Tortoise Common Health Problems


Aren’t tortoises one of the most adorable pets to keep? The fact that they usually live long lives and are very friendly creatures makes them not only adorable, but also very popular around the globe when it comes to choosing for a pet. Lots of love, appropriate care and a well-balanced diet surely keeps them healthy, but just like any other pet, they also fall sick and suffer several health conditions.

Prevention of any tortoise common health problem is all about providing a vitamin rich diet and the right husbandry practices that will not only keep your pet away from severe health problems, but also make sure that they remain in the best of spirits at all times!

If you are planning to get a pet tortoise or already have one, here’s everything you need to know about their common health problems, along with their causes, symptoms, the methods to prevent them as well as the treatments. If unfortunately your tortoise does encounter any health problems it is vitally important that you seek professional medical advice from a fully qualified vet.

Runny Nose Syndrome

Runny Nose Syndrome or RNS is undoubtedly, the most common health condition suffered by tortoises. It’s a respiratory problem that involves an infection in the upper respiratory tract. This condition is a bit hard to determine at the early stages, and can stroke at anytime of the year. Also, a tortoise with runny nose syndrome can infect others that come into contact with it, spreading the infection very rapidly.

Cause

A microscopic organism called as Mycoplasma agassizii is the culprit behind runny nose syndrome in tortoises. Very high or very low humidity levels in the living area, lack of sand, and a dusty atmosphere are major causes of RNS. The other reasons may include the entering of a foreign object in the animal’s nostrils, malnutrition, overcrowding and stress.

Symptoms

It starts as a transparent nasal discharge that can continue for several weeks, forming a white crust around the nose when dry. Some tortoises also blow bubbles out the nose, while others may make gurgles, clicks or whistling sounds. A severe infection may make the tortoise open their mouth slightly as mucus secretions lead to the blockage of the nostrils. The animal may stop eating and look quite lethargic. RNS can lead to pneumonia or mouth rot if not treated on time. 

Prevention

Make sure you give your pet a diet that includes natural food items in order to strengthen their immune system and prevent any infections. Provide them with a dry bed, while keeping them away from animals that may lead to stress. If you are bringing a new tortoise, make sure they are quarantined for several weeks. 

Treatment

If your tortoise shows any signs of runny nose, take them to the vet to get the right antibiotics. Mild infections can be cured with daily antibiotic drops put into the nasal chambers, continuing the same for a week or two. Some cases may call for inject-able antibiotics that are given once every 48-72 hours.

Stomatitis

A very common condition in tortoise, stomatitis is generally called as mouth rot. If you want to know more about mouth rot or think your tortoise may have it we have two in depth articles on tortoise mouth rot and mouth rot home treatment to help you.

Causes

It occurs when bacteria in the animal’s mouth reach an open wound and lead to infection in the mouth and the lining of the gums.

Symptoms

The tortoise won’t eat despite of feeling hungry. Other signs include drooling and resting with mouth open. If there’s infection, then the animal will develop a white, cheesy looking substance around the mouth. Removing this white substance reveals sore-looking skin, possibly showing broken blood vessels under the skin.

Prevention

It’s essential to ensure the right humidity and temperature for your tortoise. Good beak maintenance and adding the right amount of Vitamin C in the pet’s diet will help. Also, stomatitis can be infectious at times – so make sure you isolate the healthy ones from an infected tortoise to prevent them from infecting the others.

Cure

If caught early, mouth rot can be cured with a dilute povidone-iodine solution. However, severe infections while severe infections need the attention of a vet, involving the cleaning of dead tissues around the mouth, giving anti-bacterial medicines, and surgery in worst cases.

Septicaemia

Septicemia in tortoises is a bacterial infection in the blood which can spread to several organs throughout the animal’s body, thereby causing severe damage or even death.

Cause

Mostly, septicemia is caused by gut impaction. Another major cause can be the rupturing of an egg or egg retention. It occurs when the bacteria enter the bloodstream through parasite infestations, localized infections or injuries. 

Symptoms

Visible symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, hemorrhages of oral mucous membranes and tongue, excess drinking or jaundice. The animal may face difficulty in breathing, convulsions or seizures, weakness, and red or purple patches on the shell or skin. 

Prevention

If your pet tortoise gets an injury, take proper care of the wound, and provide it with the right antibiotics after consulting a vet, and keep it properly vaccinated. 

Cure

Treatment for the condition includes systemic antibiotics and providing a warm basking site. A good fluid therapy and optimal nutrition allows a speedy recovery. 

Pneumonia

Pneumonia in tortoises is a lower respiratory infection, and perhaps, the most common health problem suffered by the reptile. We have a full article with more information on respiratory infection here.

Causes

The most common causes of pneumonia include damp and unhygienic living conditions, inadequate temperatures, or some kind of exposure to carriers. 

Symptoms

Major symptoms include difficulty in breathing shown by extending the neck and moving the front legs in and out, dehydration, poor retraction, weakness, lethargy, excessive mucous, sunken eyes, while some tortoises even run about blindly. 

Prevention

Make sure you offer your tortoise with adequate amount of Vitamin A and ensure a healthy and clean living environment for the same. Good sanitary conditions and the right humidity levels are essential to prevent the problem.

Cure

X-rays are needed to detect pneumonia and a thorough lung wash is required to collect samples for cytology and culture. Even few hours of delay can be fatal so make sure you seek urgent veterinary help, providing injected antibiotics to the animal.

Dystocia or Egg Binding

Egg binding is a major condition faced by female tortoises, wherein she is due to lay eggs, but is unable to do so due to some complications. 

Causes

A deficiency of calcium in the diet is a major reason behind egg binding as calcium is essential for muscle contractions that allow the eggs to move through the reproductive tract. Other causes may include bladder stones, infections, reproductive tract diseases, or simply the lack of a suitable place to lay eggs. 

Symptoms

A nest-digging behavior, that too without eggs being laid is one of the most common symptoms of egg binding. You may also notice decreased appetite, weakness, lethargy or straining.

Cure

Radiography can diagnose the problem, while different medical or surgical treatments may be required depending on the severity of the problem. Sometimes, the vet may initiate some medical treatment to induce egg laying, while some cases may call for surgery. With the recent advancements, one can avoid future egg binding by removing the ovaries and other reproductive tract parts without cutting the shell. Proactive sterilization is another method that prevents problems related to egg-laying. It can also prevent the female from laying eggs entirely, if not desired.

Prevention

Proper nutrition, right temperatures and humidity levels, as well as appropriate nesting spots will help avoid the problem. Also, only the tortoises who are in the best condition, and the right breeding age should be allowed for breeding. If using a cage, make sure you place it in a quiet area and has enough space to allow the female tortoise to move about and maintain the right muscle tone.

Abscesses 

Quite common in the ears, abscesses is a collection of pus that’s surrounded by painful inflamed tissues. It usually follows injuries, thorn penetrations or minor bites.

Causes

The main cause behind this condition is bacterial infections that initially, begin in the mouth and reach the ear canal. The growing abscess creates a strong pressure in the closed ear and can cause a break on the ear’s exterior, which is seen as a hole or swelling. 

Symptoms

A large lump or swelling on one of both sides of the tortoise’s head are the major signs of abscesses, calling for immediate attention. 

Prevention

To avoid abscesses in your dear pet, supplement their diet with Vitamin A, while also ensuring clean, well-filtered water to drink. Adequate lighting in the tortoise’s environment is another preventive measure to take.

Cure

Antibiotic treatment alone doesn’t seem to work in abscesses in tortoises. Instead, they need to be physically drained, removing all necrotic material through surgery. The wound is left to drain without going for stitches and that’s why a great post-operative care and going for the prescribed medicines is essential. 

Shell Rot

Just as most other animals can be affected with problems concerning their skin or fur, tortoises are prone to problems with their shells, including splits, breaks, soft spots and more. One of the most prominent shell rot conditions is shell pyramiding that’s caused by an uneven growth of scutes. The scutes of the carapace rise in the center as compared to their margins. 

Cause

Bacterial or fungal infections are the chief causes of shell rots, while the reasons may range from an improper care to accidental injuries to a poor diet. Excessive moisture, improper sunlight, lack of calcium, dirty surroundings can lead to irregularities in the shell.

Symptoms

Different kinds of shell rots lead to different symptoms, which may include pits, divots or soft spots in the shell, visible breaks or splits, Red or off-color tinges, uneven flaking of the scutes, slimy coating, strong odors, or even blood from a break or crack. 

Prevention

The optimal living conditions with the right moisture and sunlight, along with a healthy diet rich in the required nutrients is the key to preventing shell rots. Apart from that, make sure to brush the shell of your pet once a week using a soft toothbrush in order to avoid any algae-buildup on the shell. 

Cure

The infected shields are removed, along with a regular cleaning of the affected area with an anti-microbial and anti-bacterial solution. Air drying and creams rich in silver sulfadiazine may also help. Advanced cases also call for professional veterinary care and inject-able antibiotics.

Constipation

One of the most common intestinal disorders, constipation can hit your tortoise, just like most other creatures. It’s described as difficulty in a smooth stool passage that may continue for days. 

Cause

Constipation is often the sign of a poor quality diet, which mainly lacks fiber. 

Symptoms

If you notice that your tortoise has stopped going to the toilet, it’s a sign that they are suffering from constipation.

Prevention

To prevent constipation, provide your tortoise with very little fruit, uncooked items and a good mix of many different textures and colors. A regular soak is a great way to avoid the condition, while supervising the pet when it is in water to make sure the head does not go under. 

Cure

An initial treatment involves soaking the tortoise in a tepid water bath for about half an hour, letting the water level just cover the plastron. If this doesn’t seem to help, you must consult your veterinarian for the right medication. Vets usually increase the fiber intake, providing laxatives like lactulose and liquid paraffin. You can also add dandelion root in the tortoise’s diet.

Diarrhea

When the lining of the intestine fails to absorb fluid or secretes fluid actively, your tortoise may experience the passing of very loose or watery bowel movements quite frequently. 

Cause

Overfeeding of fruit is one of the chief causes, while others include contamination of drinking water, as well as lack of fiber in the diet.

Symptoms

If your pet is ranging free, it might not always be quickly possible to determine if they have diarrhea, but you will notice that the tortoise looks quite miserable, while also having some wetness or even feces around the tail.

Prevention

It is very essential to ensure that your tortoise is not infected by worms. Further, the main way to prevent diarrhea is to limit the intake of fruits to a minimum, while feeding any processed foods only according to the package instructions. 

Cure

As a temporary measure, you can add alfalfa to your pet’s diet, switching to a less hydrated food. If you notice very loose, tarry or black stool – it’s time to take the tortoise to the vet at once. Drugs may be given in case of an infection and foul smelling diarrhea. The vet will also take a fecal sample to check for worms or flagellate organisms.

Bladder Stones In Tortoises

Tortoises usually possess large bladders to store urine which prevents dehydration in the animal, while also regulating potassium and getting rid of uric acid and urea. Usually, potassium and uric acid are together excreted as potassium urates and most tortoises collect urates in the bladder over time. Sometimes, the urates start to bind together and form stones. Although, tortoises pass tiny stones through their urethra, it sometimes becomes difficult to pass if the stone gets too large. 

Symptoms

Signs of bladder stones include straining, abnormal walking, and general illness. 

Causes

The cause of the problem are quite unknown. In some cases, an egg reaches the bladder and forms a nidus around which the stone is formed. Another major contributors can be excessive protein and potassium in the diet. 

Prevention

When your pet will have water within reach at all times, they are likely to drink smaller but more frequent amounts of water. This will make them urinate smaller but frequent amounts, thereby preventing the urates from being purged. It’s recommended to limit high potassium diet. 

Cure

A radiography is needed to confirm bladder stones. The stones can’t be dissolved with diet, and need to be removed. The classic method involves making a hole through the plastron, further removing the stone. Most stones can be removed through surgery without the need to cut the shell. 

Parasites In Tortoises

Parasitic problems are very common in tortoises, and usually, the intestinal tract, the shell, the skin, or the tissues of the body are affected by parasites. However, all parasites aren’t harmful – some are beneficial and normal for tortoises. 

Causes

External environmental conditions and unhygienic surroundings can lead to parasitic infections. Also, the number of healthy parasites may rise to illness-causing levels when the animal is not provided with the right diets and husbandry. Feeding too much produce and a lack of high fiber food, grass, or stems in the diet is another major cause. 

Symptoms

Symptoms of parasitic infections include vomiting, anorexia, or diarrhea. Some tortoises also splutter some liquid from their mouth. If not taken care of, the worm infection can lead to serious intestinal perforation or blockage. 

Prevention

Tortoises often sit in the water bowls you provide them, while also defecating and drinking at the same time. It’s essential to avoid feeding and defecating in the same area. It is also essential to perform regular sanitation checks and cage cleaning. Clean the cages and water bowls using dilute household bleach, further rinsing them well, and allowing them to dry before using.

Cure

While low number of intestinal protozoans as well as pinworms are healthy and don’t require any treatment, different harmful parasites call for different types of tests to diagnose the problem as well as treat the same. Typically, vets go for a fecal test to test for protozoans, along with the standard flotation test.

Having an in-depth insight into what are the common problems that your little pet can face as well as being well-aware of what all you can do to keep those problems at bay is surely going to help you take care of your little friend a lot better. 

Tortoises are very sensitive creatures and that’s why it’s not a good idea to put different tortoise species in the same cage or enclosures. To ensure your pet stays away from most infections, all it takes is to make sure their cages and bowls are always clean and disinfected between use. Apart from that, it’s also a wonderful practice to wash your hands before handling your tortoise. 

The key thing to keep in mind when you get a tortoise is to take them to a reptile specialist vet and get the preliminary tests performed. It may include providing the animal with certain vaccinations, while also letting you get a better understanding of the kind of living surroundings and diet that are essential to that particular being. Different species may require different additional tests for diseases, and that’s why, working in close consideration with your vet is highly essential.

Of course, prevention is much better than cure, but whenever you notice any serious signs of illness shown by your tortoise, make sure you fix an appointment with your vet and get the necessary treatment and medication done. It’s recommended to consult a vet whenever you witness any respiratory problems, or symptoms like vomiting or weight loss, drooping head or limbs, gaping mouth, not eating after hibernation, weakness or lethargy and runny eyes or nose. 

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