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Tortoise Esophagostomy Procedure

Veterinary write-up by: Dr. Marc Kramer

Anorexia, or failure to eat, is one of the most common ailments in sick turtles and tortoises. Many sick chelonians stop eating for days, or even weeks, and there comes a point where nutritional support is paramount to making a recovery. Turtles can be very difficult to force-feed, or give oral medications to, because of their ability to pull their head into the shell and go into "lock- down" mode. There is however a way to get around this problem in some cases -- the use of an esophagostomy feeding tube. This is a procedure that can be performed by a veterinarian, while the turtle is under sedation or anesthesia. The placement of a feeding tube such as this enables the caretaker to provide food, fluids, and oral medications through a simple tube, without the stress of pulling out the turtle's head and forcing material into its mouth every day. The esophagostomy feeding tube ends in the turtle's stomach (as can be seen in the tortoise's x-ray), and food and medication can be easily delivered on a daily basis, without any stress. Fresh foods can still be offered, because the esophagostomy tube will not hinder normal feeding. As the turtle recovers, the number of tube feedings should be reduced to encourage the appetite. When the tortoise is finally eating regularly, the tube is removed by the veterinarian. The hole is not sutured once the tube is pulled; it heals fine on its own. Consult with your reptile veterinarian if an esophagostomy feeding tube is right for your sick turtle. There is an article in Exotic DVM magazine, Volume 2.6, on esophagostomy tube placement in chelonians. Your veterinarian should consult this article if necessary. CLICK HERE TO SEE ANIMAL WEBCAMS

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