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Turtle is streatching neck, gaping, and making the sound!

Discussion in 'Tortoise Health' started by omhoge, Aug 3, 2017.

  1. omhoge

    omhoge Member

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    Our tortoise is an African Hingeback, he's lived with us over 30 years
    he was a young adult when we adopted him, we estimate his age at 35 - 40 years.

    A couple of months ago he started "pumping" his head and front legs in an out,
    unusually opening and closing his mouth,
    now also pumping the bottom of his throat under the jaw,
    sometimes weeping and drooling.

    I took him to a new Vet who seems really good who did a blood test which revealed
    low calcium to phosphorus ratio and suspected low vitamin D.

    No signs of infection at all, no worms as of last test about 8-10 months ago (he has no exposure to other animals).
    The X-Ray showed (as best as they can) no foreign objects,
    the Vet was able to get him to open his mouth wide and saw nothing in his throat as far as she could see.
    • I've added a daily calcium/Vit. D supplement to his food (Repto-Cal),
    • switched the type of heat and UVB bulbs (#5 strength UVB and will replace in 6 months),
    • and increased spritzing, keeping areas of his pen damp, and more frequent baths.
    It's about a month since these lifestyle changes.

    He often lies with his head out, opening his mouth gaping, sometimes leaving drool puddles.
    And he has recently started making the squeaking sound!

    (Before he only ever made a sound when getting "romantic" with a shoe)

    He has also taken to elevating his head, resting his chin on the edge of his water bowl,
    or propping his head way up, almost straight up, on the side of his tank or on the side of a small ball.
    And often falls asleep in these potions.

    He used to always pull in when he slept, and never opened his mouth except when eating.

    Has anyone else ever seen their tort's do this?


    Closely listening to him: there is no sign of wheezing or sounds of troubled breath,
    his appetite and pooping seem good and normal,
    but lately he is not being as active as he usually is in the Summer heat,
    he takes in the finely chopped course dark greens mixed in his food.
    When active he's just like always: chasing us around or climbing on the shoes,
    but there are increasingly more frequent periods of lethargic, sprawled, head out resting.

    The vet suggested direct sunlight outdoors, but that's difficult and not very safe where we live.
    Her initial treatment is to use the new UVB bulb, supplement, increased baths
    and keep an eye on him.

    He's not getting better yet, and I'm worried.

    [I am starting this as a new thread from the "pale thin band" thread where I originally posted this update,
    that band in his shell seems to be new growth and unrelated to these symptoms,
    I'm hoping by starting this new thread it will get more attention and guidance]


    Thanks Everyone!
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2017
  2. Kasia

    Kasia Well-Known Member

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    I would say get another's Vet opinion. Did the X-ray excluded pneumonia/infection? Or a heart condition? Did the Vet consider viral infections?
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  3. omhoge

    omhoge Member

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    Thank you Kasia. The Vet said the x-ray looked normal. I believe she meant viral as well when she said there wasn't an infection from the blood test.

    She did not mention a heart condition. Are these symptoms consistent with that? Can you treat it?

    This was the fourth vet I've taken him to and the only one who knew tortoises and how to handle them. I guess we can try another, but at this point I'm a bit doubtful of finding a better one.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2017
  4. Kasia

    Kasia Well-Known Member

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    Make sure that all those specific tests were run... some of them are not included or can't be done in a standard blood panel (viral/protozoa definitely are not) ... all those test results are YOURS and you should be able to get a copy of them. The same goes for X-ray. If you're not certain what was done ask your Vet it is his job to inform you. You pay for it.
    Open mouth breathing is one of the indications of a possible heart problem but I wouldn't go there if an infection was not ruled out for certain.
    I would redo the fecal as well, parasites eggs can be found of food items and if you feed your tortoise items grown outside nothing is impossible. Were are you from?
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2017
  5. omhoge

    omhoge Member

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    Thank you again Kasia! We are in New York City. We have the X-Ray, I didn't think to ask for the blood tests thank you. I'll follow up and ask she confirm if the viral/protozoa infection was tested. I hope I don't have to make him have another blood test.

    Will adding carrots daily help? The only other forum thread I found here that mentioned gaping said they cured their pet by adding carrot baby food to warm baths every 30 minutes. (we can only do nightly baths)

    The Very first vet we took him to 30 years ago (long before the four recent ones and now retired), he had pneumonia when we got him, had us soak him in antibiotics, this new/latest vet said soaking does not help much as they don't absorb very much and she'd have gone with injections.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2017
  6. Kasia

    Kasia Well-Known Member

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    Was he given any antibiotics now? Is he still eating (a bit at least)? If yes I don't think adding carrots to soaking will help him. Daily normal warm water soaks are of course good so keep up with them.
  7. Markw84

    Markw84 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    what you are describing can be a normal cooling mechanism tortoises have when they get too hot. They will pump their throat and legs to move air more forcefully in and out while excess "saliva" and watering eyes, will serve as an evaporative cooling. Tortoises have been shown to survive ambient temps over 15° above their thermal max with this technique.

    Has it been very warm where they tortoise is? Perhaps you are just noticing this and not seen the tortoise in a very hot environment before??
    Pearly and TammyJ like this.
  8. Kasia

    Kasia Well-Known Member

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    They have him for 30 years...I would not assume that.
  9. TammyJ

    TammyJ Well-Known Member

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    I certainly hope you can find what is wrong, and that your tortoise will get better!
    All the best of luck with this.
  10. TammyJ

    TammyJ Well-Known Member

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    They may not have lived in the same place for the 30 years they had him.
  11. Markw84

    Markw84 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    A change in lifestyle, work status, enclosure, unusually hot weather, activity on a forum causing you to be more observant, etc, etc. often will lead to things we can notice that we had not noticed before.
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  12. Kasia

    Kasia Well-Known Member

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    I believe in a keepers eye and what I meant is that 30 years is enough to get to know your pet.
    If you think his acting strange he probably is.
  13. Teodora'sDAD

    Teodora'sDAD Active Member 5 Year Member

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    This sounds exactly like what happened to my tortoise. I put her outside in her enclosure and left for about a half hour. came back and she was throat pumping and gaping her mouth with LOTS of saliva. she also appeared to be trying to dig..... I completely forgot to put her over hang back up after taking it down to water. Luckily I remembered reading somewhere on here the symptoms of a tortoise over heating. I gave her a room temp soak and that helped after a few minutes! That was a while ago and I have learned a great lesson from that. That's also when I started to notice how much she regulated her temp by using the shaded area. Sometimes she is in it all the way or just half way. She will also look for the water source to take a quick dip. its all pre-programed.
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  14. omhoge

    omhoge Member

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    Thank you Kasia, Markw84, TammyJ, good points all! I wish it were as simple as overheating or forum hypochondria, but I doubt it. The front head and limb pumping started while we were still in an exceeding cool Spring here. His average pen temp. was around 80 to 90 at that point, and I've increased it to an average minimum of 90, plus we are finally having some Summer Weather here.

    It sounds like similar signs to yours when overheated, but he still does it when we let him out to run around in the living room which is definitely cooler than his pen.

    He is not on antibiotics now because the blood tests showed no infection, which was a relief since the thought of giving him a daily injection was not something I wanted to have to do. I'm going to email the vet about the viral tests, she's been remarkably good about replying to emails albeit with an understandable delay.

    He's eating TONS! His feeding is at full Summer levels, but his activity is extremely low for this Season. I'm certainly not a turtle expert by any means, but yes I know This Turtle well. We've lived in the same place for about 20 years, the only change is for two years now he sometimes goes with us upstate on weekends, but seems accustomed to the trip and to love his room up there where he's kept warm and gets to spend more time with us, and that seems to have contributed positively to his growth spurt. The vet visit was worth it, we learned a lot, but it cost a lot too, I may have to get pet insurance before I take him back.

    Just as well about the carrots, he clearly didn't like them.
  15. omhoge

    omhoge Member

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    When you pick up your Tortoise, should he feel cool to the touch? I thought that was bad so make sure he's warm both with the theremometer and holding him. When he's out and about his shell definitely feels cooler.
  16. zovick

    zovick Well-Known Member

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    This sounds like the classic signs of pneumonia to me. I would give the tortoise Fortaz (ceftazidime) to see if the symptoms subside regardless of the vet saying there is no infection. Did the vet tell you specifically the white blood cell count was not elevated? Does this vet treat enough tortoises to know the normal WBC count for this species, or tortoises in general?

    The dose for Fortaz for tortoises is 20 mg. per kilo of weight and it is given every three days for 3-4 doses. Severe cases can be dosed every other day for 5 doses. It certainly won't hurt anything to give him 3-4 doses of the medication and see if he improves. Don't even bother with Baytril if anyone recommends it to you. It doesn't work as well, causes pain when injected, tissue necrosis at the injection site, plus has to be given more frequently as well.
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  17. Dudley The Sulcata

    Dudley The Sulcata Member

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    I just read an article on Herpes virus in tortoises, some of the symptoms match up... maybe ask the vet to just rule it out?
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  18. omhoge

    omhoge Member

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    Thank you Zovick and Dudley.
    I'm going to have to take him back to the vet and will ask about herpes.

    There's a factor now that was not happening when he had pneumonia when we first got him.
    Back then he did not display any of these symptoms, and he is not currently wheezing or sounding nasally congested;
    and back then the wheezing was constant all the time, now the gaping and squeezing is intermittent. He will be active and normal, then slow down and start mouth breathing.

    We also are finding we can only give him very shallow baths right now, he's start showing distress with the usual amount of water (about up mid shell);
    not sure if he's having trouble lifting his head up a little bit to breathe like usual or if his trying to climb out of his tub is triggering it.

    Thank you again everyone, your thoughts are helpful while we deal with this hard to figure out illness.
    Kasia likes this.
  19. omhoge

    omhoge Member

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    He has now started "coughing" every once in a while.

    Rough but productive visit with Vet, she was very open to discussing all of your thoughts mentioned here and patiently went through all my questions and concerns.
    He was in the midst of an episode and the Vet felt it so obvious he's in distress we didn't need another blood test to proceed.
    I also took in a stool sample just to rule that part out for sure.

    We are starting with a 14 day course of oral Baytril.
    I let them give him an injection last night so I could learn how to do it (in the inside of the front leg, lower muscle, between scales),
    but watching him scream while it was happening makes me want to do *anything* to avoid forcing him go through that again.
    Though very active on our way there, when we got home he was completely immobile and wouldn't eat. It almost seemed like he wanted to eat but couldn't,
    but really hard to tell.

    This morning he ate a small amount of his favorite food with the medication in it,
    then I offered him more of his regular food without medication, but suddenly this morning ate much less than he has been up to now.
    He just wanted to go into his little shelter and rest.
    I'm not sure if he's still in shock from the Vet visit, or has gotten sicker.
    Praying this oral med. works.
    Kasia likes this.
  20. Kasia

    Kasia Well-Known Member

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    Antibiotics usually suppress apetite so I would say it's normal. Give him the whole course and then wait a week or two to see if he gets back to his old self again. I keep my fingers crossed for him :)
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