Horsefield tortoise being tube fed at the vets

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Horsefield tortoise being tube fed at the vets

Post by gemcas » 02 Mar 2021, 04:28

We adopted a horsefield tortoise from a nursing home in March last year but they didn't really know much about him. We think he's about 6 but didn't hibernate him this year after reading the advice if we're not sure then wait until we've had him a year. He slowed down before Christmas, eating only small amounts, digging for hours and sleeping alot. We assumed this was normal with him wanting to hibernate. We changed his soil, built him a wooden shelter and continuously tried him with food and bathed him daily. After 2 weeks of no poos we took him to the vet who said he was 'puffy' and treated him for a chest infection. We've had to take him back to the vets everyday for the last 3 weeks to be tube fed because he's still not interested in his food.
Yesterday we got him out in the sunny garden and noticed bruising all round his neck where they've been tube feeding him and it just broke my heart. We've asked the vet if we can have him home for a few days to avoid the stress and hopefully make him want to eat. He's agreed but we need to take him straight back if he's not eaten by Saturday.
He's one hell of a fussy tortoise but is there anything you guys would especially try as a treat to temp him?
I just don't want to carry on taking him to vets everyday, surely we can't carry on like this?
Anyone had a similar experience?

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Re: Horsefield tortoise being tube fed at the vets

Post by Nina » 02 Mar 2021, 08:56

Hi Gemcas,
Welcome to The Tortoise Table and it was really good of you to adopt this Horsfield! They are a lovely species with lots of personality. I am so sorry that you have been having problems with him, but hopefully we can help you to get him eating again.

First of all, you were right in not hibernating him this year, because we always advise that you have a tortoise for a year before hibernating. This is so that you can get to know him well and will be able to tell whether he is in excellent health before hibernating, which is very important. However, it can be very difficult (as you have seen) to keep a Horsfield awake all winter because they have very strong hibernation instincts.

I am slightly concerned about the treatment your vet is giving him. Your vet is probably absolutely fine, but we always recommend that a tortoise is seen by an exotics/reptile vet, rather than an ordinary vet, because unless the training given on reptiles, birds, fish, etc. in vet schools amounts to only about three weeks, unless the student specifies that he is particularly interested in exotics, and we know of ordinary vets who have caused lasting damage to tortoises (and in some cases, death) by prescribing the wrong medicines. This is why we have a list of recommended exotics vets on our website. Could you possibly email me the name of the practice so that i can check if they employ an 'exotics' vet? My email is

As I said, Horsfields have a particularly strong hibernation instinct, and sometimes there is nothing you can do to get them eating when they decide they want to hibernate, but it can be possible and temperature and light are the keys to doing this. Basically you need to fool the tortoise into thinking that it is a bright summer's day, so very bright light and the right temperature is essential. Regarding temperature, you want it to be 30C directly under his light/heat source, measured at the height of his shell (not with a thermometer that is attached to a nearby wall), and as bright a light as possible too, and about 20C at the cooler end of his enclosure. Could you possibly post a photo of your set-up? We might be able to suggest little tweaks that could help. In the meantime, here is our guide to keeping a tortoise awake all winter if this is necessary: ... D38edynyM8

Actually, rather than me writing an excessively long post, it might be easier to have a chat on the phone. I would be happy to ring you at a time that is convenient for you, or you could ring me if you prefer. Would that be acceptable? It is just that this seems to me a rather urgent situation, and a talk on the phone can sometimes speed up things, rather than going back and forth with posts. Please don't post a phone number here, but if you email be at the address I gave above, I will happily send you my phone number or you could send me yours if you are happy to do that (but if you prefer to continue on the forum here that is fine).

I would definitely like to get some more information and suggest a few things before you take him back for more tube feeding. And don't worry about him going without food for a few days or a week or so -- tortoises can go a very long time without food, but it is essential that they are well hydrated, so it's great that you are giving him daily baths, and do keep those up. You obviously want the very best for this little tortoise, and I think he is lucky to have found a home with you. Hopefully we will be able to get him eating again and back to full health.


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