How To Take Care Of Sulcata Tortoise In Winter?

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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I have talked about the Sulcata tortoise care in my previous article. But those guidelines do not always apply in winter. It is because the cold makes the Sulcata tortoises vulnerable, and they demand special care. So, how to take care of Sulcata tortoise in winter?

As a part of the winter care sheet, insulate the Sulcata tortoise habitat first. You can install heaters in a pen or make a greenhouse for quality comfort. Besides, place the food and water near the tortoises. Finally, look for any symptoms of illness and consult a vet if necessary.

Get a detailed winter care sheet for Sulcata tortoises below.

How To Take Care Of Sulcata Tortoise In Winter?

The Sulcata tortoises are indeed cold tolerant. But this does not necessarily mean that these creatures can continue their regular body function in a severe cold.

During winter, the months of December and January are the coldest. The warmest temperature during those months ranges from the 60s to mid-60s. The average temperature is around 45 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit. During the night, this temperature falls between 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Apparently, Sulcata tortoises can manage to live a decent life in warm temperatures. But as the temperature decreases, they exhibit a behavior change.

Sulcata tortoises will not hibernate or brumate due to the temperature fall. But they will slow down their metabolism and become inactive. Therefore, it becomes stressful for them unless you make heating arrangements. So, a change in their lifestyle and habits is mandatory.

Here is the updated care sheet for Sulcata tortoises in winter,

1. Habitat Set Up

Setting up the pen is the most important task in the care sheet. If your Sulcata tortoise is young and you raise it indoors, your job is half done. You just have to modify the habitat and make it warm for the cold nights.

Again, if you raise Sulcata tortoises outdoors, you have to make other arrangements. For small ones, you can move them indoors. But you have to make some adjustments to the enclosure.

Moreover, some owners often make a whole new winter pen out of scratch. Building such structures is always worth it if you have space and skills. Let’s talk about each of these options one by one,

Indoor Winter Habitat For Sulcata Tortoise

There is not much to modify in the indoor pens. You just have to install heaters in the enclosure to cancel out the cold. Insulation pad, heating pad, heating rock, etc., also works well in keeping the tortoises warm.

While selecting and installing the heaters and pads, ensure the wirings are covered totally. Otherwise, there will be risks of electrocution.

Moreover, there must be sources of UV rays in the enclosure. Otherwise, the tortoises will stay inactive. Therefore, if possible, you have to move the pen table towards the direct sunlight.

Besides these heating arrangements, everything else in pen will be as usual. However, you can switch to thermal insulation beddings to trap more heat. Find out the best substrates for Sulcata tortoises from here.

Outdoor Winter Habitat For Sulcata Tortoises

When raising Sulcata tortoises outdoors, we often use dog houses for their accommodation. Of course, there is nothing wrong with choosing those dog houses. In fact, they are most preferred for these creatures.

During summer, the Sulcata tortoises need no extra arrangements inside these houses. But during winter, you have to install heaters in the pens.

Depending on the intensity, you can add two or more two heaters to the enclosure.

One more thing.

While setting up the habitat, we position it in a half-shady and half-sunny position. But as we know, the sun tricks us during the cold. So, moving the dog houses to a space where you get the most sunlight is wiser.

The sunlight is vital for the Sulcata tortoises during cold weather. In addition, it promotes the biological activities of the Sulcata tortoises.

Also, the soil can trap heat for a long time. Hence, if the air temperature is 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the soil temperature will be around 60s.

Another thing you should be careful about is the rain.

Rains in the winter are the worst. A Sulcata tortoise can tolerate severe cold or rainfall, for instance. But the combination of this cold and rain is too much for them. Hence, they seem to struggle. So, you must cover the houses with a sheet to keep the water out.

Besides, put a fence around the area to prevent any break in or out.

Sulcata Tortoise Winter Pen

I appreciate building a new winter pen for Sulcata tortoises if there is space in the yard. The enclosure will look more like a greenhouse and work on the same principle to trap the heat. You can transform your backyard shed into a winter habitat with some modifications.

Let’s imagine you have a greenhouse of 8 feet by 12 feet and now see the arrangements.

First, the shed has to be mostly insulated except for half the top panels. Those panels should be open and transparent so that sunlight can get inside the enclosure and provide the desired heat.

The bottom of the greenhouse should be layered first with thick insulation foam and then with plywood. While the foam traps the heat, the plywood offers a solid ground for walking and can carry considerable loads. Cover the plywood with cypress mulch or any other bedding you want.

At one corner, you have to build a nice house for the Sulcata tortoise. First, insulate the enclosure walls by inserting insulation foams between the panels. The house roof should also be insulated and hinged at one end so that you can open it when required.

Even with all these insulations, you will still require heaters if there is severe cold in the region. Install one heater inside the house and another one at the corner of the greenhouse. The outside one will keep the whole area warm, while the inside one will concentrate heat only in a selected region.

Besides, you have to set up fans in the greenhouse for air circulation and passage.

There should be one center fan that circulates air in a wide range. Again, a pair of fans should be used for sucking air from outside and exhausting air from inside.

Another pair of these fans should be installed inside the house.

Though there are open panels for letting in direct sunlight, you still have to set up an artificial UV light. But, again, it is because you can not rely on the sun during the winter.

Finally, get a digital thermometer to track the pen temperature from time to time.

2. Diet Routine

Winter can really mess up the feeding cycle of Sulcata tortoises. The severe cold will make the tortoises slow down their metabolism. Hence, they will not have a regular appetite.

However, you can influence their appetite and hunger by making heating arrangements. Besides, you have to pick up the food wisely. For example, grasses do not grow well during the winter. So, you should avoid it as much as you can.

Instead, feed your Sulcata tortoises 10-15% greens, a chunk of hay, Mazuri, and pumpkin. Do not forget to sprinkle the meals with calcium powder and other vitamins.

You can still follow the ideal feeding routine for Sulcata tortoises. For example, everyday meals for baby tortoises and 5-day meals for adults.

But keeping the food near the tortoises is a better idea. This way, the Sulcata tortoises can eat whenever they are hungry.

Sulcata tortoises might not drink water frequently. Yet, you have to keep a bowl in the enclosure.

Do not place the food and water bowl away from the tortoises. It will discourage the pets from eating or drinking. Instead, keep the food near the house. This way, the tortoises do not have to spend much energy on it.

Get the regular diet list of Sulcata tortoises from here.

3. Medical Care

Winter makes the Sulcata tortoises vulnerable. Hence, these creatures require more care than usual. You have to keep the tortoises under observation and contact the vet if there is anything abnormal.

A loss of appetite is usual in winter, so there is nothing to be freaked about. However, if the creatures show any of the following symptoms, take it to the expert for proper treatment,

  • Runny nose
  • Discharge from mouth and eyes
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Sneezing

Check this article to know the common health problems of Sulcata tortoises along with the treatments.

Do Sulcata Tortoises Hibernate?

Sulcata tortoises do not hibernate or brumate. But yes, they also get affected by the intense cold. During winter, Sulcata tortoises will eventually shut down their metabolism and activity.

How Cold Is Too Cold For Sulcata Tortoises?

Sulcata tortoises can tolerate severe cold temperatures. But of course, they have a limit.

The comforting temperature range for Sulcata tortoises is 85 – 105 degrees Fahrenheit. So, any drop in temperature below this will affect the lifestyle of these creatures.

Sulcata tortoises can manage to perform some activities at 60 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit. But if the temperature falls below this, these tortoises will shut down their metabolism. So no, it is not like hibernation, as the tortoises will still eat and come out occasionally.

Temperature below 45 – 50 degrees is dangerous. In such cases, you have to make some arrangements inside the enclosure to keep the tortoises warm and cozy.

Can Sulcata Tortoises Catch A Cold?

Sulcata tortoises do catch colds. You may have heard of Sulcata tortoises suffering from a respiratory infection. The tortoises are most exposed to cold diseases during the cold months.

In respiratory infection, tortoises suffer a lot. They have runny noses, and discharge comes out of their eyes. Besides, sneezing, wheezing, open mouth breathing, etc., are other common symptoms of this disease.

Keeping the tortoises in a warm pen and providing them with a balanced diet can heal the pets.

Can Indoor Sulcata Tortoises Tell When It Is Winter?

Not just Sulcata tortoises, any tortoise species can tell when it is winter. Whether the tortoise is inside a warm pen or an outdoor habitat, it can always feel the temperature rise and fall.

See, reptiles like tortoises and turtles have a function like circadian rythm that helps them to spot night and day. Not only that. These creatures can connect to the weather because of this instinct. Also, they operate their bodies depending on this cycle.

So, though the Sulcata tortoises do not brumate or hibernate, they can relate to the weather because of this circadian rhythm. It is the reason why this species has some sort of dormancy effects, like slowing down metabolism and inactivity during the cold.

sulcata tortoise care infographic

For a printable version of this infographic, click here!


Winter is a stressful season for the Sulcata tortoises. These creatures will get sick and suffer if not taken care of properly. Hence, you have to make heating arrangements for these tortoises during the cold. Also, ensure these pets get enough food and quality medical assistance.

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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