Dealing with a sick tortoise is a reality that many tortoise keepers will have to face eventually. Sickness is simply a natural part of life and having a sick tortoise doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve failed as a tortoise keeper. How you react to such an event and how quickly you do so, however, will determine how responsible of a pet owner you are.
One such sickness that tortoise keepers might encounter is mouth rot. Mouth rot itself is not at all that common, but it can happen. When it does, how you react to it will determine whether your tortoise will recover fully or end up with irreparable damage it will have to carry for the rest of its hopefully long life.
If you suspect your tortoise has mouth rot the first is get a diagnosis from a professional vet who will tell you about what medicine will be best for your tortoise. Mouth rot is not something you can fix in a day, so you can’t really expect the vet to do all the work for you. Much of tortoise mouth rot treatment will need to be done via home care.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at tortoise mouth rot treatment that you can do at home. If you suspect your tortoise may have another health condition we have a full article on other common tortoise health problems.
What Causes Mouth Rot?
Mouth rot itself, otherwise known as canker, is a term that describes an infection in a tortoise’s mouth that causes redness, swelling, and in some cases, yellowish discharge. Depending on the type of mouth rot, the infection can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi. The type of mouth rot tortoises usually suffer from is known as infectious stomatitis.
Stomatitis happens most often when the tortoise’s immune system is weakened, usually because of a different disease, but can also be caused by problems with the husbandry, like keeping your tortoise in an unclean enclosure, not having the right temperature or humidity, or not having a sufficiently healthy diet for your tortoise. Severe stress and physical trauma can also cause a weakened immune system.
When dealt with early enough, mouth rot can be treated fairly easily. But when left alone for too long, it can spread and will lead to complications in the tortoise’s respiratory tract. There are known to be two types of mouth rot, one that is chronic and one that is acute.
Chronic mouth rot usually lasts for weeks, or even months, but is relatively harmless. It is usually very manageable and regular treatments can lead to a full recovery after the disease has run its course. The acute version of mouth rot happens very quickly and can spread fast. If not caught early enough, it can end up killing a tortoise in just a matter of days, or a week. Luckily, however, the chronic version is more common than the acute one.
What to do If You Suspect Your Tortoise Has Mouth Rot
Starting a tortoise mouth rot treatment without a diagnosis can be very bad. Treatment shouldn’t be something you do out of a whim, since it’s something that can cause harm and stress to your tortoise. That’s why it’s important to be 100% sure first, and the best way to do that is to take your tortoise to a vet. Before you do that though, here are some of the things you’ll need to do.
Double-check Your Tortoise
If you suspect your tortoise is showing the initial signs of mouth rot, like a loss of appetite, open-mouth breathing, or lethargy, then it’s best to check them over physically. Check for any injuries, not just in and around their mouths. Even if you suspect mouth rot, you should still try to rule it out in order to be objective. Once you’ve checked the rest of the body, then you can check the mouth.
Check for any signs of inflammation, such as swelling and redness. You should also check for ulcers or open wounds. Another symptom for mouth rot is white, lumpy growth that resembles cottage cheese inside the mouth. Discharge and drooling are also signs of mouth rot.
Quarantine Your Tortoise
Certain types of mouth rot can be infectious, so if your infected tortoise shares an enclosure with other tortoises, it’s best to separate them as soon as possible. Put your infected tortoise inside another enclosure that has the same amenities they usually have in their old enclosure. It’s also important to maintain this quarantine while you undergo tortoise mouth rot treatment. If the treatment is successful, you should still maintain the quarantine for at least another week in case of a relapse.
Get a Diagnosis
Mouth rot is a general term for an infection of a tortoise’s mouth. Although stomatitis is a common version of it, it might not be the type of mouth rot your tortoise is suffering from. In order to make a proper tortoise mouth rot treatment, you’ll need an official diagnosis. Take your tortoise to a vet to have it tested. Once you have a proper diagnosis, ask your vet to help you with the tortoise mouth rot treatment.
Ask Your Vet About Medications
If you are unsure of what types of medications are safe to use on your tortoise mouth rot treatment, being in the vet clinic makes for a good opportunity for you to ask. The type of medication you’ll need will vary greatly on your tortoise’s particular infection. Using the wrong type of medication can be as bad as not doing treatment at all, so make sure that you are well-informed before you proceed with anything.
Tortoise Mouth Rot Treatment at Home
As said before mouth rot is not something you can fix in a day, so you can’t really expect the vet to do all the work for you after they have given the diagnosis. As such much of tortoise mouth rot treatment will need to be done via home care.
Keep the Mouth Clean
After giving your tortoise the right medication when it’s needed, you’ll need to make sure that the infection doesn’t come back again. You can do this by keeping your tortoise’s mouth clean, especially after they’ve eaten. Using antiseptic wipes, wipe your tortoise’s infected area thoroughly, but as gently as possible.
Another good way to keep your tortoise’s mouth clean is by making sure that whatever comes in contact with it is also clean. This means changing the water regularly and making sure that whatever food you give your tortoise is fresh. This will ensure that your tortoise will heal without any complications.
Apply the Medication Properly
To help your tortoise heal, use whatever medication your veterinarian has prescribed if any. These types of medication are usually in the form of antibiotic creams and are meant to be applied directly to the infected area. Make sure that you use the product as intended, or as directed as the veterinarian. You should also continue applying the medication even after the infection has cleared to make sure it doesn’t relapse. You can continue doing this up to a week after there are no longer signs of infection.
Clean Your Tortoise’s Enclosure
It wouldn’t make sense to undergo tortoise mouth rot treatment only to return your tortoise to a dirty habitat. The infection may not heal properly or might even get worse. Replace the bedding completely and disinfect the entire enclosure. Make sure to use only cleaning products that are safe for animals, and make sure to rinse everything off completely before you put your tortoise back in. If you are unsure which cleaning products are safe, you can also ask your vet for recommendations. If your looking to upgrade your tortoise’s enclosure check out our guide on the best enclosure for your tortoise.
Products That Can Help with Tortoise Mouth Rot Treatment
Mouth rot is an opportunistic disease, which means that it usually happens on a tortoise that has a weakened immune system. A good way to prevent or help heal mouth rot is by boosting your tortoise’s immune system. Usually, this can be done by giving them the proper diet, but that may not always be enough. That’s where supplements come in.
Supplements that help boost your tortoise’s immune system are a definite must for a successful treatment. The ones available on the market are usually administered orally, which can be mixed with the food or water for easy consumption. Products such as Nature Zone Rot Guard and Reptaid Immune Support are just a couple of good examples of this.
Another way to help with the actual healing process is by making sure that the infected area remains clean in between the actual wound dressings. A good way to do this is by using products that disinfect the wounds without causing the same discomfort the usual treatment will give your tortoise.
You can use sprayable solutions like Vetericyn Plus for Reptiles, which is a pain-free solution that can help clean wounds without causing them to sting. Another product that you can use is API Turtle Product’s Turtle Fix Antibacterial Remedy. It’s actually intended for aquatic turtles, but it can be used on water the water where you soak your tortoise. It helps encourage healthy tissue repair.
Using regular alcohol can cause severe discomfort for your tortoise whenever you clean their wounds, especially so since it’s being used in and around their mouths. Using diluted iodine or chlorhexidine twice daily can mitigate this problem. Both these chemicals do need to be diluted with water properly, or it can be toxic to your tortoise. Make sure to ask your vet about either of them, and how you can dilute them. For iodine, a good brand to check is Betadine, and for chlorhexidine, Nolvasan.
In any tortoise population, regardless of how good the environment is, a small percentage of them will still get sick. A tortoise getting sick on your watch doesn’t necessarily mean that the husbandry is bad, it might just mean that you got unlucky. Still, helping a tortoise recover from sickness involves a lot more than luck. You need dedication, good information, and the ability to act fast. A sick animal doesn’t make you a bad keeper. It does become a problem when they stay sick for more than what is necessary.