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First Aid...

Common Health Issues

R.N.S Runny Nose Syndrome
This applies to any tortoise that has clear or mucus fluid discharging from the nostrils. It can be caused by a foreign object in the nostril (usually a piece of ay or grass). More commonly this is not the case but it is the result of infection (viral or bacterial) and needs urgent vet attention. Many cases are caused or at least compounded by Vitamin A deficiency. This is a highly contagious condition and the infected tortoise should be isolated from any others. Ensure good bio security with thorough hand washing before handling any other tortoises. Vet treatment, normally with injectable antibiotics (as oral antibiotics can be harmful to tortoises) is usually effective (if bacterial) but it is also very important to keep the tortoise at ideal temperatures and sustain a high nutrient (esp. Vit. A) diet whilst the course is completed. What you consider to be warm and what the tortoise considers ideal are vastly different so you will almost certainly need some form of heat lamp to achieve this.

Mixing Species
This can be dangerous practise as the direct behaviour of one species can be stress inducing to another.
It can also lead to RNS, as different species have different bugs in their systems. One that is not harmful to a Turkish tortoise for example may make a Moroccan tortoise very sick.
Different species also require different living conditions, temperatures and diet. So what environment you choose to provide will be detrimental to one of the species.

Overgrown beaks
This is caused by a diet of foods that are too soft and low in fibre, such as cucumber and lettuce. It can also be that the tortoise is growing too quickly and is lacking calcium. The overgrown beak will prevent the tortoise from feeding correctly if left untreated. Vet treatment to clip or file the beak should be sought initially and the diet adjusted to prevent a repeat overgrowth. Lumps of natural limestone chalk in the tortoise pen will assist the tortoise to keep its beak short and healthy. A good source of Vitamin D will also help.

Oiling of Shell
Shining the shell with any type of oil will place a barrier between the tortoise ability to absorb UV rays_from the sun. These UV rays are essential in providing vitamin D3 to the tortoise if it is to utilize calcium for healthy growth, egg production and ability to walk. Calcium deficiency in a tortoise can also lead to metabolic disorders. To keep the shell healthy feed the tortoise a varied, natural weed diet; add vitamins such as Nutrobal or Reptavite; and scrub occasionally with an antibacterial wash or soap, using a toothbrush (taking care to protect the tortoise’s eyes).

Difficulty Walking
A tortoise that is calcium deficient, maybe after repeated shell oiling or long term inappropriate diet, may have problems in its walking action. Lack of calcium leads to poor bone condition and the tortoise will be weak in the legs.

If a tortoise has lived many years in a small enclosure, vivarium or tabletop that is too small then it could have poor muscle tone. Tortoises need exercise to build up muscles and leg strength just as we do. Provide your tortoise with as large an enclosure as is possible; make it interesting so that the tortoise wants to walk about and investigate. Provide hills and rockeries to encourage climbing to build up muscle tone.

Drilling holes in the shell
This hopefully ‘old practice’ leads to many tortoise deaths from blood poisoning. The bone and scute of a tortoise shell are live tissue, they have a blood supply, so drilling can lead to the introduction of infection. It took a long time for the tortoise to die from this infection so it was often not linked to the drilling.

Undigested food in faeces
This can be a symptom of a gut infection where urgent vet attention should be sought. Antibiotic treatment may be required. It can often occur in tropical species that are not kept as warm as they need to be and in these cases is very often associated with yeast overgrowth. In European species bad bacteria in the gut overpowers the necessary good bacteria in cold conditions. The good bacteria will need replacing with pro-biotic treatment and high basking temperatures.

Poor Skin
This is a very common problem and is usually associated with a chronically low temperature and compounded by low vitamin A levels in the diet. This Vitamin deficiency can also contribute to a Runny Nose as discussed earlier.

A high fibre diet will help to keep worms under control. A high sugar diet will increase the likelihood of a large worm infestation. Vet treatment is necessary if you believe your tortoise is infested. You may see them in the faeces or the tortoise may be under weight and unable to put weight on.

Refusal to eat
This can be a sign of ill health or in a female tortoise of egg producing age this can be a sign that the female is carrying eggs, even if she has not been near a male. Provide her with appropriate nesting facilities and adequate heat. If she will not lay them or you are not sure if she is carrying eggs then seek vet attention. The vet will simply inject her with a drug to induce the egg laying. Once she has laid all the eggs she will more than likely resume normal feeding.

After hibernation
Tortoises need to reach an adequate temperature before they can eat after hibernation. Sit them in a warm bath for 20-30 mins, deep enough so that they can submerge their head in order to drink if they so wish. Then place them under a min 100W heat lamp to ‘sunbath’. Allow them space to walk away from the heat when they have had enough. When sufficiently warmed up offer food. Favourite treats are needed to trigger some tortoises to eat and then healthy diet begun. If they still refuse to eat then this may be an indication that something is seriously wrong and vet attention should be sought. If serious health issues have been eliminated by a vet then help with force feeding can be sought from an experienced tortoise organisation. Force feeding for 2-3wks more often than not stimulates the gut into action and the tortoise regains its appetite.

The Chronic Tortoise
Many tortoises sadly still die each year in the UK through misinformation and semi-neglect. Some tortoises kept for many years in the UK whilst they may have managed to survive, they are just not thriving as they could be and often present with many of the conditions listed above. These cases require major lifestyle changes over several years to reverse the chronic issues but hard work and persistence usually pays off in the end and the tortoise will start to thrive.



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