The Egyptian Tortoise: its natural history, its captive care, its beauty, its lore. . .
When something goes wrong. . .
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It has been noted elsewhere on this site that the first thing a kleinmanni keeper must do (indeed every tortoise keeper) is establish a good working relationship with a veterinarian trained in the care of turtles and tortoises. Too often keepers wait until something is wrong to start looking for professional help. The problem is that by then, the Vet already needs to know the animal, and to note its baseline activity level and health status. Also, a first vet visit often heads off problems that don't need to arise later on if they are nipped in the bud sooner rather than later. This page is about a special problem experienced by tortoises called metabolic bone disease. It can develop in adults; pyramiding is one form of the problem and one that can be manipulated in some degree nutritionally. This page is a case report about MBD (metabolic bone disease) in a neonate.

PHOTO ESSAY:
DEPARTURE OF A SOUL

AT THREE MONTHS, THE RUNT LOOKS HEALTHY AND WELL
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8 GM., AND BARELY THE SIZE OF THE QUARTER

AT FOUR MONTHS, WE HAVE GAINED NO WEIGHT
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8 GMS., AND BARELY LARGER THAN A QUARTER

AT FOUR MONTHS, THE NEONATE (L) WITH HALF-SIB (R)
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THE HALF SIBLING WEIGHS 14 GMS, COMPARED TO THE NEONATE'S 8 GMS

AT FIVE MONTHS, SERIOUS SIGNS OF HYPOCALCEMIA
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THE RUNT (L) SHOWS SIGNS OF SOFT SHELL IN THE PLASTRON

THE BONE UNDER THE SHELL IS RESORBING
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THE CARAPACE AND PLASTRON BECOME SOFT AND PAPER-THIN

WITHIN A FEW DAYS, ALL SYSTEMS ARE AFFECTED
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THE RUNT (R) IS NO LONGER ABLE TO MOVE OR EVEN OPEN ITS EYES

SOFT SHELL: MBD AS
A FORM OF HATCHLING FAILURE SYNDROME

AS CALCIUM ABSORBS, THE PLASTRON GOES TRANSPARENT
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THE BONE OF THE SHELL IS DISAPPEARING FROM BENEATH THE KERATIN OF THE PLASTRON

It goes by many names. Hatchling failure syndrome. Failure to thrive. And it takes many shapes. Sometimes it is respiratory, sometimes (as in this case) an issue of metabolic bone disease of unknown origin. When it happens like this, it is also called "soft baby syndrome."

It is, thankfully, not all that common in kleinmanni. There are species such as Gopherus agassizi in which whole clutches of hatchlings are lost to this condition. To lose even one this way is a disappointment and a heartbreak. Nevertheless, one puts one's self to a natural checklist to see what might have gone wrong.

Was it the husbandry? With three other hatchlings in the same environment and habitat, and with every indication that the MBD hatchling's food and water intake were as normal as those of the others, the answer is likely not. Everybody else in this hatchling group is doing fine, in fact, thriving. What could possibly have sent this runt on a downward spiral to its eventual death?

Long conversations with my own and other veterinarians as well as other tortoise keepers lead me to believe that we simply do not know in cases such as this. In the wild, it is simply the case that not all hatchlings survive. Sometimes there are genetic problems that can never be traced. Sometimes there are physiological abnormalities that are only revealed on necropsy.

It might even be worth investigating the role of maternal calcium depletion in such cases as this. Testudo kleinmanni females lay eggs 2 to 3 at a time, three or four times over the course of an egg laying season. If one figures a maximum of eight eggs over the course of a four month egg laying season, one must ask if there is enough calcium remaining for the proper formation of the final embryo and egg? Does the hatchling emerge with sufficient calcium in its bones to survive in the long term to begin with? Was there sufficient nutrition left in the eighth yolk sac to sustain the hatchling over those opening months of its life?

These are questions for which there are not currently answers. It is the inclination of tortoise keepers to blame themselves when a charge is lost in this kind of way. Sometimes the best veterinary care is of no avail. Some just don't make it. And we let it go, and move on, caring for our remaining charges with the same passion we brought to our concern for the one lost.

MORE COMMON HEALTH CHALLENGES
FOR KLEINMANNI AND OTHER TORTOISES

The most common challenges will be nematodes, roundworms, Ascarid worms in the intestinal tract. These can be treated rather readily when detected in fecal exam. Next on the list will be respiratory challenges from habitats that are kept either too dry, or alternately, too damp. My experience teaches me that symptoms of both of these respiratory issues mimic one another. Of particular danger for presenting pathogenic respiratory problems are the mycoplasma organism along with certain bacteria, including pasteurella testudinis.

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"You can't trample infidelswhen you're a tortoise.I mean, all you could do isgive them a meaningful look."

-- Terry Pratchett, "Small Gods"

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All information and photos used in these pages is protected by copyright. Photos not taken by myself are credited; texts are fully noted and references included on the final page.  Use other than personal of the information or photos presented here requires my express written consent and / or that of the original author or photographer of the materials, and can be initiated by contacting me through this link. Any such use without such express written consents will be subject to legal action.

The Egyptian Tortoise: its natural history, its captive care, its beauty, its lore. . .
Fred L. Erwin, Jr., 2004 - 2005 C.E.