Lesson 7: Redfoot Tortoise Veterinarian

TEXT VERSION: Redfoot Tortoise Veterinary Care Needs

….with exotic animal specialist (herpetologist) Danielle Inman & redfoot tortoise keeper Shannon Cutts

SHANNON: Why is it so important to find a qualified veterinary care expert who can help you take care of your new tortoise right away?

DANIELLE: So it’s really important to get a fresh, trained set of eyes on your new tortoise. While your tortoise may be perfect in your eyes, there may be small things that need to be addressed at a prevention level so that they don’t become an emergency where they need interventional medicine.

Just like in human medicine, there are boarded specialists. So the ideal would be for you to find an exotic boarded specialist. I go to a meeting of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Vets every year where we are constantly pushing the limits and at the frontier of exotic animal medicine and specifically medicine that involves herpetofauna.

It’s really, really important to find a qualified team that, should the need arise, can provide the necessary care for your redfoot tortoise.

If he or she gets sick, if there’s an injury, you don’t want to be at the last minute trying to Google things and show up in some emergency room where they can’t identify the species that you’re walking in with.

So finding that person up front and meeting that team and making sure that you are comfortable with them caring for your pets is going to be really, really important.

redfoot turtle cartoon

NOTE from Shannon

Meeting Dani saved my Malti’s life. I can’t say it any plainer than that.

The relief I felt when Dani first walked through the door of our patient room at Gulf Coast Avian & Exotics Veterinary Hospital and said, “Hi, my name is Danielle and I care for a redfoot tortoise named Moses” – well, to this day I cannot put that feeling into words.

While it is tempting to think that your friendly neighborhood veterinarian who treats mostly cats, dogs, perhaps livestock or even small warm-blooded exotic species will be able to handle your redfoot tortoise’s health needs and crises, this is a temptation you want to steadfastly avoid.

There are two main types of exotic veterinarians – those who have learned “on the job” so to speak by caring for cold-blooded exotic animals of their own and making mistakes along the way – and those who study the latest veterinary science and keep up with research that is pushing the boundaries of what we know about cold-blooded anatomy, physiognomy, treatment methods and health needs.

The latter type also tend to be experienced reptile keepers who are in the best possible position to marry their scientific and laboratory knowledge with the practical, hands-on care needs of each unique exotic cold-blooded species.

In case you are wondering (which I doubt you are), Danielle belongs to just this level of elite, experienced and highly trained exotic veterinary care experts.

It feels worth pointing out that some exotic veterinarians will do distance consultations, working with local veterinary generalists to guide them through the care basics for different exotic species in emergency situations. Danielle does a lot of this for veterinarians around the country and the world, assisting well-meaning, caring veterinarians who are confronted with exotic cold-blooded patients at death’s door and don’t have any solid knowledge to know where to start treating and healing them.

But while this type of long-distance consultation may be available if a true emergency arises, and while it is tempting to say “some care is better than no care,” in mine and Malti’s case, the first several veterinary consultations we had resulted in situations where NO care would have actually been BETTER than the actual care we got.

Things can go very wrong very VERY quickly when you trust a veterinarian who treats a cold-blooded patient as if they are a warm-blooded patient.

The same exact truth applies to exotic or general practice veterinarians who fail to accurately identify the species of reptile they are treating, do the research to discover where in the world that species is from, take the time to discover that species’ unique dietary, lighting, heating, etc, needs and only then recommend treatment accordingly.

I simply cannot emphasize this enough. Truly. 

Please – from my nearly broken heart to yours – if you cannot find a thoroughly qualified exotic veterinarian in your local area who has amazing patient testimonials and who has both the hands-on field experience and the scientific and educational knowledge to treat your redfoot tortoise, please do reconsider choosing a redfoot tortoise at all.

At a risk of completely pounding this topic to death, someday your tort’s health may literally depend on the local veterinary resources you have access to.  My Malti’s life depended on it, and frankly we just got lucky that one of the best exotic veterinary practices in the world (not the nation, the WORLD) happened to be located just 15 minutes drive from our casa.

I don’t want that to happen to you and your redfoot. To that end, we have included some information in another section here in this course to help you research the availability of qualified exotic veterinary care in your local area.

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