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Recognizing Turtle Health Emergencies

Recognizing Turtle Health Emergencies & What To Do


Early warning signs of serious illness

Medical technology has improved to the point that more people than ever are surviving heart attacks. Many people who would have survived a heart attack died instead because they took too long to get to the hospital.

The people felt shortness of breath, pain in their chest, or even a shooting up of their arm. But instead of calling for an ambulance, they asked their friends for advice. They decided to wait a while to see what happens. And what happened? They died.

Every day, too many turtles and tortoises are killed for the same reasons. You can find people posting questions on message boards and discussion lists on the internet. “Does anyone know why my tortoise’s carapace was cracked after he had been injured in an accident?” and “My turtle is wheezing and too weak for swimming.” In their quest for answers, they are rushing against the clock, as the chances of a severely ill animal recovering from its illness is decreasing by the minute. I receive phone calls, emails, and sometimes even letters. When I hear symptoms that indicate critical illness or trauma, my immediate response is “Get the animal into a specialist veterinarian, without delay”.

The life of a tortoise or turtle can be saved by knowing the signs and symptoms for critical illnesses. These symptoms, along with any serious shell damage, should alert us to the need to immediately take our pet to the veterinarian. Every minute counts in such situations:

1. The causes of wheezing, nasal discharge or labored breathing (shown in the picture) include respiratory illness Recognizing Turtle Health Emergencies including pneumonia.

2. Carapace or skin bleeding or red flush. Possible causes include systemic infection, bacterial or fungal infection of the skin or subcutaneous ulcerative infections (‘shell rot.’)

3. The flesh appears puffy when it is swollen. Edema (see below). Possible causes: If it occurs suddenly, it could be due to a renal or lung disease. Long-term, without any other symptoms may indicate obesity.

4. Open lesions, raw or reddened skin. Swelling around the eyes. Causes: Vitamin A excess or deficiency, bacterial, viral, or fungal infection of the skin.

5. Weakness or listlessness. Inability to walk, swim or move the hind legs. These symptoms could be indicative of a critical illness. They can result from a number of underlying conditions, including metabolic bone disease or severe nutritional deficiencies, egg retention, dystocia or egg-yolk peritonitis.

6. Pale lips (except for species that have this as their normal color). Low red blood counts can be dangerous. Possible causes: severe parasitic infection; internal hemorrhaging; renal or liver disease.

7. Paralysis or difficulty moving. Causes: This could be a symptom of a renal disease, spinal injuries or metabolic bone diseases. If you suspect a problem with egg retention in females, x-ray will confirm or rule out the issue.

These are symptoms of serious medical conditions that require immediate diagnosis and treatment.

1. Rub your eyes or the sides of your head with your forelegs. Consider an eye or ear infection. Recognizing Tortoise Health Emergencies

2. Weight loss or loose stools with blood, mucus or undigested foods. Internal parasites.

3. A difficulty in moving due to the avoidance of using a limb. Localized swelling could be present. Possible broken bone or dislocation.

4. Weight loss and non-specific Anorexia. It could be caused by a number of conditions, which require a proper diagnosis.

5. Carapace, plastron and carapace do not harden within the normal time period. It could be caused by nutritional deficiencies, parasites, thyroid problems or another genetic abnormality.

You can see that some symptoms are common to many different illnesses. Swollen eyelids are commonly associated with an abscessed ear, but can also result from a vitamin A shortage or a local infection. The inability to move and the weakness of an animal can be symptoms of a number of serious diseases that could lead to its death.

It’s not surprising that vets avoid diagnosing based on verbal descriptions. A few symptoms can indicate a serious condition and alert the owner or vet to the need to see the animal immediately. However, a comprehensive and full evaluation is needed to make an accurate diagnosis. A physical exam, diagnostic tests and a review on the diet and care provided would be included.

Early warning signs can be subtle. You may also notice a symptom not listed here. If you see anything that is out of the ordinary in your turtle’s or tortoise’s behavior, appearance, or feeding habits, call your veterinarian immediately. Early treatment can save lives for both people and pets.

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