Yup. That’s my girl. This is just one image from the sizable stack of similar images we have accumulated since Malti was diagnosed with MBD (metabolic bone disease) a few years back.
While most of our radiographs, scans and ultrasounds have focused on evaluating her growth and degree of shell malformation, this particular scan was different. Malti had been experiencing chronic bouts of what seemed to be sneezing and bubbling from her nose and mouth region. We suspected lung inflammation and a return of her tortoise pneumonia.
What we found was altogether different.
Can you see that strange opaque area right in the center region near her lower shell area? That area isn’t supposed to look like that. Our worried exotic veterinarian took one look at that and requested permission to perform a CT scan (yes, the same exact kind that is used for people medicine – at the exact same high cost).
We said yes, of course.
Our veterinarian suspected gastrointestinal impaction, a tumor/mass or cancer. I suspected a series of sleepless nights until we found out which one it was (and then another series of sleepless nights pretty much forever after that).
What we discovered, however, was even more shocking. Malti was incubating (infertile) eggs!
I share this story to illustrate three facts.
1. You probably won’t catch your redfoot tortoise’s health symptoms early.
Unlike most people, all tortoises (and all animals) will do their utmost to hide any signs of weakness.
By the time your animal is showing signs of illness or weakness, whatever is wrong is really wrong.
This means the tiny little affordable issue you could have (would have) nipped in the bud – had you only known – has likely already spiraled into the kind of health emergency that requires emergency financing* (with a generous side order of ongoing heartache).
2. A veterinary generalist cannot treat your redfoot tortoise.
Veterinary medicine today is just as advanced as people medicine. But where people doctors can pretty much count on knowing what is where inside their next patient, veterinarians may see and treat several different species every single day.
You cannot – CANNOT – see a generalist veterinarian if your redfoot tortoise needs care.
On that note, many veterinary generalists will not even see exotic patients. Those who are willing may do so in a well-meaning attempt to help when there is no local exotic veterinarian to refer out to, but may then end up unwittingly making the patient’s situation worse rather than better. This happened to us several times before we found our wonderful team at Gulf Coast Avian & Exotic.
You cannot take a veterinarian’s word for it that they are qualified to treat exotic species.
Speaking of avian and exotic, treating avians and treating exotics are not the same discipline although they are frequently marketed as such. You need to make SURE the veterinarian you select has deep knowledge and hands-on expertise caring for and treating cold-blooded species, including both arid and tropical species.
In our Redfoot Tortoise Quick Start Care Guide, we have a whole module that focuses on how to locate a qualified exotic veterinarian who can treat your redfoot tortoise.
3. What you think is going on probably isn’t what is going on.
With cold-blooded species like redfoot tortoises, their whole metabolic system is basically backwards from people’s. So any type of home care remedy you might feel tempted to apply will likely backfire and may even cause harm.
In fact, as the above images illustrate, what at first appeared to be a common and readily treatable respiratory issue turned out to be a very unique and complicated case of internal crowding.
Malti already had reduced internal capacity for everything that needed to be there due to her MBD-related shell pyramiding. So when she became sexually mature and her body began to develop infertile eggs for the first time, it caused severe internal crowding.
This was what was causing the wheezing, bubbling, gasping and head/neck bobbing we were witnessing. After she would eat, the food intake would cause reduced lung capacity as her stomach expanded. It probably won’t surprise you to learn this turned out to be a very challenging medical issue to treat.
*The total veterinary bill for just this one issue – one ultrasound, one CT scan, two veterinary consultations – was nearly $3,000.
BONUS: Get Pet Insurance Now, Thank Yourself Later
Yes, you can purchase pet insurance for redfoot tortoises. You will want to do this now, before your redfoot tortoise has any diagnosable veterinary issues.
Reason being, the moment your redfoot’s patient file includes a diagnosis of any kind, that health issue promptly gets moved into the “pre-existing conditions” category in the eyes of the pet insurance carrier.
So purchase your redfoot tortoise pet insurance now. Pet insurance is inexpensive and well worth it – we’ve often been pleasantly surprised at the reimbursement benefits for various issues.
If you need a place to start doing your research, we use Nationwide (VPI) for all of our animals. But there are lots of pet insurance carriers to choose from. Some offer preventative care benefits while others focus on treatment needs only.