By Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP
Q. I have a baby sulcata tortoise that is only a few months old. He used to be very active – always walking all over the place – but now he doesn’t move much at all. His eyes are shut, and he won’t open them. His shell is also getting soft. Does he need more calcium? I really wonder what is wrong with my sulcata tortoise. What can I do to help him?
A. I am very concerned about your baby sulcata tortoise. Have a qualified herp vet examine and treat him as soon as possible.
Providing me with the temperature at which you keep your sulcata tortoise and also what you feed him would help me evaluate your husbandry situation. You didn’t give me this information, so I’ll make a few educated guesses.
I suspect your sulcata tortoise can’t -- not won’t -- open his eyes. Eyelids swollen shut are often a result of vitamin A deficiency. The liver stores vitamin A in the hatchling. As the body uses it up, the hatchling tortoise may show signs of hypovitaminosis A if the nutrient is not replenished in the diet.
Injectable vitamin A can be dangerous if overdosed. It is often better to give a young tortoise oral beta-carotene, which is then converted in the body to active vitamin A. Excess vitamin is excreted unchanged, so it is safe and nontoxic -- unlike injectable vitamin A.
Baby sulcata tortoises do best when a portion of their diet is consists of commercial tortoise pellets made for hatchlings. If the diet is one-third to one-half commercial tortoise pellets, the young tortoises seem to have stronger shells and fewer problems with swollen eyelids. Unfortunately, this won’t help your little tortoise now.
You need to get your sulcata tortoise to a herp vet. You should also bring in a fresh fecal sample for evaluation and possible culture.
Your tortoise may also have another problem, such as an eye infection. That is why you need to see a herp vet for an accurate diagnosis.
The temperature range for your sulcata tortoise should be 73 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and you need two good thermometers to measure the temperature in different areas of the habitat. You also need a quality full-spectrum light that provides UVB for proper calcium utilization. Baby sulcata tortoises should be soaked at least three times per week in a shallow dish of water to maintain proper hydration.
Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP has been an avian/exotic/herp animal veterinarian since 1981. She is a regular contributor to REPTILES magazine.
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