Torpor, Hibernation & Estivation

Torpor

(This is extremely common especially in the north and especially during fall and spring

when temperature and lighting can change drastically minute by minute )


When food or environmental conditions change & become unfavorable, it may signal to your pet that it is time to prepare itself by saving it's energy and to reserve it's body fat just in case of an emergency. Nature has provided many species of animals with the ability to enter a state of torpor which means that it can adjust it’s metabolism by entering a short-term, extremely deep sleep period. They can also wake out of torpor spontaneously and while this deep sleep period can sometimes last only a few hours most often it lasts for several days or even weeks. During this period, it may be near impossible to wake the pet. Torpor  may be  may be induced by changes in the environment but it is controlled by the pet. It involves an animal deciding to use it's ability to lower it’s heart rate and by restricting it’s blood flow to the main organs which also reduced the internal body temperature, then they enter a period of deep sleep. When they decide to do this they are hoping to conserve energy and save on stored resources. If torpor is going to happen, it usually happens very quickly. Although there are a few signs to be aware of, they are likely not going to be noticeable until the animal is already in a state of torpor. Some of things that might signal that your pet may be about or ready to go into torpor are ongoing slight changes in the pets routine,  there might be noticeable behavioral changes, a lack of interest in food, a reduction of body temperature and lots of sleeping. Torpid animals can’t perform normal coordinated movements and they seldom respond to stimuli.


When a pet goes into a state of torpor you can often awaken it slowly by changing its’ environmental conditions. Leave the pet still and slowly raise the ambient room temperature by 2 or 3 degrees and increase the amount of indirect, bright light it receives daily. While coming out of torpor many animals display violent shivering, shaking and have random muscle contractions.  The pet appears very uncoordinated, awkward and sickly. This can be very frightening to the pet owner. Arousal takes under an hour and you’ll be sure that if your animal urinates or defecates it is either completely out or almost out of its’ torpid state.


In a lot of ways, torpor is quite like hibernation but torpor tends not to last as long as what hibernation does. Torpor and hibernation often occur at a time when an animal feels that its’ food supply is compromised, when the weather changes quickly or when the temperature drops by a few degrees. Sometimes during the cooler damp rainy season the decrease in the amount of natural light can also cause an animal to choose going into torpor.


Animals can choose to go in to or out of torpor or hibernation whenever the need arises. But in a vibrant home environment there is usually a lot more going on and changes are ongoing which can trigger torpor. If animals enter torpor too often it can cause health problems because changing their metabolism, heart rate and blood flow combined with periods long term inactivity and lack of control over many of their body functions is very stressful to the body and overall health.


Some animals are certainly more sensitive to change and these are typically the animals that are far more likely to go into torpor. Once you figure out what triggered the torpor you can make changes hoping to lessen the likelihood of your pet experiencing the need to go into torpor. 



Hibernation

For many pet owners, it can be difficult to identify between Torpor and Hibernation. The major differences are that Hibernation is an extended form of torpor but in addition to the conditions that bring about torpor, hibernation usually involves hormonal changes which are usually difficult to detect in a home environment. Most species of animals that are kept as pets seldom experience going into a state of true hibernation while in captivity however there are a few species that need to do so, annually.

Hibernation is much harder on the pet! It is a huge strain of them! Therefore, when it happens to a pet that belongs to a species that typically does not hibernate, it is important to examine the environmental conditions and it is probable that some changes need to be made immediately to resolve the issues. These changes whether they be to the lighting, air flow, humidity or the temperature, will probably need to become permanent as you’ll likely want to avoid your pet from ever thinking about hibernating again.

Bringing your pet out of hibernation can be done the same way you would to get it out of torpor. But, it may take a lot longer for your pet to come out of hibernation. You ’ll likely notice the same stressful shaking and lack of coordination until it is fully back to its’ normal state.

Estivation

Estivation is when animals intentionally slow their activity especially during hot dry periods. Wild animals can seek out cool places to spend their time but captive animals lack the facilities to do so at will.


Estivation is common for animals that have evolved to live in cooler climates but it is considerably less common for animals that have naturally evolved to live in hot arid environments but it can still happen. Depending on the species and the conditions that it has been accustomed to living in usually influence the rate at which many animals experience estivation. Perhaps it is important to stress that in most circumstances estivation is far more dangerous than Torpor or hibernation.


Signs of estivation is often when an animal appears to be lethargic and is looking for a cool place to lay down. When they lay down they sometimes try to expose their belly to a cool surface with their legs pointing outwards. This position helps heat escape from its’ body. If the animal doesn’t cool down it will begin to pant.


Panting is a sure sign that your pets needs immediate attention! If not, it may experience a heat stroke! It needs to cool down. 

Perhaps supplying a cool granite tile for it to lay on or adding ice to his drinking water will help. I suggest trying to cool the environment down a few degrees at a time, DO NOT cool the room too much. Don’t drop the temperature more than a few degrees at once or cool the animal too quickly. Avoid the use fans if possible as a fan can cause a draft.


Rapid environmental changes of more than 2 or 3 degrees lower done too quickly can sometimes induce some species of pets to choose to go into a state of torpor.


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