During the colder winter months some reptiles, like turtles, lizards and snakes, will go into a hibernation like state known as brumation. It is triggered from drops in the temperature and a decrease in daylight hours or may even occur if food sources are scarce. Brumation is a cold-blooded hibernation where the reptile is dormant and their metabolic rate decreases while they live off their glycogen reserves. They will sleep most of the time but are still responsive and will wake for danger or if the weather warms up. They will not eat but they will wake to drink water every few days then return to sleep.
Not all reptiles kept in captivity will go into brumation as in some enclosures and housing arrangements they may not notice the temperature drops. If your reptile is preparing to go into brumation they may start to go off their food, refuse their food, start digging in the substrate, seem lethargic or sleep a lot.
It is not recommended that a reptile go into brumation during their first year of life as they generally have too much growing and development to do and they may not have built up enough stores to last the brumation period without food. Animals need to be in good health and be at a good weight before going into brumation. If they aren’t carrying good body condition or have underlying illnesses they may not survive the brumation period. To stop them from going into brumation be sure to keep their enclosure in a warm spot, use heat lamps and UV lamps to lengthen the daylight hours.
In preparing for brumation reptiles should be given their last feed at least 14 days before going into brumation. This allows them to clear the food through their digestive system before going into sleep mode with reduced metabolic activity. If they have food still in the digestive tract while brumating this food can rot and cause an infection. For 14 days after their last feed they should still have light and heat to keep them from going into brumation early. Light and heat sources can then be turned off with the reptile just being at room temperature then usually within a week they will go into brumation. Ensure that your reptile always has fresh clean water available for them to drink so that they do not dehydrate.
Brumation plays a very important role in preparing the reptile’s body for reproduction. During the brumation period the reptiles’ sexual organs develop and recharge,allowing a buildup of sperm to produce giving them the best chance at being highly fertile and being able to reproduce during breeding times.
If you ever have any concerns about your reptile going into brumation or while they are brumating or regarding their general health please contact your veterinarian and they will be able to help you.
Originally published in My Pet Magazine Issue 12.
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