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The Tortoise and the Scare

Charlie May 2010Tortoises aren’t the type of pet that offer their owners much in the way of surprises. For the most part, tortoises spend their days crawling slowly, eating, crawling slowly, sleeping, and crawling slowly. Emergency trips to the veterinarian don’t happen often – if they happen at all.

Brandie Keaveny of Ramona, Calif., however, found herself rushing her desert tortoise Charlie for emergency care last month. “I came home from work and was playing ball with my dog,” Brandie said. “Charlie was eating grass and came over to me when he saw me. As he got closer, I noticed there was something wrong with his head. His scalp skin was pulled forward like a sardine can, exposing bone and muscle, and skin was off his ear.”

Brandie realized immediately she’d need to get 50-year-old Charlie help fast, but with her regular veterinary office closed for the day and most after-hour emergency hospitals unwilling to treat an exotic pet, she had few options. “After an hour of calling around,” Brandie said, “I found an office that had hours until 9 p.m. and would see a tortoise. We got him in and the doctor agreed that this was the strangest thing he had ever seen with a tortoise.”

With no defensive wounds or tooth and claw puncture marks visible, the veterinarian on duty knew Charlie’s injuries had not been caused by an animal attack. Because the skin on Charlie’s scalp had been pulled forward, Brandie and the veterinarian theorized that the tortoise had been resting under a low hedge, had managed to get his head caught on a branch, and pulled his head too quickly into his shell, scraping the skin as he went.

The veterinarian prescribed a month’s worth of antibiotic for Charlie, and he wore his stitches for several weeks. Fortunately, the experience appears not to have been too traumatic for the quinquagenarian tortoise. “He acts like nothing has happened and is doing really well,” Brandie concluded.

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