In order to care for your tortoise correctly there are a few signs and symptoms of illness that you should be aware of. If you understand these you will have a better idea when to take your pet to the vet and when you can care for it yourself.
Firstly get used to handling it and recognising how it reacts, eats, sleep and moves around its enclosure. If your pet then becomes unwell you will be able to recognise it more easily.
One of the main reasons tortoise health is compromised is due to a poor habitat. They can become stressed if they are living in inadequate surroundings. The size of the enclosure should be approximately 2 or 3 square meters for every 25cm in length of the plastron (underneath). This is a much larger area than many people think is necessary but if your pet is kept in an enclosure that is too small it may start to become unwell. It will also need to have places in the enclosure to hide and dig. Artificial light and heat is also necessary for optimum health. If you do some homework and understand what sort of habitat your particular species comes from your will be more able to provide a suitable home for your pet.
If you have provided the best home and you are still worried about the health of your tortoise you should always consult your vet rather than just leave it to see if it gets better. There are specific parasites, diseases and illness that can be fatal for your pet if left untreated.
There are five easy things to take note of to ensure optimum tortoise health
1. Eyes, these should be clear and bright. No crusty bits and no discharge. Some species, especially those from desert areas do have tears that act as a cleanser but these should be clear and not too much.
3. Mouth, If your pet has an overgrown beak (the upper part of the mouth) this can cause problems when it is feeding. If this is present the beak can be trimmed, much like a birds. You can ask your vet to show you how to do this correctly. Chelonians can also get a mouth infection called infectious stomatitis or mouth rot. This makes the mouth discolored and loss of saliva and tissue. You will have to take your tortoise to the vet for antibiotics as this can be fatal.
2. Nose, this should not have any crust around the nostril and not be blowing bubbles. If it is blowing bubbles it could be suffering from a respiratory infection. In this case you need to take it to your vet as it may need antibiotics.
4. Shell, or carapace, although the shell would appear to be hard it is in fact flexible and some species have an almost soft shell, such as the pancake tortoise as this enables it to squeeze between rocks. If your pet has a cracked shell or it is damaged in any way you need to ensure the you take it to your vet as it could develop a blood infection and this can often be fatal. It may also be suffering from shell rot, if there are rough or soft areas this could indicate an infection or ulcerative shell disease caused by either a fungus or bacteria. If this is present, remove your tortoise from the enclosure and clean the enclosure thoroughly with Betadine daily for three weeks. If there is no improvement see your vet.
5. Skin, This may at first appear impenetrable but it can be damaged and if so treat it much as you would any other wound you may have yourself. Ensure it is kept clean and that it is healing with no sign of infection. If it does appear to be infected take it to the vet as an antibiotic may be necessary. Tortoises are also prone to parasites so look at the base of the neck and just inside the shell. If These are present bathe your pet in lukewarm water with mild antiseptic such as povidone-iodine and thoroughly clean the enclosure with a bleach solution and change the substrate (covering on the floor)
The key to tortoise health is understanding what sort of habitat you need to provide, what a healthy tortoises behavior is likely to be and therefore when it is becoming unwell. If in doubt always ask advice from your vet.
Ellie Bear is tortoise enthusiast and has kept them for many years. If you want to know more about keeping these amazing creatures go to TortoiseTips.com Where you can read all about Tortoise Heath