Common Health Problems With Russian Tortoises
Russian Tortoise Health
Russian tortoises are great beginner pet tortoises, as they are healthy and hardy creatures. These tortoises are relatively small compared to others in the pet market.
The most important thing that you can do to keep a tortoise healthy is to ensure that you are providing a proper environment and diet. By keeping the temperature, humidity, and overall enclosure at the basic requirements, you can easily keep a healthy, happy tortoise.
What you want to do is properly research how to provide care for a Russian tortoise. If you aren't able to support one, you may want to consider a different type of pet. Otherwise, if you have the time and space for a pet Russian tortoise, you'll want to make sure that you are knowledgeable about the care and illnesses of the pet.
Common Health Problems
It's very important that you are aware of what illnesses Russian tortoises may contract or develop. You need to keep an eye on your tortoise because any changes in appetite, behaviors, or overall routine may indicate an illness is developing.
The most common health problems that a Russian tortoise may contract are very minor. They may get cuts and abrasions, long toenails, or a chipped, cracked, or broken beak.
- Cuts should be cleaned with lukewarm water and non-scented, mild soap. If the wound starts to swell, you'll want to seek veterinary assistance.
- Toenails are typically short and stubby in the back and longer in the front, and should be kept at short lengths. When the tortoise is housed in an environment with smooth surfaces that do not wear down its nails, they can grow too long. You can trim the nails, but be careful of cutting the quick.
- If the beak cracks, chips, or breaks, it should rebuild itself over time. But you may want to consult your veterinarian if the beak is growing back abnormally. A tortoise beak will usually be worn away naturally by eating on a stone or flat rock, or by gnawing on a cuttle bone.
- Male tortoises are prone to penal prolapse, which you may able to treat at home, if the prolapse is minor, but severe prolapses will need veterinary help. For minor treatment at home, you'll need to soak the tortoise in a saline solution or lukewarm sugar water. Do not push the tissues back in place, but if they don't shrink, you'll need to make an appointment as soon as possible.
Diseases and Ailments
Respiratory Infections—Respiratory illnesses are generally caused by bacteria, lower temperatures, and stress (causing a lowered immune system). You may notice wheezing and sometimes a mucous discharge from the nose and/or mouth. If you wait until the tortoise is breathing out of its mouth, you're not in for good results. You need to seek veterinary assistance immediately. The tortoise will also need an antibiotic, which may be given through the nose or injections. If the tortoise has a respiratory illness, you'll want to bump the temperatures up in the enclosure to help boost the immune system. You'll also want to make sure that you keep it hydrated. If caught early, the tortoise should have a full recovery.
Shell Rot—Shell rot is an infectious disease that is generally caused by bacteria or fungus. In most cases, the bacteria or fungus will enter the body through a cut, scrape, or lesion on the shell. If not caught and treated early, shell rot can lead to septicemia (which is an infection of the bloodstream). You may notice shell rot in your tortoise if it has white powdery, pitted, or flaking patches on the shell; if left untreated, the infection may eat away the shell.
External Parasites—External parasites include ticks, mites, and flies. If you notice any of these, you'll need to treat immediately as they can cause disease.
- Ticks are generally more of a problem with wild-caught or imported tortoises. They will typically burrow into the upper legs, neck, and tail.
- Mites are rare, but can be picked up from other reptiles. Most mites will be black or red and about the size of a poppy seed. Mites can be hard to get rid of because they can be found in hard to get places. You'll want to find a safe and effective treatment to treat the tortoise and enclosure. Ivermectic is deadly, so don't use it.
- Flies are usually attracted to cuts and abrasions and will lay their eggs in the wound. For Russian tortoises that spend time outside, you'll want to check for cuts frequently, and use fly traps to prevent flies.
Internal Parasites—You'll find that worms and protozoa are two common endo-parasites that affect tortoises. Internal parasites are most common with wild-caught and imported Russian tortoises, but captive ones may also have internal parasites, so it's always a good idea to have a fecal test on new tortoises.
- Roundworms are common to tortoises and will usually cause diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and a lack of appetite. A vet can detect worms by a fecal exam, checking for eggs in the poo.
- Protozoa can include various bacteria, but in general, you'll find that they can cause diseases. Signs that your tortoise has protozoa include diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, dehydration, and lethargy.
Empty Gut Syndrome—When protozoans are treated, antibiotics can wipe out any good bacteria in the gut, which can cause food to not be properly digested. You'll notice undigested food in the poo. This is typically caused by an antibiotic.
Calcium Deficiency and Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)—Calcium is very important, and if your Russian tortoise doesn't absorb enough, a deficiency can cause growth problems in the shell and bones. You may notice an abnormal appearance in the shell and legs. By leaving a cuttlebone in the enclosure, you can reduce the risk of MBD.
Pyramidal Growth—Pyramiding is the phenomenon when the scutes, or bony external plates, of a tortoise experience vertical growth instead of the normal horizontal growth that takes place as the tortoise increases in size. It is common when a tortoise receives too much protein, is overfed, or has low enclosure humidity levels, inadequate hydration, or a calcium deficiency. Less severe pyramiding is common on ranch-raised tortoises and wild-caught tortoises. There are two types of pyramiding: Type 1 won't have any major appearance problems, and type 2 is more severe where the scutes will raise an extreme amount and grow at abnormal differences.
Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. Consult a reptile veterinarian if you notice any abnormal behaviors in your tortoise so that you can have him checked out, diagnosed, and treated.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.