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During his lifetime, your Russian tortoise will be exposed to things that can negatively affect his health, especially if he is housed outdoors. This is an unavoidable fact, but you can take precautions to try to keep your tortoise healthy. The more you know about tortoise health and healthcare, the better prepared you will be to give your tortoise the best life possible.
Hygiene is a very important part of tortoise care. Making sure to faithfully wash your hands before and after handling your pet will help to keep both you and the tortoise healthy. Reptiles, including tortoises, have been found to carry some diseases that can be transmitted to humans. These diseases can also be passed from tortoise to tortoise, so make sure to also wash your hands often if you have multiple tortoise enclosures and are moving between two or more of them.
One common tortoise health issue is parasites. Russian tortoises can suffer from a variety of different parasites, such as ticks, mites, maggots, worms, or protozoa. Indoor tortoises can pick up parasites, but if your tortoise is kept outdoors, he has a much higher risk of becoming infected. A healthy tortoise can easily live with a limited amount of parasites, but any health problem, major or minor, can bring on a deluge of parasites.
If your Russian tortoise has ectoparasites (usually mites or ticks), they will likely be found in skin folds, particularly on the neck and legs. To remove mites, use a small brush to brush them away. For ticks, use a pair of tweezers to pinch the tick and pull his entire body, including head, backward and parallel to the skin. Once the offending parasites have been removed, you must thoroughly clean the tortoise’s enclosure.
If endoparasites (single-celled organisms or parasitic worms) have infected your Russian tortoise, you will likely see a change in his behavior, many times in his eating habits. His feces may also be affected, becoming runny and shapeless. If your tortoise shows any of these symptoms, he should be taken to the veterinarian right away. It is not recommended that you attempt to diagnose or treat your tortoise if you suspect he is affected by endoparasites.
Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic Bone Disease is the most common nutritional problem among tortoises. It is caused by a lack of calcium, vitamin D, or exposure to ultraviolet light. Because a tortoise’s shell is so thick and made of so much bone, they require a large amount of calcium. Without the proper amount of vitamin D and exposure to sunlight, a tortoise’s body will be unable to process calcium. If they are not getting the amount they need, they will develop symptoms such as a softening of the shell and deformed jaws, which can lead to deformity of the shell, impaired movement, inability to eat, and muscular tremors.
To avoid Metabolic Bone Disease, make sure your Russian tortoise is fed a varied diet, provide supplemental calcium, and give him enough exposure to ultraviolet light. If you think your tortoise is suffering from this disease, take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible. You should also evaluate your husbandry to make sure you are providing your tortoise with the best care possible and to avoid the recurrence of this problem.