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Posted By: Greg - Vet

Vets Diary - Tinker is December's Pet of the Month

As the nights are drawing in and the days are getting colder, this not only means winter is approaching, but that it's also time to hibernate your tortoises! This is a crucial time for tortoise health, as an improper hibernation protocol can lead to serious illnesses in the reptile when it wakes from its winter slumber. Not only does the temperature and length of hibernation have to be just right, but owners must make sure their tortoises aren’t hibernated when they are in less than perfect condition. This doesn't just mean tortoises that are underweight or showing signs of ill health, but it is also not ideal to be hibernated whilst carrying eggs as Tinker, a Hermann’s tortoise, found out when she surprised us all recently!

Tinker has very dedicated owners who make sure she is well looked after in terms of her diet and housing. She is also hibernated in the right conditions – for approximately 10-12 weeks and kept at a temperature between 3-8 degrees. Having done all the necessary research, when waking Tinker up from her hibernation at the start of this year, her owners realised something was not right when checking her over. Her mouth did not look normal, and she wouldn't eat or pass faeces or urine, which meant she was dehydrated. It was at this point that Tinker’s owners knew she needed to be examined at the vets, so she was taken along to the practice in the spring of this year.

Tinker was quiet when examined and was not moving about as much as expected. She was also gasping intermittently and inside her mouth white plaques could be seen. It was far too easy to examine inside her mouth – tortoises usually put up quite a struggle! A diagnosis of ‘mouth rot’ was concluded – this rather unaffectionately named condition, also known as stomatitis, is common amongst reptiles who are under the weather and therefore vulnerable to the secondary bacterial infection that is seen as discharge in the mouth. Tinker’s cheesy plaques of discharge were removed with cotton buds and her mouth was then flushed with a dilute antiseptic solution.

Tinker was started on a course of antibiotic injections into her leg muscle, and she required fluid to rehydrate her – initially given as an injection in the practice, in the skin fold in front of each back leg, and then in the form of warm water baths at home that contained a special energy boost powder. The question now was why Tinker had woken up like this – there was very likely to be an underlying reason. However, an answer was soon given, because as she was finishing her course of medication and rehydration, she began to eat, become brighter, gain weight but then eventually laid a total of 7 eggs – much to everyone’s surprise! This explained Tinker’s illness, as if a tortoise is hibernated with eggs they will experience an inadequate hibernation, using up too much energy.

This autumn, in order to prevent the same thing from happening again, Tinker required an X-Ray before she was due to be hibernated. The X-Ray showed Tinker to still have four eggs remaining inside of her. It would not have been a good idea to go ahead with the hibernation with this being the case; either the hibernation would have to be postponed, or the eggs would need to be passed. An injection of a hormone called oxytocin can stimulate the passing of eggs, but isn't always successful in reptiles. Nonetheless, rather than consider surgery to remove the eggs or avoid hibernation altogether, it was decided to give the injection and monitor the response.

X-ray of Tortoise

Fortunately for Tinker, she had passed all four eggs on her way home from the vets. Now, she could have a safe and good quality hibernation, ready to wake up refreshed in spring 2017!

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