Sad Story from Utah

Jabon

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Hello Tortoise Forum,

I have a sad story to share, it started happy though.

My wife and I look into many different animals before deciding that a Russian Tortoise was the right pet for our family. We researched habitats, feeding, and how to choose a good one (I now wish I had spent much more time on the latter.)

We found that we could make a habitat out of a storage tub. So we got the biggest one we could find (Why do they all stop at 50 gal? What’s wrong with 75 gal, or more?) We put in a 50/50 mix of a substrate made from some kind of pet wood chips (I’ll have to look up what it actually was) and a ground up coconut dirt like stuff that felt pretty moist. I then built a little deck, and a set of stairs.

Then we went to a local pet shop. (Did I just hear you cringe?) There were 4 tortoises in the one tank which I thought was a bit crowded. It did have a hide for them to crawl under (one at a time, hey no shoving!) and a plate of food with carrots and some type of lettuce. We also picked up a ceramic lamp, and a Zoo Med Power sun bulb.

We picked a female russian tortoise. She was very active, and had clear eyes. Both things that I had read you should look for. My wife tells me that she did have some bits of her shell flaking off, but I don’t remember seeing them. (I’m sure she’s right… she always is. ;)

VIDEO0113_0000005049_1.jpg
We named her Shelby. She climbed the stairs almost immediately, which was so fun for the kids and us to watch. We fed her nightly with food from http://www.russiantortoise.net ‘s edible plants and avoiding the ones from their toxic list. (She didn’t like dandelions, until we tricked her into eating some with another leaf. After that she always ate the dandelions first. They became her favorite)

IMAG1660.jpg

Shelby was like having another kid, she was part of us, and our family didn’t feel complete without her. (We went camping once, making sure she would be well cared for, and we all missed her terribly. The kids kept asking why we left her behind. My wife even wanted her to come with us the next time, which wouldn’t work for temperature and many other concerns.) We were all very happy, and loved the fact that she was expected to live more than 40 years, how wonderful!

For months she seemed like she was doing great. She was very responsive, and active and ate plenty of dinner each night. (Who keeps feeding Shelby some extra dandelions before dinner? Oh right that was me.) Her temperatures (by my laser thermometer, bzzzuu bzzzu bzzzzuuu (those are my laser sounds)) were in the mid 90s by day and down to the mid 60s by night. She loved her baths which we gave her 2-3- times per week, letting her soak for about 20-30 minutes. She would drink some water then poop. (Good pooping tortoise! She also pooped all over her deck, and the stairs. It’s good for kids to learn to clean up poop, after all I cleaned up their poop. What poops around, poops around. Okay that didn’t come out right. ;)

The one thing I did notice was that she ate a little bit less than she used to. She didn’t stop eating all together, just slowed. Then she ate a little less, and a little less. A month later she was eating less than half the dinner she used to, she didn’t move as much either, she just rested under her heat lamp all the time. We had to really rub her shell to get her to wake up for her baths. Then it progressed to where she wouldn’t eat any more. She almost drank nothing in her baths. She didn’t poop any more. She almost never opened her eyes (My wife looked this one up and found out that an infection can make their eyes swell up in a way that makes it hard for them to open). We got very scared for her.

I found a vet nearby that works with exotics. They seemed very knowledgeable, both the girl at the desk, and the doc told me about their own tortoises. Doc said that she had shell rot. He was able to remove small parts of her shell with very little effort, they just flaked off. Shelby had very little energy. He put her on an antibiotic for 7 days, and had his nurse give the first shot and teach me how to do the rest. One shot per day in one of her front legs, alternating which leg each day. He also gave me something to put in her bath. (I’ll have to look it up, it started with a B). He told me the idea was to combat the problem from both inside and outside.

We were so careful about doing exactly what was prescribed. We gave her the shots, we gave her the baths, (We used a ladle too scoop the brown bath medicine onto her shell, it felt like we were basting her, and we joked about how we were stirring turtle soup.) She didn’t eat, and only drank a tiny bit. We started forcing her mouth open and giving her small bites of leaves (her favorite dandelions).

The day after the last shots Shelby opened her eyes!!! (Yay she’s going to get better!!). She had energy, she walked around her habitat, she played in her bath (a little) and she actually looked at us, for almost the whole day. Only she still wouldn’t eat. So we force fed her a few leaf bites again. We felt like we were doing so much better, now all we had to do was get Shelby to eat.

The next day she wouldn’t open her eyes. (NO!!!!!!) My wife made a leaf blend that she put in a syringe. She would pry open Shelby’s mouth, and I would squirt a little bit of leafy mix into her mouth, then we would wait for her to swallow, then repeat. It took a long time, but we got her to eat about 1 tsp.

The next day we took her back to the vet. Shelby had lost weight, and was even weaker than before. One thing I was shocked about was the Vet questioning himself on why he would only give her 7 days of antibiotics, when he should have given her 10. I wish he had given her 10, it might have helped. He said it was best if we put a tube in her neck to feed her. He spent some time telling us how the feeding would work. About 1.5 – 2 cc of baby food each day, or a bit more if we spaced it out to multiple feedings per day. We left Shelby with him to perform the surgery, which he said would take about an hour before he could start due to some other patients who had been waiting.

We went back about an hour and half later, having picked up some baby food for Shelby. (I don’t think he started the surgery until we got back we had to wait a long time, but it could have been because of something the vet said happened…) When he finally brought Shelby to us, she had an orange tube sticking out of her neck. It was putting enough pressure on her that her head was pushed all the way to her right. She seemed like she was in much worse condition than when we had left her. (which I suppose is probably normal for a surgery, but still my heart sank, and I could sense the same from my wife). Shelby seemed like she was too week to do anything now. He showed us that the tube should not go deeper than a mark he had made on the tube, or be pulled because it could come out. (Then he dropped the bomb) He told us that it had been pulled out (What?!) by one of the nurses trying to cut the tube to a more manageable length. (So he had to do the surgery twice!!!) He told us more about the feeding process, and gave us 10 more antibiotic shots, and more bath med. We were now supposed to sponge bath so that her open wound (where the tube goes in) wouldn’t soak in it or worse drown her. Then she coughed up blood (!!!), then did so again.

We took a barely alive member of our family home, and checked on her so many times. We fed her that night with the tube, and chased it with some water to keep the tube from causing another infection.

The next day, all day my wife and kids checked on her over and over, and I did too when I got home from work.

A half hour before it was time to feed her I heard some clicking or grunting coming from her. I went and looked at her, she didn’t seem to be struggling with her tube or anything so I let her be. (Why, oh why didn’t I touch her and check closer?)

When it was time to feed her, my wife picked her up, only to find that her little body had no life in it. Shelby had left us.

Kids cried. Wife cried. I cried, as we held a small funeral for our dear Shelby.

My Wife and I through tears have talked about it, and we decided that we would still like to have a pet in our lives. We plan to invite a new russian tortoise into our lives. Not to replace Shelby because nothing ever could, but to give our love to another as we did with Shelby. I’m hoping that through my story you, the members of this forum, may see where I went wrong, and what I need to do better in the habitat, or in our care, or whatever else, so that we can offer the best possible home when we adopt again.


Thank you.
 

Eduardo Hernandez

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I am so sorry. I know its hard to loose a shelled buddy.

For your next tort, I'd recommend getting a larger enclosure. The minimum size is recommended to be about 8 feet by 4 feet. If you'd like to keep a second story, make sure to put walls around the stairs and upper level, to prevent them from falling down . The care sheet on here is an amazing tool for beginners.

Also, I'd recommend looking for another one on Craigslist or rescues. So many of them need a new home and you won't be supporting pet shops that way.
 

seanang168

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My eyes were wet at the end of the story. But in the middle I did laugh a little whenever you inserted some humours
 

Amber26

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So very sorry for your loss. It sounds like you did everything you could for Shelby.
 

Yvonne G

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The only thing that springs to mind after reading this is that you kept her too hot. I don't think that's why she got sick and died, but full grown Russian tortoises can be kept at room temperature with a hot spot under the light.

So sorry you lost your tortoise. I don't know what went wrong, but if the vet was treating shell rot with antibiotics ????? that's not the treatment for shell rot. And shell rot doesn't make their eyes swell or make them stop eating. When they stop eating the number one cause is environmental. But maybe your tortoise had a respiratory infection. ???
 

Taylor T.

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The only thing that springs to mind after reading this is that you kept her too hot. I don't think that's why she got sick and died, but full grown Russian tortoises can be kept at room temperature with a hot spot under the light.

So sorry you lost your tortoise. I don't know what went wrong, but if the vet was treating shell rot with antibiotics ????? that's not the treatment for shell rot. And shell rot doesn't make their eyes swell or make them stop eating. When they stop eating the number one cause is environmental. But maybe your tortoise had a respiratory infection. ???
Also, does that enclosure really look wet enough to cause shell rot? It looks quite dry to me.
 

Pearly

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I am so so sad for your loss! You obviously did care about your shelled friend and did the very best that you could for her.
Don't give up on tort keeping. Do more research, figure out environmental issues down to finest detail as this is usually what kills pet torts : substandard temps/humidity, plus wrong diet, lacking in safety of their enclosures and some other very common mistakes of many novice tort keepers.
Draw from this experience, study our care sheets for the species you choose, get your stuff ready and try again.
Stick around here, ask questions, take advice from this well of wisdom available to you through this Forum and I'm sure your second go around will be a success. Again, my sincere condolences and best of luck for the future.
 
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I am so sorry for your loss. It's terrible when try as you might, you cannot help them. It sounds like you went above and beyond for Shelby.

The care sheets on this site are excellent and have so much excellent information to help you with your set up for your next tortoise.
 

Tom

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Welcome to the forum. So sorry that its under these circumstances.

I see a few possibilities, but I'm going to guess that your wild caught pet store tortoise had some sort of underlying problem when you got it, and it couldn't fight it off any longer. Here are the other possible issues I noticed. You can confirm or deny them and we can eliminate possible reasons for your tortoises demise.

-When did you get her, and what time of year did the problem start showing symptoms?
-Did the tortoise have an outdoor enclosure for sunshine and exercise?
-The enclosure was too small. Okay for a baby, but way too small for an adult. This should not cause the issue you saw, but it is a common problem.
-You said it got up to 90, but where? There are four temps to know and maintain: Warm side, cold side, basking area under the bulb and over night low. 90 would be fine for the warm side during the day, cool side can be room temp for an adult russian, and your over night low in the mid 60's sounds perfect, but did the tortoise have a 100 degree basking area? Over time, not being able to get warm enough could cause the problem you saw.

Give these a read through, and see if you spot more possibilities for what might have gone wrong:
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/beginner-mistakes.45180/
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/russian-tortoise-care-sheet.80698/

Hope we can help figure out what happened, learn from it, and prevent it the next time.
 

Jabon

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Thank you all so much for your kind words.

I too was thinking that she needed more space, and had plans and even made a couple purchases towards a larger tort table. I would like to make her an outdoor pen too, but tort table first I think. I'll finish that before I get another friend.

It sounds like I needed to do a better job of tracking temperatures than I did. One comment said too hot, another said too cold. I did check her basking area, it was around 101-103 degrees F. She liked to bask at the edge of the area and her shell would range mid to high 90s when she did so. Under her deck was the cool end and, I really only checked her temperature while under there at night. which tended to be in the mid 60s. So I'll start checking the 4 temperatures that Tom mentioned to get a better idea.

I also think it was a little too dry. Despite my kids and I trying to spray it down regularly. Its dry in Utah, not like Vegas, but still very dry (I think I need a glass of water now come to think of it.). I've seen pictures of some tort tables with a pipe leading in to the hiding area for humidity. Does anyone have a thread that helps setup something like that?

I've got the substrate materials I used. 50/50 blend of Zoo Med: Eco Earth from a bag (not the brick), and zoo med Forest Floor Bedding
https://zoomed.com/eco-earth-coconut-fiber-substrate/
https://zoomed.com/forest-floor-bedding/
I didn't like the forest floor bedding. It was just wood chips, and they would always float to the surface and the eco earth would sink to the bottom. I was constantly stirring it up to try to keep it mixed. Also I never saw wood chips in anyone else's enclosure pictures.

Yvonne mentioned that it could have been a respiratory infection. If so that would make more sense to me as well about the antibiotics, although I didn't notice any breathing trouble, and the Vet didn't mention it. He thought the shell rot had caused an internal infection. He wanted to treat the internal infection with antibiotic, and the shell rot with the bath med, which I looked up, it was Betadine.

Tom also asked when we got her and when the problems started. We got her in mid March (21st I think), and noticed her eating less in early June I think. We took her to the Vet the first time June 30.

One thing from the Beginner mistakes page was over supplementing. I wasn't doing any supplements at all. I'm now wondering if she didn't have enough calcium. It looks like I should get a cuttlebone. Do you do supplements and a cuttlebone?

Another mistake I was making is we would take her outside to enjoy some sun and munch on the weeds in the lawn. She seemed to really enjoy that and we didn't loose her (that would have been almost as terrible as her actual fate). However, we'll do better in the future and put together an actual outdoor pen.

Thanks again for all your thoughts, sympathy, and for reading my (long) story.

- Jabon
 

Tidgy's Dad

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My condolences on your loss.
But welcome to Tortoise Forum.
Pouring water into the substrate and mixing it in by hand is the best way to go, spraying and misting doesn't really cut it and i don't think a humidifier is necessary.
I use cuttlefish bone and will add a sprinkle of calcium powder once a week if i feel the cuttlefish bone is being ignored.
Good luck for the future.
 

Tom

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Thank you all so much for your kind words.

I too was thinking that she needed more space, and had plans and even made a couple purchases towards a larger tort table. I would like to make her an outdoor pen too, but tort table first I think. I'll finish that before I get another friend.

It sounds like I needed to do a better job of tracking temperatures than I did. One comment said too hot, another said too cold. I did check her basking area, it was around 101-103 degrees F. She liked to bask at the edge of the area and her shell would range mid to high 90s when she did so. Under her deck was the cool end and, I really only checked her temperature while under there at night. which tended to be in the mid 60s. So I'll start checking the 4 temperatures that Tom mentioned to get a better idea.

I also think it was a little too dry. Despite my kids and I trying to spray it down regularly. Its dry in Utah, not like Vegas, but still very dry (I think I need a glass of water now come to think of it.). I've seen pictures of some tort tables with a pipe leading in to the hiding area for humidity. Does anyone have a thread that helps setup something like that?

I've got the substrate materials I used. 50/50 blend of Zoo Med: Eco Earth from a bag (not the brick), and zoo med Forest Floor Bedding
https://zoomed.com/eco-earth-coconut-fiber-substrate/
https://zoomed.com/forest-floor-bedding/
I didn't like the forest floor bedding. It was just wood chips, and they would always float to the surface and the eco earth would sink to the bottom. I was constantly stirring it up to try to keep it mixed. Also I never saw wood chips in anyone else's enclosure pictures.

Yvonne mentioned that it could have been a respiratory infection. If so that would make more sense to me as well about the antibiotics, although I didn't notice any breathing trouble, and the Vet didn't mention it. He thought the shell rot had caused an internal infection. He wanted to treat the internal infection with antibiotic, and the shell rot with the bath med, which I looked up, it was Betadine.

Tom also asked when we got her and when the problems started. We got her in mid March (21st I think), and noticed her eating less in early June I think. We took her to the Vet the first time June 30.

One thing from the Beginner mistakes page was over supplementing. I wasn't doing any supplements at all. I'm now wondering if she didn't have enough calcium. It looks like I should get a cuttlebone. Do you do supplements and a cuttlebone?

Another mistake I was making is we would take her outside to enjoy some sun and munch on the weeds in the lawn. She seemed to really enjoy that and we didn't loose her (that would have been almost as terrible as her actual fate). However, we'll do better in the future and put together an actual outdoor pen.

Thanks again for all your thoughts, sympathy, and for reading my (long) story.

- Jabon

Humidity is not a big factor for adult russian tortoises. It shouldn't be single digit, bone dry all the time, but some lightly damp substrate and a humid hide should cover their needs even in an open table.

The best substrate for them is fine grade orchid bark, and its much cheaper at the garden center vs. the pet store. I've never found it at Home Depot or Lowes, but garden centers should either have it or be able to order it. OSH has it in medium sized bags, but its not as cheap there.

I didn't see you mention what you were feeding her. This might have been a factor and it would also determine how much supplementation you'd need.
 

wellington

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So very sorry. I wouldn't count out vet error for her death. Like Yvonne said, shell rot is not treated in the manner yours was treated. Also, was the supposed shell rot on the top or bottom shell? We have not seen shell rot on the top shell, only bottom shells.
 

Mariel

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sorry for your loss.
I'm sure Shelby was more than just a pet
 

Alaskamike

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I've had tortoises die in my care. It is hard, especially when you are doing all you can to make them well.

I think it was Tom that mentioned a possible problem Shelby had , even when you bought him. Torts can go all long time before damage shows. It also frequently takes them a long time to recover.

You mentioned Shelby liked to roam in the yard, that's often very good for them. I don't allow any bug killer on my lawn so I know mine don't get contaminated grass. Like you , I never take my eyes off em there.

Take heart. Almost every keeper I know has lost a tort. If you get another , there are top breeders on the forum that can supply very well started , even mature healthy animals. I'd recommend looking into that.
Shipping is not really difficult

Good fortune to you
 
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