Tortoises and turtles

image of Tortoises and turtles
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This chapter provides the need-to-know information on tortoises and turtles:

  • Biology
  • Husbandry
  • Handling and restraint
  • Diagnostic approach
  • Common conditions
  • Supportive care
  • Anaesthesia and analgesia
  • Common surgical procedures
  • Euthanasia
  • Drug formulary.

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14.2 Common pet species. Hermann’s tortoise. (Courtesy of L. Handscombe.) Spur-thighed tortoise. Horsfield’s tortoise. African spurred tortoise. Red-eared terrapin. Three-toed box turtle.
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14.3 Gender determination by tail length. In the male (top), the tail is longer and the cloaca is located outside the margin of the shell.
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14.4 Tortoise table suitable for terrestrial species. The water tray is shallow enough to allow the tortoise to wade in, but deep enough to allow partial head submersion for drinking through the nostrils.
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14.5 Housing suitable for terrestrial and semi-aquatic species. Housing suitable for aquatic species. Drawn by S.J. Elmhurst BA Hons (www.livingart.org.uk) and reproduced with her permission.
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14.7 Handling a tortoise. The tortoise is firmly held over a table. They may struggle and push with their limbs, so should not be held where a loss of grip will cause a fall. Both hands may be needed to lift larger animals.
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14.8 Physical examination of a tortoise. Restraint of the head. With the head restrained, the examination can begin. Opening the shell using a speculum.
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14.9 Technique for clinical examination. An ultrasonic Doppler probe can be used to evaluate cardiac sounds and rate. Oral examination.
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14.10 Use of a plinth to immobilize a tortoise for weighing.
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14.11 Dorsoventral radiography of a tortoise. This can be useful for general/whole body screening prior to coned down views of specific areas. Positioning under anaesthesia gives a superior image, as the limbs and head can be extended and there is no movement blur. View showing body detail. View showing limb detail.
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14.12 Lateral radiography of a tortoise. Positioning for a lateral view. Tortoises do not have a diaphragm, which means that the abdominal viscera can expand into the lung field. This view shows the gas-filled stomach floating up into the lung space.
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14.13 Craniocaudal radiography of a tortoise. Positioning for a craniocaudal view using horizontal beam radiography. View showing compression of the lung field on the left-hand side by the gas-filled stomach. View of a tortoise with severe pneumonia.
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14.14 Ultrasonography using the mediastinal window to visualize the heart.
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14.16 Blood sampling from the jugular vein. The skin is cleaned with a surgical scrub using a toothbrush. The blood sample is withdrawn. An anti-haematoma scarf is placed.
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14.17 Subcarapacial venepuncture in a three-toed box turtle ().
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14.20 Aural abscess in a red-eared slider ().
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14.21 Cloacal prolapse in a red-eared slider (). Phallus prolapse and organ paralysis in a redfoot tortoise. Rectal prolapse in a Horsfield’s tortoise.
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14.22 Conjunctivitis in a red-eared slider (). The underlying cause in a bilateral condition may be hypovitaminosis A.
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14.23 Severe oral stomatitis and ulceration as a result of herpesvirus infection. The crusting of nasal and oral discharge is evident on the lower jaw.
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14.25 Ventrodorsal view showing urolithiasis in an African-spurred tortoise ().
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14.26 Subcutaneous injection into the forelimb. Intramuscular injection into the biceps muscle.
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14.27 Subcutaneous fluid administration just cranial to the rear leg.
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14.28 Use of a wide-gauge lamb feeder tube as an oesophagostomy tube. The non-latex PVC will be ‘bound’ into the wound and seal. The tube is fastened to the carapace with zinc oxide tape.
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14.30 Intubation of a tortoise.
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14.31 A Hermann’s tortoise maintained under gaseous anaesthesia. Use of a heated water jacket mat. This can be contoured to the carapace if the animal is placed in dorsal recumbency. A Doppler probe is placed deep against the neck to detect blood flow in the heart or large vessels. A pulse oximeter probe (rectal) is placed in the oesophagus. Intermittent positive pressure ventilation is provided by a ventilator. The endotracheal tube and gas circuit are strapped to a wooden tongue depressor and the neck of the tortoise to ensure a stable airway. The endotracheal tube extends just distal to the larynx and is easily dislodged.
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14.32 Shell repair of a penetrating carapacial fracture in a gopher tortoise (). Use of Technovit™ resin to stabilize a shell fracture but allowing access to the wound for cleansing and dressing. The resin has been applied using a standard hypodermic syringe.
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14.33 Use of a half table tennis ball filled with Technovit™ resin provides a durable plinth to immobilize a limb during recovery.
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