Sick Sulcata

belindajon

New Member
Joined
Mar 22, 2019
Messages
23
Location (City and/or State)
Orange County, CA
My Freddie is 6 years old, 40 lbs we’ve been battling a URI all winter/spring. We’ve done multiple antibiotics and recently advanced to injections without success. Fred has become increasingly lethargic and has now completely stopped eating. When we visit the vet he receives hydration and vitamin injections, when we adjust his meds he does better for a few days and then slides back into whatever is ailing him.

On Wednesday he was so lethargic he couldn’t walk and honestly I didn’t think he would make it through the night. Yesterday we put a feeding tube in. He seems a little better today.

Throughout this process he has never blown bubbles, just had ragged breathing. X-rays reveal clear lungs. Blood work is clear, everything is within normal range. No parasites or worms. Liver and renal functions are normal. No stones. His poop is regular shape and consistency. His urine does have urates generally toothpaste consistency, sometimes gritty.

We live in coastal Orange County CA. Fred is an outdoor tortoise who enjoys sunshine on sunny days and lives in an insulated house that maintains a temp of 85* consistently. Until about two months ago he was soaked regularly. His diet is orchard hay, nasturtium, gazania, weeds, grass and mulberry.

We cannot figure what is ailing him and I’m hoping the hive mind here might have some suggestions.

Thank you
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
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Location (City and/or State)
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My Freddie is 6 years old, 40 lbs we’ve been battling a URI all winter/spring. We’ve done multiple antibiotics and recently advanced to injections without success. Fred has become increasingly lethargic and has now completely stopped eating. When we visit the vet he receives hydration and vitamin injections, when we adjust his meds he does better for a few days and then slides back into whatever is ailing him.

On Wednesday he was so lethargic he couldn’t walk and honestly I didn’t think he would make it through the night. Yesterday we put a feeding tube in. He seems a little better today.

Throughout this process he has never blown bubbles, just had ragged breathing. X-rays reveal clear lungs. Blood work is clear, everything is within normal range. No parasites or worms. Liver and renal functions are normal. No stones. His poop is regular shape and consistency. His urine does have urates generally toothpaste consistency, sometimes gritty.

We live in coastal Orange County CA. Fred is an outdoor tortoise who enjoys sunshine on sunny days and lives in an insulated house that maintains a temp of 85* consistently. Until about two months ago he was soaked regularly. His diet is orchard hay, nasturtium, gazania, weeds, grass and mulberry.

We cannot figure what is ailing him and I’m hoping the hive mind here might have some suggestions.

Thank you
Everything sounds ideal. Before I finished reading, I was sure the torotise was being kept too cold at night. 85 should be good though. How are you measuring that temperature? What sort of heating are you using for the night box? What type of night box, and does the door close at night? Can we see pics of the night box and the tortoise's enclosure?

Does the tortoise have some means of getting warmer than ambient on cold cloudy coastal days? May gray and June gloom...

Does the tortoise have access to any other plants in the yard?

"Vitamin injections" are the mark of a vet that doesn't know tortoises. These are likely doing more harm than good, and are not needed.

No need for a feeding tube either. He's not eating for a reason. Find the reason and fix it.

What antibiotic is being injected?
 
Last edited:

belindajon

New Member
Joined
Mar 22, 2019
Messages
23
Location (City and/or State)
Orange County, CA
Hi Tom,

I have a digital thermometer mounted to the wall at his level. The heat is radiant heat panel mounted on the lid controlled with a thermostat. I used to have a Kane mat, but he repeatedly moved off it so I took it out. There was straw in there as well, but he removed that himself. There is insulation behind the walls that keeps the box a steady 85*. During gray May and June gloom he usually doesn't come out and just hangs out in his house. Once the marine layer burns off, he comes out to sunbathe provided he's feeling well. If not, he will spend an entire day inside and skip eating. I also have a camera mounted inside so I can check on him (alright..... spy on him) during the night.

He has access to a lot of plants in my yard and is everything is appropriate for him to eat. I have a small suburban yard so keeping track of what is here and what he eats isn't too difficult. I've been careful to plant only things that are tortoise approved.

Also - we are in the process of building him a new house, he has very quickly outgrown this one. But with him being sick, I've been reluctant to finish the new house. This one is easier to keep warm and he is familiar with it. The poor guy can take only so much.
Everything sounds ideal. Before I finished reading, I was sure the torotise was being kept too cold at night. 85 should be good though. How are you measuring that temperature? What sort of heating are you using for the night box? What type of night box, and does the door close at night? Can we see pics of the night box and the tortoise's enclosure?

Does the tortoise have some means of getting warmer than ambient on cold cloudy coastal days? May gray and June gloom...

Does the tortoise have access to any other plants in the yard?
 

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Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
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Messages
54,474
Location (City and/or State)
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Hi Tom,

I have a digital thermometer mounted to the wall at his level. The heat is radiant heat panel mounted on the lid controlled with a thermostat. I used to have a Kane mat, but he repeatedly moved off it so I took it out. There was straw in there as well, but he removed that himself. There is insulation behind the walls that keeps the box a steady 85*. During gray May and June gloom he usually doesn't come out and just hangs out in his house. Once the marine layer burns off, he comes out to sunbathe provided he's feeling well. If not, he will spend an entire day inside and skip eating. I also have a camera mounted inside so I can check on him (alright..... spy on him) during the night.

He has access to a lot of plants in my yard and is everything is appropriate for him to eat. I have a small suburban yard so keeping track of what is here and what he eats isn't too difficult. I've been careful to plant only things that are tortoise approved.

Also - we are in the process of building him a new house, he has very quickly outgrown this one. But with him being sick, I've been reluctant to finish the new house. This one is easier to keep warm and he is familiar with it. The poor guy can take only so much.
Your tortoise should not be sick. We are missing something.

RI would have a runny nose. Did the vet do the float test to check for pneumonia? He shouldn't have pneumonia either, but trying to eliminate possibilities.

I suspect poisoning. Its the only thing that makes sense. Were the tortoise safe plants purchased and planted in the yard in the last year?

Bug sprays? Other types of pesticides? Slug or snail bait? Rodent poisons?

Do you have gardeners?


Backing up further: When you initially went to the vet, was there any discharge from the nostrils? What were the initial symptoms? Lethargy and lack of appetite?

Thinking more... Despite what your thermometer is telling you, he might be too cold. An RHP alone is not enough to warm the whole tortoise and the air in the box. Ever use an infrared temp gun on the floor of the night box? Is the floor insulated? Problem started soon after you removed the heat mat, didn't it?

If we eliminate poisoning, here is my best guess: The tortoise got too cold in winter with our cold SoCal nights. Its pretty normal for them to slow down in winter anyway, even when they are kept plenty warm. This doesn't happen as much with youngsters, and I notice it more with older ones. Yours is getting older and moving into this typical winter slow down stuff. I suspect your tortoise might have been a little chilly and/or doing a normal cold weather/shorter day slow down, and the vet has created major problems by treating a problem that didn't exist with the typical wrong treatments. I think your tortoise might have been OD'd on vitamins that it didn't need, and antibiotics can wreak havoc on their systems. Some antibiotics are caustic like bleach and extremely painful when injected. This terrible pain and the stress of transport often cause lethargy and lack of appetite. What antibiotic did the vet use? I think the vet is ignorant, misguided, and killing your tortoise.
 

belindajon

New Member
Joined
Mar 22, 2019
Messages
23
Location (City and/or State)
Orange County, CA
Your tortoise should not be sick. We are missing something.

RI would have a runny nose. Did the vet do the float test to check for pneumonia? He shouldn't have pneumonia either, but trying to eliminate possibilities.

I suspect poisoning. Its the only thing that makes sense. Were the tortoise safe plants purchased and planted in the yard in the last year?

Bug sprays? Other types of pesticides? Slug or snail bait? Rodent poisons?

Do you have gardeners?


Backing up further: When you initially went to the vet, was there any discharge from the nostrils? What were the initial symptoms? Lethargy and lack of appetite?

Thinking more... Despite what your thermometer is telling you, he might be too cold. An RHP alone is not enough to warm the whole tortoise and the air in the box. Ever use an infrared temp gun on the floor of the night box? Is the floor insulated? Problem started soon after you removed the heat mat, didn't it?

If we eliminate poisoning, here is my best guess: The tortoise got too cold in winter with our cold SoCal nights. Its pretty normal for them to slow down in winter anyway, even when they are kept plenty warm. This doesn't happen as much with youngsters, and I notice it more with older ones. Yours is getting older and moving into this typical winter slow down stuff. I suspect your tortoise might have been a little chilly and/or doing a normal cold weather/shorter day slow down, and the vet has created major problems by treating a problem that didn't exist with the typical wrong treatments. I think your tortoise might have been OD'd on vitamins that it didn't need, and antibiotics can wreak havoc on their systems. Some antibiotics are caustic like bleach and extremely painful when injected. This terrible pain and the stress of transport often cause lethargy and lack of appetite. What antibiotic did the vet use? I think the vet is ignorant, misguided, and killing your tortoise.
I agree, we are missing something, which is why I posted here. We cannot figure it out. He never had a runny nose. Initially he blew an occasional bubble and I mean it was occasional. I do not know if the vet did a float test, but an xray was taken. Initial symptoms was ragged or wheezy breathing. No runny nose, no mucus. At that point there was not lethargy and his appetite was normal. The lethargy and lack of appetite are new. The Kane mat has been gone since before Christmas. I don't think that's it. The floor is insulated and I also use a gun to test the temp.

All of the plants are safe because I have grown them. There are no sprays or pesticides because I also raise butterflies so I do not use pesticides/poisons at all in my yard. I also have a possum station in my yard, so no poisons. I plant almost everything from seed, what I don't plant from seed is in planters where he cannot reach it. Again, I've been careful. No gardeners.

The vet. Not getting defensive, but, she's good. She's the vet that is responsible for one of the only wild life rehabs in OC. She knows her stuff. The vitamin shots only happened this week and was a one time thing when we feared we were losing him. It wasn't an ongoing thing. As I mentioned, I thought he was going to be dead Tuesday morning. He was so lethargic and out of it, I was certain he was dying.

As far as the antibiotics, he's been on pills all this time (I'm too tired at the moment to go see which ones) we didn't start injections until several weeks ago when he really started to slide downhill and really felt we were losing him. Neither of us wanted to do the injections, but, I didn't want my tort to die either and he simply wasn't responding to the antibiotics. The tube is also a last ditch effort as well. He still might die. We don't know. We don't know what is wrong with him. Tubing him allows us to continue trying to figure it out and keep him alive. I don't think the vet is misguided nor killing him. I think she has helped and been cautious in her approach all along. But, Fred's still ill and we don't know why.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
54,474
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
I agree, we are missing something, which is why I posted here. We cannot figure it out. He never had a runny nose. Initially he blew an occasional bubble and I mean it was occasional. I do not know if the vet did a float test, but an xray was taken. Initial symptoms was ragged or wheezy breathing. No runny nose, no mucus. At that point there was not lethargy and his appetite was normal. The lethargy and lack of appetite are new. The Kane mat has been gone since before Christmas. I don't think that's it. The floor is insulated and I also use a gun to test the temp.

All of the plants are safe because I have grown them. There are no sprays or pesticides because I also raise butterflies so I do not use pesticides/poisons at all in my yard. I also have a possum station in my yard, so no poisons. I plant almost everything from seed, what I don't plant from seed is in planters where he cannot reach it. Again, I've been careful. No gardeners.

The vet. Not getting defensive, but, she's good. She's the vet that is responsible for one of the only wild life rehabs in OC. She knows her stuff. The vitamin shots only happened this week and was a one time thing when we feared we were losing him. It wasn't an ongoing thing. As I mentioned, I thought he was going to be dead Tuesday morning. He was so lethargic and out of it, I was certain he was dying.

As far as the antibiotics, he's been on pills all this time (I'm too tired at the moment to go see which ones) we didn't start injections until several weeks ago when he really started to slide downhill and really felt we were losing him. Neither of us wanted to do the injections, but, I didn't want my tort to die either and he simply wasn't responding to the antibiotics. The tube is also a last ditch effort as well. He still might die. We don't know. We don't know what is wrong with him. Tubing him allows us to continue trying to figure it out and keep him alive. I don't think the vet is misguided nor killing him. I think she has helped and been cautious in her approach all along. But, Fred's still ill and we don't know why.
This is not an easy case, but there is a reason this is happening. It sure sounds like everything you've done has been perfect, and this should be a thriving tortoise. Yet, its not. You've eliminated most every cause of something like this I can think of.

The one and only thing I see is that in my enclosures with my tortoises, an overhead RHP has never been enough. You took the heat mat out in December. It would take some time for the over night cold to begin to have an effect. How much time? No way to know, as there are millions of variables, but usually weeks or months. Some tortoises survive multiple winters with inadequate heat, and then have a problem seemingly all of a sudden. I say those people just got lucky in previous years and their luck ran out.

Put the heat mat back in, set the thermostat to 86-88, and see what happens. In all we've discussed, this is the only thing I see. The RHP only warms the surface of the carapace. The heat mat below them warms the entire tortoise to the core as that heat rises. Outdoors in a coastal SoCal environment, in winter, I don't think a single RHP is enough.

Put another way: If you'd come to me months ago, before all the vet treatment and downhill slide, and said, "I've seen an occasional bubble and now appetite and activity is decreasing", I would have immediately said, "Its not warm enough. Add heat". All the symptoms you describe are a tortoise that isn't warm enough. I think more heat and an additional heat source would have solved this problem early on. I think what the vet has done has made things worse, and I've seen this many times. They try to treat symptoms without addressing the CAUSE. Tortoises and other wild animals don't get sick for no reason. They get sick when something is off. Injecting them with vitamins and antibiotics does not correct whatever is off, and it can tax their already compromised systems tremendously.

If this were my tortoise, I'd get him hot and keep him hot 24/7. Daily soaks to keep hydration up. I think more heat might have saved him early on. I honestly don't know if you'll be able to save him after what the vet has done. All speculation and educated guessing on my part, based on decades of dealing with tortoises and vets. If your tortoise doesn't make it, I would love to have a necropsy done to determine what went wrong and what the COD is. We can all learn from an awful situation.

Also, because I feel like you've given this tortoise a wonderful home and done everything so perfectly, I'd like to offer you a free well started healthy baby if you ever decide you want to do it again. It sounds like you've been an ideal tortoise keeper, and I hate seeing things go wrong when people have done everything right. I also know of a similarly sized sulcata that is in need of a home, but I hope we can figure out what is wrong and fix it.
 

belindajon

New Member
Joined
Mar 22, 2019
Messages
23
Location (City and/or State)
Orange County, CA
This is not an easy case, but there is a reason this is happening. It sure sounds like everything you've done has been perfect, and this should be a thriving tortoise. Yet, its not. You've eliminated most every cause of something like this I can think of.

The one and only thing I see is that in my enclosures with my tortoises, an overhead RHP has never been enough. You took the heat mat out in December. It would take some time for the over night cold to begin to have an effect. How much time? No way to know, as there are millions of variables, but usually weeks or months. Some tortoises survive multiple winters with inadequate heat, and then have a problem seemingly all of a sudden. I say those people just got lucky in previous years and their luck ran out.

Put the heat mat back in, set the thermostat to 86-88, and see what happens. In all we've discussed, this is the only thing I see. The RHP only warms the surface of the carapace. The heat mat below them warms the entire tortoise to the core as that heat rises. Outdoors in a coastal SoCal environment, in winter, I don't think a single RHP is enough.

Put another way: If you'd come to me months ago, before all the vet treatment and downhill slide, and said, "I've seen an occasional bubble and now appetite and activity is decreasing", I would have immediately said, "Its not warm enough. Add heat". All the symptoms you describe are a tortoise that isn't warm enough. I think more heat and an additional heat source would have solved this problem early on. I think what the vet has done has made things worse, and I've seen this many times. They try to treat symptoms without addressing the CAUSE. Tortoises and other wild animals don't get sick for no reason. They get sick when something is off. Injecting them with vitamins and antibiotics does not correct whatever is off, and it can tax their already compromised systems tremendously.

If this were my tortoise, I'd get him hot and keep him hot 24/7. Daily soaks to keep hydration up. I think more heat might have saved him early on. I honestly don't know if you'll be able to save him after what the vet has done. All speculation and educated guessing on my part, based on decades of dealing with tortoises and vets. If your tortoise doesn't make it, I would love to have a necropsy done to determine what went wrong and what the COD is. We can all learn from an awful situation.

Also, because I feel like you've given this tortoise a wonderful home and done everything so perfectly, I'd like to offer you a free well started healthy baby if you ever decide you want to do it again. It sounds like you've been an ideal tortoise keeper, and I hate seeing things go wrong when people have done everything right. I also know of a similarly sized sulcata that is in need of a home, but I hope we can figure out what is wrong and fix it.
Hi Tom,

I thought I should give an update on Freddie. So far he is doing better, much better. I don't think he's out of the woods, but he's better.

As far as the respiratory infection, he's still wheezing not chronically, but it's there. I never did get back to you on meds, but he's currently on Enroflaxin 136 mg and Doxycycline 200 mg once daily for both meds. No injections. He is still sporting the gastric tube and while I know you're not a fan, I think it saved his life. I have been able to feed and hydrate him as well as continue to administer his antibiotics. He has gone from non ambulatory to walking around, sunning himself and back to eating again. He had completely stopped eating and was lethargic to the point of near death. I do not rely on the tube for all his nutrition, now that he will eat I rely on it to hydrate medicate and supplement his food. I want him to eat on his own as much as he possibly can. But I do continue to supplement his nutrition. I don't want to take a chance on him backsliding yet. It's still too early.

We still don't know why we can't kick the respiratory infection. All of his blood work came back normal. The Kane mat is back, but he still doesn't like it. His house is small and he refuses to sleep on it. Regarding the overhead heat, his box is wrapped in R5 rigid insulation, all 4 walls and the floor. That little box holds the heat very well a steady 85* and climbs to 89* most nights. I'm not convinced that not enough heat is the issue regarding the respiratory infection. But I'll keep the mat for the time being. I haven't been soaking him since he got the tube, I'm a little leery due to his tube and the risk of infection. Plus I have been providing extra hydration via the tube.

Fred's not back to his usual demanding self, but he's still with us and I'm grateful for that. If you can think of any other tricks for respiratory illness, I'd be grateful to hear them.

Thanks!

Belinda
 
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