Any box turtle that has recently been ill should not be allowed to hibernate. Hibernation results in a general decrease in overall resistance of the turtle. Consequently, latent or chronic illness in a hibernating turtle can then create more serious and even life-threatening disease. Experts disagree whether hibernation is necessary, however many sources indicate it is important to maintain the health and well-being of box turtles and to stimulate breeding. Unlike regular sleep, hibernation involves a more prolonged period of inactivity, accompanied by a substantial decrease in metabolic activity, both of which enable the animal to survive periods during which environmental conditions are relatively harsh. Newly acquired box turtles should not be allowed to hibernate until their health status has been accurately determined. Hatchling box turtles should not be allowed to hibernate until after their third year of life. Box turtles can be kept from hibernating by maintaining their winter environmental temperature 10 degrees higher than their summer temperature. Under these conditions, box turtles usually appear sluggish. If they refuse to eat, periodic forced-feedings are recommended. Providing a day length of over 13 hours/ day will help prevent some sluggishness and avoid the need for force feeding.
Box turtles can be placed in a protected box (wooden or cardboard) partially filled with clean dirt (potting soil is recommended). The soil should be kept slightly damp. A layer of dead leaves or crumpled newspaper should cover the dirt A shallow dish of water should also be provided. The box can be placed in a cool area (such as a garage) and should be maintained rodent-free. The hibernating turtle should be checked periodically. During warm spells, the turtle may temporarily come out of hibernation; food should be offered at these times.
The hibernation period begins with inappetence in October or November in southern California and ends in March or April, depending on environmental conditions in the spring. Box turtles may be allowed to hibernate in the corner of a dog house or other similar shelter if they are allowed to burrow under some loose cover. Dead leaves or crumpled newspapers can be provided for this purpose. An alternative arrangement involves providing a protected area with loose dirt and a covering layer of dead leaves or dried lawn clippings that cannot be flooded by winter rains. Box turtles may emerge during warm spells, during which time they may feed. Food should be provided at these times as well as a shallow dish of water for soaking, if the turtle chooses to do so. Box turtles hibernating outdoors should be protected from flies, ants and predatory marauders, such as dogs, cats, rats, skunks and opossums.