Friday, 8 August 2014

Chelonian diseases and Cure ( common diseases of pet turtles and tortoises)


After writing my previous posts on various pet turtle species I came across many people asking about common turtle diseases so here is a list of common pet turtle diseases and how you can cure and prevent them. I can’t emphasize more the importance of a variety in diet and Water hygiene and quality for a turtle, this alone can prevent most of the illnesses for your loving pets. So try to provide your turtle with a variety of diet and clean water and research more and more and share your experiences so that all may learn from them The common diseases of turtles include:
1.   Vitamin A deficiency
2.     Calcium Deficiency ( metabolic bone disease)
3.      Respiratory disease
4.      Abscesses
5.      Shell infections, Shell rot and injuries
6.      Fracture of shell
7.      Parasites
8.      Eye infection/ swollen eyelids
9     Shedding of skin/scutes or retained scutes
Now we will take a look at each of these in some detail.

1.       Vitamin A deficiency:

It appears as changes in skin and mucus membranes of a turtle along with changes in glands of mouth and eyes, lethargy, loss of appetite, swelling of eyelids and respiratory infections in severe cases. The causes are inappropriate diet or low quality food if commercial food is given. It can be corrected by oral or injectable vitamin A but these should be given normally under veterinary supervision as over dosage of Vitamin A is also common in turtles and it may lead to Vitamin A toxicity. Also correct your turtle’s diet as hypovitaminosis A signifies that your turtle’s diet is inappropriate.

2   Calcium Deficiency (Metabolic bone disease):

It is easy to recognize and is common in turtles. It is caused due to lack of Calcium in diet of turtle and absence of UV light or sunlight for turtle which helps in Vitamin D production and Vitamin D helps in absorption of Calcium from diet. It is recognized as shell growing upward, thickened shell, legs thin and deformed, beak becomes duck or parrot shaped, Scutes look raised, pyramid like shell (pyramiding of shell can also be caused due to excess of protein in the diet of turtle, in severe cases you will not be able to see the tail as the body is trying to get calcium from the bones leading to resorption of tail bones. To avoid it you must give a nutritional diet to your turtle, Calcium (if you want you can add cuttle bone to your tank for your turtle or you can mix Calcium supplements in his diet and then give it to him) and Vitamin D (take him out in sunlight regularly or provide a basking UV bulb).

3.       Respiratory disease:

It is a very common and deadly infection in turtles, it can spread very quickly. Its symptoms include sneezing/coughing frequently, breathing with open mouth, swollen/ puffy eyes, and bubbles coming out of nose when out of water, wheezing sound while breathing, frequent yawning, loss of apetite, too much basking or too much sleeping and running nose. In severe cases the turtle will be swimming lopsided when in water instead of swimming level called as “Listing”(the turtle will appear slanted to one side when swimming due to fluid in one of the lungs, the turtle may also swim in circles and be unable to submerge in water due to the fluid in lungs. If your turtle shows Listing immediate veterinary care is needed.  Some steps you can take in less sever cases to try to heal them are: (do these only when Vet help is not at all available, ideally in a disease nothing can substitute a good Vet Expertise)
a.      Quarantine the turtle from other turtle if you have more than one.
b.      Raise the temperature of water and basking area.
c.      Make sure there is no direct cold air contact or breeze to the tank.
d.      Dry dock the turtle (Leave the turtle dry in  a separate tank or tub etc. and leave him in water only for limited amount of time for feeding and for pooping and return him again to dry tank but don’t keep him out of water for whole day , just limit his exposure to water as aquatic turtle can’t produce saliva so they need water for their survival.
e.      Give him exposure to sunlight and warmth.
f.       Call for or arrange for a vet.

4.     Abscesses:

It is an infected pus filled swelling on body, it appears as hard swelling in the turtle’s body which can sometimes have pus and would be soft to touch, the pus would be hard and dry usually with cottage cheese type consistency, It is most commonly found in ear (Ear abscess) behind the eye on the head of turtle. Common cause for this disease is contaminated water, poor diet (or both) and poor general care of turtle. It can only be treated surgically so a vet visit is necessary, the Vet will cut the abscess and drain it and will give antibiotics to your turtle so that it can heal.

5.       Shell infection, Shell Rot and injuries:

Turtles are protected due to their shell which is actually a bony plate covered by Scutes made of keratin which make up our hair and nails, its color is derived from the pigments in scutes. If scutes are damaged then it can lead to exposure of underlying bone. Shell rot and shell infections are fungal and bacterial infections on shell, it can be caused due to shell abrasions, bites or wounds on shell and is aggravated by poor unhygienic water conditions . The organism colonizes the abrasion on shell and due to poor conditions they start growing and multiplying and slowly erode the bone, once they erode the bone they can enter inside the body of turtle, if they enter the body cavity of turtle then its fatal for the turtle and saving them would be very difficult in this stage. It can be seen as white, slimy, smelly patches on the turtles shell which on touching or pressing gives out foul odor sometimes, there may be pus also. If your turtle shows any of the signs immediately visit a Vet, unless you are a very experienced keeper don’t try to heal it on your own or you will surely cause its death.

6.      Fracture of shell:

If it’s minor then you can just clean it and apply antibiotic solution regularly on it so that the wound doesn’t gets infected, it may heal in time. If it’s something major then you should take it immediately to a Vet who can repair the shell and will tell you how to take care of your turtle.

7.       Parasites:

These are one of the most common problems for turtles, some common parasites for turtle include- pinworms, roundworms and hookworms. Symptoms of parasite infection includes loss of appetite, diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss even when fed normally, undigested food in turtle’s poop and turtle spitting out the eaten food. Take him to your Vet, he will suggest a stool examination to diagnose which parasites are infecting your turtle and will usually prescribe some de-worming medicine for your turtle. If you have a wild caught turtle or you have found your turtle recently on streets, sidewalks, near your house, ponds ,pretty much anywhere outside other than a professional breeding place, it’s a good idea to de- worm your turtle since wild turtles may have loads of parasites inside them. To collect stool sample I usually feed them in a different tank and wait for them to poop, as soon as they poop I immediately collect it using a suction cleaner for my turtle tank and remove excess water and store it in a small glass bottle and take it to Vet. There are some professional de-worming agents available which can be used to de-worm the turtle but I would not suggest to use it as you must be pretty much knowledgeable about the ingredients of the preparation and their dosage as an incorrect dose can even kill your turtle, so visit a Vet unless you are very experienced or you yourself are a Doctor.

8.       Eye infection:

This is another infection caused due to poor water conditions and/or malnutrition or poor diet of the turtle.
The symptoms include puffy eyes, watery eyes; red conjunctiva along with red surrounding tissues, the turtle may frequently rub or scratch his eyes. If the turtle’s eyes are swollen and shut the animal is practically blind and can’t find his food so you will have to be extra careful as it may lead to malnutrition and weakness also. You may like to feed him separately in a small tank or bucket/Tub with less water where he can move around easily and eat without competition so that there is no chance of injury and weakness due to lack of food and take your turtle to  a Vet if possible. If only one eye is swollen then it indicates some eye infection or eye injury but if both eyes is swollen then it could either be an injury or hypovitaminosis A or infection, take it to a vet and get it diagnosed, If Vet help is not available then you can try to improve the diet of the turtle and give him vitamin A supplementation through mouth and apply topical anti bacterial applications like Neosporin powder thrice a day along with dry docking to cure the infection and you can also try to give him some anti-biotic like amoxicillin or neomycin orally twice a day 100 mg if your turtle size is about 5-6 inches in diameter of shell (adjust your dosage accordingly) but try to get Vet help first and don’t try to cure turtle on your own. To avoid these conditions provide variable rich diet to turtle and provide good water condition to your turtle.

9.       Shedding of scutes/retained scutes:

When a turtle is growing its perfectly normal for them to shed their scutes, the edges of shedding scutes will become cloudy and will peel off on its own, sometimes you may notice a retained scute which is hanging on the shell, if it is loose you can slowly take it off but if it isn’t coming off easily don’t try to peel it off as you may cause damage to the underlying shell too. If there is excessive shedding of scutes then it indicates a bigger problem like Renal failure which is almost always fatal in my opinion.



                                                           By: Dr. Siddharth Mishra


Disclaimer: The medicines/ treatment and methods of taking care of the turtle/tortoise described here are in no way perfect on their own and patented by the author, they are the result of collective experiences of the author and his readings and by his associations to other keepers and should not be used as an alternative to Professional Vetrinarian advice, Readers should use their discretion when using the medicines and/or care sheet described here, the authors can't be held responsible for any damage, loss, side effect or death of any animal / pet due to negligence of the keeper or the caretaker using any of the above methodologies and treatments.
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