Do Painted Turtles Hibernate In Captivity? 9-Step Guide To Help Your Turtle Hibernate

Apr 28, 2021

Do Painted Turtles Hibernate In Captivity

In the wild, painted turtles hibernate at the bottom of the pond to survive extremely cold temperatures. The hibernation period can be as long as from October to March! So, what about your pet painted turtles? Do painted turtles hibernate in captivity?

Do Painted Turtles Hibernate In Captivity? 

Yes, painted turtles do hibernate in captivity as well. However, the nature and duration of hibernation can differ from that of a wild turtle. Also, if there is enough warmth and sunlight, some turtles don’t go into hibernation. As a pet owner, you need to facilitate your turtle’s hibernation and let it take its natural course. 

Since that’s clear now, let’s discuss why your painted turtle hibernates?

Why Do Painted Turtles Hibernate?

Do painted turtles hibernate

Turtles are ectotherms – animals that rely on an external source of heat. Your painted turtle extracts heat from its environment. If the pond’s temperature is 4℃, so is your pet’s body. And in the winter months, the metabolism dramatically slows down. Thus, turtles hibernate to reserve their energy. 

However, it’s important to note that even ectotherms have their limit. Besides, a few exceptions, like box turtles, even adult turtles cannot live through frozen temperatures. And that includes your painted turtle too. 

Ice crystals on the body can be fatal to painted turtles. That’s why they hibernate so they can relatively manage their temperature in a way that it doesn’t go below freezing. 

What would happen if we were submerged in a pond where the water temperature lingered just above freezing and a solid lid of ice covered the surface for 100 days?

We stand no chance. No doubt!

Because we’re not cool as your painted turtle, and by cool, I just don’t mean remarkable – I mean literally cool AKA cold. Also, we can’t breathe through our butts. 

During hibernation, these reptiles depend on the stored energy and uptake oxygen from the pond water by moving it across body surfaces flush with blood vessels. This way, they get just the right amount of oxygen to support their life without using the lungs. And there’s one area that’s more vascularized than others – their butts.

This process of breathing through the butt (cloaca) is known as cloacal respiration. 

Here’s a delightful video of a painted turtle coming out of hibernation in nature:

You May Also Like:

How Long Can Red-Eared Sliders Be Out Of Water? Can They Survive Without Water?

Turtle and Fish Together? These 3 Species Can Be Your Best Bet!

Do Red-Eared Sliders Bite? Be Careful In These 6 Situations!

Step-By-Step Guide To Help a Painted Turtle Hibernate 

A tiny lapse of judgment, and your painted turtle won’t ever wake up from hibernation. You shouldn’t force your pet not to hibernate if it’s already preparing for it. Make sure to take measures like consulting a vet, checking weight, feeding and fasting appropriately, and creating a suitable space for hibernation. 

Consult A Veterinarian 

Seeking the professional advice of a vet before facilitating your turtle’s hibernation is crucial. Only healthy animals should hibernate. During this period, the immune system slows down dramatically. Thus, even a mildly ill turtle can die during or shortly after hibernating. 

An extra pair of eyes is always good. So, make sure to check by yourself for signs like:

  • Swollen eyes and ears
  • Discharge from eyes and nostrils
  • Falling body weight 
  • Wounds, shell rots, or infections 
  • Parasite infestation 
  • Breathing difficulty 

Learn The Basics Of Hibernation 

Only knowing the answer to do painted turtles hibernate in captivity isn’t enough. There is a lot of nitty-gritty involved – and you need to get to the bottom of it. 

Semi-aquatic species like painted turtles can hibernate either indoors or outdoors, depending on their primary residence. An outdoor turtle can sense when to hibernate owing to the changes in temperature and duration of daylight. For an indoor pet, you’ll need to stimulate these changes. 

Painted turtles usually hibernate between October to March in the wild. But your captive pet probably won’t and doesn’t need to either. 

Once again, it’s best to ask your vet for specific guidelines for the turtle. 

Weigh Your Painted Turtle

It would be best if you weighed your turtle’s weight before and throughout the hibernation period. This will help you understand if your pet is healthily and gradually losing weight or is alarmingly starving. You can measure the weight once every 2-3 weeks. 

Make sure that you are using the same scale every time. The weight often tends to fluctuate between different scales.

I’d also suggest using a digital scale for accuracy if your turtle is under 2.5kgs (6 lbs).

If you want one, here’s a good option by Etekcity Store. This latest model has high-precision sensors with 0.1 lb/0.05kg accuracy. Super impressive!

Feed Painted Turtle A Healthy Diet Rich In Vitamin A and Fiber

Before your painted turtle hibernates, it’s essential to feed a diet rich in vitamin A since this nutrient quickly depletes during hibernation. At the beginning of summer, which is around 12 to 16 weeks before hibernation, start incorporating food rich in vitamin A. 

As painted turtles are omnivores, you have many great options to choose from. In regards to meat consumption, fish is an excellent choice. And for veggies and greens, go for broccoli, kale, collard greens, squash, and sweet potatoes. 

And towards the end of the summer, around late July, replace the regular diet with fiber-rich options. For example, both alfalfa and timothy hay are excellent sources of fiber. 

Fast The Painted Turtle Before Hibernation

I’ve heard of a few cases where turtles died because their owners sent them to hibernation with undigested food still in the digestive tract. Be super mindful that you don’t commit this mistake. Never try to hibernate a turtle that has eaten in the last month. 

You can always delay the hibernation, but there’s not much anyone can do once the digestive complications start. 

Undigested food can kill your box turtle in 2 ways. The decayed food within the tract can cause deadly bacterial infections inside the stomach. Another possibility is that the food creates large gas clouds, which internally presses the turtle’s lungs and suffocates it. 

Hydrate Your Painted Turtle 

Once the fasting period starts, soak your turtle in chin-deep water for 20-30 minutes every other day. Starting now, also be sure that your pet has easy and constant access to drinking water until the end of hibernation. 

This will encourage the turtle to expel waste from its digestive tract and stay hydrated.

Lower The Temperature Before Hibernation 

Temperature plays a big role in your painted turtle’s metabolism. No wonder they hibernate during winter. Once you make sure that all of the food is out of your pet’s system, the next step is to decrease the temperature over the next few weeks gradually. 

For painted turtles, you can start decreasing temperature around 7-10 days before hibernation. Start with 65°F (18°C) for 2-3 days, then slowly reduce to 60°F (15°C) for the next 2-3 days, and lastly decrease to 50°F (10°C).

For captive pets, it’s not usually recommended to go below 50°F (10°C). It is also the warmest temperature for hibernation to start. 

Decide On Indoor Or Outdoor Hibernation

If your painted turtle lives outdoors, make sure the water isn’t freezing and has a depth of at least 18 inches. For indoor pets, most owners use fridges. Regardless of the location, you need to make sure that your pet is completely safe against predators like cats and foxes, who love to devour sleeping turtles. 

For the indoor turtle, scope out a relatively cooler location such as a garage, basement, or any other spot at room temperature. That’s because in case your turtle runs away or there’s a power shutdown, the temperature won’t change dramatically and negatively impact its health. 

Prepare The Fridge For Hibernation 

So, if your painted turtle is going to hibernate indoors, you’ll need to prepare a fridge. You’ll also need to check the fridge’s status multiple times throughout the hibernation period to ensure everything is in line.

The number one thing to look into is ventilation. Since fridges are fully air-sealed, you must make sure your turtle’s getting enough air. For this, you can open the fridge door at least thrice a week for 2 to 3 minutes. 

Next, don’t forget to occasionally check the fridge’s temperature to be sure that it isn’t fluctuating. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature. If you’re noticing many fluctuations, you can fill the fridge with other masses like ice packs and water bottles that’ll hold the temperature still.

Conclusion On Do Painted Turtles Hibernate In Captivity

Painted turtle
Painted turtle

To sum it up, yes, painted turtles hibernate in captivity. However, there’s no 100% certainty because they lead a very different lifestyle than wild turtles. This factor largely depends on the habitat and the extent of light they receive. 

However, if your painted turtle is going to hibernate, there are many things to take care of. From making sure the digestive tract is empty to feeding a diet rich in vitamin A and fiber, I covered everything, there’s to know about the hibernation of captive painted turtles. 

So, make sure that you have read it all.

Read Next:

Barnacles On Turtles? Can They Kill Turtles? | A Look Into Unique Interspecies Friendship

Can Turtles Eat Celery? | Read These 4 Side Effects First!

Why Is My Turtle Floating? Shocking Reasons You Might Not Want To Know!

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.