonous for them.


Guinea pigs are frightened in large open spaces and love to hide in tunnels and boxes. They also like to have access to wood, so they can keep their teeth in trim.

Handling Your Guinea Pig

Talk to your guinea pig and approach it at the same level. Let it come to you and sniff your hand. Gently place your hand across its shoulders and slowly lift it up, placing your other hand under its rump to support it. Either place it in your lap or hold it close to your chest while getting up.


Guinea pigs are sociable and should be housed with other guinea pigs. Female pairs are fine. Males live happily together but may become agitated in the vicinity of females. If females and males are housed together they must be neutered to avoid litters.


If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at www.tiptreevets.co.uk or www.willows-vets.co.uk

Caring for your bearded dragon



Life-span: 7-10 years
Adult size: 18-22 inches


Bearded Dragons require a glass or plexiglass aquarium or terrarium, at least 36 by 18 by 18 inches, with a screen top.  The bigger the better.  Wire and mesh enclosures are unsuitable as they lose too much heat.  If your bearded dragon appears to be distressed by its own reflection, a background can be used.


A variety of rocks and branches can be used to create hides, basking sites and climbing structures.  The basking site should be wide for comfort, and raised to create a temperature gradient.  Climbing furniture should be wider and longer than your pet’s body.  If pieces of wood found outside are used, they should first either be baked for half an hour at approximately 150 degrees Celsius or washed in a 10% bleach 90% water mixture (rinsed clean after) to ensure it is safe.  Artificial plants may be used for decoration, but be on the lookout for signs of them being eaten since they can cause fatal blockage of the gut.

Floor Covering:

Textured slate, porcelain or ceramic tiles, reptile carpet, paper towels and newspaper are all suitable substrates.  Washed and sifted silicone-free play sand may also be used if your bearded dragon is at least 16 inches long and 1 year old.  All sand should be scooped thoroughly, and replaced entirely every 3-4 months.


Reptile daylight bulbs or heat emitters are required.  Ensure the bearded dragon cannot come into contact with the bulbs and burn itself.  A maximum-minimum thermometer should be kept in the enclosure to monitor temperature.  If a simple thermometer is used and read in the morning and the evening, then it is possible that the temperature is falling to dangerously low levels in the middle of the night or becoming excessively hot in the middle of the day. The temperature in the enclosure should range from 77-95 degrees (25-35 degrees Celsius), with a basking area at 100-108 degrees (38-42 degrees Celsius).  The basking light should be off to one side so that the dragon can move closer if cold and retreat if too hot. Heat rocks are not a good idea as they can burn your reptile.  The relative humidity should be 30-40%.


A UVB light (e.g. ZooMed Reptisun 5.0) is required for the metabolism of vitamin D3.  Fluorescent tubes are also appropriate for this, and should be kept 6 inches from your reptile and replaced approximately every 5 months.  For UVA light, bearded dragons do best with a bright white light (a typical household bulb or Halogen flood can be used for this).  This light should be on for 12-14 hours and off for 12-10 hours to simulate day-night cycles.


Bearded dragons are omnivores, so require both insects and vegetables/fruit.  For a bearded dragon less than a year old, the diet should be 70% insects and 30% vegetables, with a young bearded dragon getting 30-80 appropriately-sized crickets (smaller than the space between the eyes) each day.  For bearded dragons over one year of age, the diet should be 70% vegetables and 30% insects, with a bearded dragon consuming approximately 50 crickets or 30 worms in a week.

Before the age of 2-3 months, bearded dragons should be fed 3-5 times each day, twice a day at 3-8 months and once a day after eight months.  To help avoid obesity in dragons over one year of age, a three day feeding rota may be used, with one day salad, one day insects and one day nothing.

Crickets, silkworms, calci-worms, superworms and locusts are appropriate insects for feeding, but should themselves be fed first (at least 24 hours before being fed off). When purchased from the supplier, most of these insects are just shells with very little inside, since they have often not been fed by the wholesaler, the distributor or the retailer.  Feed them up first.  Insects caught in the wild can be fed, but there is a danger that they may have been poisoned. Never feed insects that can sting and never any insect larger than the width of your bearded dragon’s mouth. Aim for 2-3 types of greens and 2-3 types of vegetables in the salad.

Bearded dragons should have both multivitamin and calcium supplements added to their food.  For dragons under one year of age, feed the multivitamin twice a week and calcium supplement 5 times a week.  For dragons over one year of age, feed both twice a week.


Water can be provided in a variety of ways.  One method is to mist them 2-4 times a day, and the dragon will drink the falling/fallen water.  Another method is to drip water on its nose until it has finished.  Bearded dragons will not recognize standing water as drinkable, so will not drink from a bowl unless trained to.

A fairly large water bowl may still be provided to allow the bearded dragon to bathe.  This water should be approximately 5 degrees Celsius lower than the air temperature.


The female will display obsessive, frantic and constant digging behavior, and may go off her food when she is ready to lay.  A laying box should be provided for the female containing sand, soil, or a sand-soil mix.  This should be moist enough to keep its shape, so that when she digs a burrow it doesn’t collapse on her.  It should be 12 inches deep at the deepest end, gradually becoming shallower.  This should also be kept warm.  After laying, the female should be allowed to bury her eggs uninterrupted.


Bearded dragons are largely docile and willing to be handled.  You should wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling due to bacteria found in the skin around their claws and in the gaps between scales.  Babies and hatchlings should be handled with great care, and allow them to walk onto your open palm.  Bearded dragons should not be forcibly removed from their enclosure.  Never hold the bearded dragon by the tail, and take care handling around this area as it can easily break off.

Further information:

For more information, visit http://beardeddragoncaresheet.weebly.com

If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at www.tiptreevets.co.uk or www.willows-vets.co.uk.

Caring for your gerbil



Life-span: 3-3.5 years
Adult size: 4.5 inches long
Adult weight: 2-4 ounces


A glass aquarium provides spacious, inexpensive, easy-to-clean housing.  A 10 gallon tank should be used to house 1-2 gerbils, 15 gallons for 3, 20 gallons for 4 and 30 gallons for 6.  Suitable lids are fine wire lids or lids provided at pet stores with fittings to allow ‘habitat’ tubes.  Ensure the lid is secured.  Wire mesh or plastic cages may also be used, but gnawing on wires may prove harmful, and plastic can easily be gnawed to ruins.


Tunnels and tubes can be provided for playing and exploration, along with play areas with sloping ramps and a climbing branch.  Cardboard tubes can be provided both for exploring and chewing.  A variety of toys can be purchased for further enrichment.  An exercise wheel may also be provided, but ensure there are no gaps where the gerbil will run.  If there are, masking tape can be placed round the circumference, and then lightly coat the inside with bedding.  A nesting box should be provided for privacy.  Wooden ones are best.

Floor Covering:

Aspen, Carefresh and corncob bedding is best.  The average 10 gallon tank with 2 gerbils will only need the bedding changed every 2-3 weeks.  A regularly cleaned tank should never smell.  Fill the tank 1/3 full with bedding.  Plain, shredded paper may also be used.


Gerbils should be housed at normal room temperature.


Gerbils have no special lighting requirements.


A good, pre-mixed gerbil food is recommended.  Sunflower seeds tend to be high in fat, and are therefore very fattening.  It is best to pick these out beforehand and hand feed them to the gerbils during the day.  Food should be provided in a heavy ceramic bowl, or placed on the bedding in the centre of the tank to allow for foraging.


Each tank will require its own water bottle.  If you are using a glass tank, a special bottle holder/shield will need to be purchased.  Ensure that the tip of the bottle is kept well above the bedding, or it will drain in a matter of hours.  Ensure the water is kept clean and fresh at all times.


For the best results, the gerbils should be three months old before mating.  Females can produce offspring until about 2 years of age.  Gestation is about 24 days, with a typical litter containing 6 pups.  The mother should be left alone whilst giving birth, and will usually stay alone in the nest with them for up to 48 hours.  Ensure all hands are washed before handling the pups to prevent rejection by the mother.


Most gerbils are easily tamed in a short space of time with frequent, gently handling.  They should first be allowed to become accustomed to your hand inside the tank, before letting them step onto your hand.  After this, they may gently be scooped out of the tank.  Do not lift your gerbil too high unless it jumps out of your hand.  Allow your gerbil to sit on your lap and investigate you.

Further information:

For further information, visit http://agsgerbils.org

If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at www.tiptreevets.co.uk or www.willows-vets.co.uk

Caring for your ferret



Ferrets are best kept outdoors in a large cage big enough for them to run around and stretch upwards.  Some people keep ferrets indoors, but they are best kept outdoors in natural light so as not to upset their circadian rhythm and hormone balance.  They are often kept in multi-level cages to allow them to climb and explore.  The absolute minimum acceptable cage size is 4 feet by 2 feet and 2 feet tall, but this would only be for single ferrets caged for a few hours at a time.  The floor should be solid, not wire mesh, and plenty of bedding provided with separate toilet and eating areas.  Ferrets like soft fleecy bedding that they can bury themselves in, and many like to explore fleecy tubes and hammocks.  Food and drinking bowls should have heavy bases as ferrets like to try to tip them up!


Ferrets are obligate carnivores, meaning they need meat in their diet.  They can be fed whole prey, for example rabbits or day old chicks, but many owners find feeding dried ferret kibble easier.  It can be supplemented with meat if required.  Sweet foods (chocolate, fruit etc) are not recommended for ferrets as they cannot digest this easily, and overconsumption may lead to medical problems such as insulinoma.  Vegetables are not necessary.


Neutering of ferrets is not a straightforward issue.  Female ferrets (jills) are induced ovulators, meaning that when they come into heat they will not come out until they are mated with an entire or vasectomised male ferret (hob) or given a hormone injection.  If left in heat, the high levels of oestrogen will eventually cause anaemia and death.  Traditionally, spaying jills was recommended to prevent this, and also to help with aggression and odour.  Recent studies however have shown that neutered ferrets are at risk of developing Adrenal Gland Disease, a hormonal disorder which initially causes hair loss and eventually progresses to tumour and death, so vets are moving away from the traditional recommendation of neutering at six months old.

Option for keeping ferrets are to keep intact (ie not spayed or castrated) – this is suitable for hobs.  Jills are not so straightforward!  Jills may be kept with a vasectomised hob to bring them out of heat.  They can be brought out of heat with the ‘jill jab’, a hormone injection.  Possible side effects of this may be uterine infections.  A new treatment is to give them a hormone implant under the skin, which will suppress heat for up to 2 years.   It would need to be repeated throughout the jill’s life.


If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at www.tiptreevets.co.uk or www.willows-vets.co.uk

A guide to first vaccinations

Don with two kittens

Immunity and vaccination

Immunity is the body’s natural ability to fight infection. Puppies and kittens are usually protected during the first few weeks, thanks to immunity passed through the mother’s first milk. However this immunity fades rapidly, leaving them suseptible to disease. Vaccinations increase the likelihood of immunity by exposing the body to a small, harmless dose of the disease.

Initial vaccinations

Puppies need 2 injections at 8 and 10 weeks of age. Breeds susceptible to Parvovirus should get a third vaccination at 16 weeks of age. The first annual vaccination at 15 months is critical.

Kittens need 2 injections at 9 and 12 weeks of age. The first annual vaccination is very important.

Rabbits need 2 injections at 6 and 8 weeks of age.

When your pet has their vaccinations, the vet will also give them a general health check.

Meeting other pets

It is important that puppies and kittens learn to socialise with other animals. It is important to wait a couple of weeks after the vaccinations for immunity to develop. The vet will then let you know that your pet is ready to meet others.

Vaccinations in Adult Animals

Immunity to diseases may fade. It’s therefore necessary for your pet to have booster vaccinations.

Dogs should be vaccinated every 2 years against Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus and Parainfluenza and every year against Leptospirosis and Bordetella. They should also be vaccinated against Rabies every 2 years if travelling.

Cats should be vaccinated yearly against Rhinotracheitis, Leukemia and Calici virus. They should also be vaccinated every 2 years against Rabies if travelling and Parvovirus. We also recommend vaccinations against Bordetella and Chlamydia in breeding colonies.

Rabbits should be vaccinated against Myxomatosis every 6 months and VHD every year. Ferrets should be vaccinated against Distemper every year.

Vaccination records

You’ll be given a certificate that contains a record of the vaccination and tells your when your next booster is due. You will need this certificate when attending boarding kennels, training classes and your vet, so make sure you keep it in a safe place.


If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at www.tiptreevets.co.uk or www.willows-vets.co.uk.

Making a home for your Leopard Gecko

Leopard Gecko

The vivarium

As a general guide you will need at least 16inch x 11inch of space for a single gecko or about 36inch x 18inch for 2-3 geckos living together. Ideally with a height of 18 inches if you want to install lighting.

Adult males should not be house together as they can fight.


Leopard Geckos need somewhere to hide so that they don’t become too stressed. You can either buy a hide or make your own using a margarine tub.

Moist Boxes

Geckos should always have access to a moist box (eg a box of moss which is sprayed regularly with water). This will help provide moisture and substrate for your gecko during shedding times.


Geckos need heating to help them regulate bodily functions. You can place a heat mat under the tank or the substrate. It should cover a third or half of the tank. The temperature on the floor of your enclosure where the geckos bask should be between 29-31 degrees Celcius.


Leopard Geckos do not need UV lighting but they need to know if it’s day or night so some lighting is advisable.


There are many different substrates available for geckos but they can cause impaction when eaten, so be careful when using them. Hatchlings and young Geckos should be kept on kitchen roll. Once they are around 6 inches in length, they can be moved on to something else.


Hatchlings/young geckos can be fed 4-8 items a day and Adults can be fed 4-10  items every 2-3 days. As geckos are nocturnal, they should be fed after dusk. We recommend that you use Nutrobal, a calcium and multivitamin supplement, once a week on your gecko’s food to help bone growth. Fresh clean water should be available at all times.

Leopard geckos eat a variety of insects, including:

Crickets: As a rule you should feed your gecko items which are no more than the length, and less than half the width, of the lizards head. Black crickets are slower than brown crickets thus making them easier for your gecko to catch. Crickets are known to nibble on geckos, so it is not advisable to leave crickets in the enclosure overnight without something to eat like a small amount of grated apple or carrot. Crickets can be ‘gut loaded’ by feeding them a vitamin calcium supplement.



Waxworms: You should only give one or two waxworms a week as they have a high fat content.



Leopard geckos shed their skin every 2-5 weeks. They generally eat their skin after shedding to gain some of the vitamins and minerals from it. It is important to check if the skin has been totally removed, especially around the toes and tip of the tail. If not, try raising the humidity in the hide or giving your gecko a 5-10 minute bath of lukewarm water (1/2 and inch deep). You can attempt to gently remove the dead skin with a moist cotton bud. If you are not managing then it is best to get help as geckos can lose their toes if the skin is not shed properly.

Leopard Gecko Hygiene

Your gecko will generally go to the toilet in the same area each time. You should clean it out daily and wash your hands after doing so. The substrated should be kept clean. We stock special disinfectants which are safe for cleaning vivariums.

If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at www.tiptreevets.co.uk or www.willows-vets.co.uk

Making a home for your tortoise


Maryanne, one of the vets at Tiptree Veterinary Centre, has five tortoises ranging from little Bonnie to her giant leopard tortoise Fred (shown above). Maryanne takes a special interest in exotics, so we asked her for some advice about caring for tortoises.

Tortoises can live for over 100 years, so getting one is a big commitment.

Your tortoise’s diet should be high in fibre and calcium and low in protein and fat. Feeding your tortoise the wrong food can result in a lumpy shell, liver and kidney failure and other health problems.

Main diet: Grass and weeds such as dandelion, plantain, vetches, bindweed, chick weed, clover and sow thistle. These foods are high in calcium and fibre. Occasionally curly Kale, celery, Romaine heart lettuce and Cabbage can be fed but they are low in calcium and fibre and some have rasied phosphorous..
Occasional foods: Peppers (any colour), Nasturtiums and flowers, Geraniums, Petunia flowers and Cucumber.
Little amounts on rare occasions: Strawberries and apples.
Avoid: Banana, peas and beans. These are high protein.
Never: Meat and dairy products, bread or processed food.

If your tortoise spends time in the garden then make sure there are no toxic plants in their reach.

To make sure your tortoise is getting all the vitamins and minerals they need, you can give them daily supplements on their food. We have a wide variety to choose from in our waiting room and will be happy to explain the benefits of each one. The easiest way to add supplements is to pierce a few little holes in the top of the pot and shake it onto the tortoises food as though you were adding salt to a meal. Keep the whole container sealed and out of the sun.

Housing, lighting and temperature:
Tortoises under 3 years old should be housed in a vivarium, which should be well ventilated or in a tortoise table. We would recommend a soil substrate as they like to dig and it can keep up the humidity. It is important to keep the soil clean or parasites can build up.They should have a UV strip and the table or vivarium should be at least 3 foot long. A basking lamp should be placed at one end of the vivarium to generate a temperature of 28-30°c (check optimum temperature for each species) and the UV light should be about 8-12 inches above the tortoise. You can also place a heat pad against one wall of the vivarium or tortoise table if you need more heat. The temperature should be monitored and this is best achieved using a maximum minimum thermometer (these can be found in garden shops). If the sides of the vivarium are glass, make sure to cover the bottom strip so that your tortoise doesn’t see through the glass and spend all of its time trying to walk through the glass.

Adult tortoises can go outdoors during the day if the weather is warm enough (more than about 16 Deg C). Tortoises are good at digging and can sometimes climb so make sure that you have a secure run or fenced garden.

If you have a shed or outhouse with an electricity supply then you can set up a warm, properly lit area in there and cut a small hole in the door for the tortoise to come and go. Leave the lights on for between 8-12 hours per day.

Be careful when hibernating small tortoises. They should be given shorter hibernation periods and monitored carefully. Never hibernate a tortoise if you think it may be a tropical variety. We can help you identify what breed you have or if you send a photo to the Tortoise Trust they will check for you. You should also never hibernate a tortoise if you expect that they might be ill.

– Both eyes for swelling or discharge.
– The nose for discharge.
– The tail for inflammation, infection or a strong smell.
– Legs for any lumps or swellings.
– Ear membranes should be flat or slightly concave.
-Damage to the shell
– Inside the mouth for mouth rot (yellow cheesy substance in the mouth, deep red-purple tinge or small blood-spots).

If you notice any of these symptoms then seek medical advice and do not hibernate your tortoise.

Your tortoise may die if they are hibernated with undigested food in their gastro-intestinal system, so do not hibernate them if they have eaten in the last 4 weeks.

To hibernate your tortoise you will need to:
-decrease the daylight length and temperature gradually
– keep the tortoise dry  and well insulated by placing a small box in a larger outer box (wood or thick cardboard) and line the gap with chippings of polystyrene or tightly packed shredded paper. When placing the tortoise in the small box, place a couple of inches of insulating material around them (can be shredded paper, do not use hay or straw as these can form fungal spores).
– make sure the temperatures are stable and within the recommended range (maximum l0 °C and minimum 3°C) so that your tortoise doesn’t wake up to soon or become ill. Use a thermometer and check it regularly, hourly if necessary in very cold spells. If sustained low or high temperatures are noted, temporarily move the tortoises into a more suitable place until temperatures stabilize again.
– Routinely check your tortoise’s weight. A tortoise which is losing weight to the extent that it is approaching the danger line should be taken out of hibernation and artificially sustained for the remainder of the winter. Most healthy adult tortoises lose about l% of their body weight each month in hibernation. This is very easy to calculate. A l600 g tortoise put into hibernation in October will lose about l6 g every month. After 3 months hibernation it will probably weight l600 – 3 x l6 = 48, i.e. l552 g.
 While tortoises must not be put into hibernation with a stomach containing food matter, their bladders should contain water. Therefore tortoises should be encouraged to drink before hibernation, even though they are not allowed to feed.

If, when checking a hibernating tortoise you notice that it has urinated, get it up immediately do not put it back. Recent evidence leads us to believe that should this occur, the animal is in grave danger of death from sudden, acute dehydration. If this action does occur, begin re-hydration immediately by soaking in a luke warm water bath, and keep the tortoise awake for the remaining hibernation period in a vivarium or tortoise table. Research indicates that this problem is most likely to occur towards the end of the hibernation period, or in spells of unusually mild weather where the temperature rises above 10 °C or 50 °F. Check the tortoise regularly at such times.

Wake your tortoise up if the winter is going on too long.

Most tortoises enjoy having a bath and it helps keep them hydrated as they either drink or absorb water. To bath your tortoise fill a plastic tub or paint roller tray with warm water. It should be shallow enough that their mouth and nose is above the water. Leave them for about 10 minutes. Take care they do not get cold. This can be done a few times a week.

There are many different types of tortoise and it is important to read up about your particular breed as some can grow fairly big (like Fred, the giant leopard tortoise above). We are happy to discuss different breeds with you if you need more advice.

If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at www.tiptreevets.co.uk or www.willows-vets.co.uk