Desert tortoises are commonly kept as backyard pets in Arizona. Most desert tortoises are friendly and personable exotic pets but a few may be shy. A well-started, healthy, baby desert tortoise may live 50 to 75 years. In Arizona you must have a license from Arizona Game and Fish Department is to keep a desert tortoise as an exotic pet.
Dr. Kevin Wright recommends that you have your new desert tortoise examined by an experienced reptile veterinarian within the first few days you have it or even before you bring it home. The veterinarian may find a hidden health problem that needs to be helped and will discuss what your new desert tortoise needs to be healthy.
You’ll receive a $25 discount if you schedule an appointment within 7 days of getting a desert tortoise and present your adoption papers.
WELLNESS PROGRAM: Dr. Kevin Wright offers a wellness program to help your desert tortoise live a long healthy life. The wellness program includes an initial screening to detect a common infectious disease (mycoplasma, cause of upper respiratory infection), pre-hibernation and post-hibernation wellness examinations, once-a-year blood tests, and fecal tests every 6 months to detect internal parasites.
CARE: The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has an excellent-step-by-step guide to creating an outdoor habitat for your desert tortoise.
If you smoke, do not smoke while holding your desert tortoise or in the same room as your desert tortoise.
COMMON PROBLEMS: As a general rule, if you think something is different with your desert tortoise you should schedule an appointment with a veterinarian. Most veterinary offices will listen to what’s wrong with your desert tortoise and let you know if your pet seems to have an emergency requiring immediate attention or if it has something that may wait for a scheduled appointment.
Desert tortoises may lose their appetite or have diarrhea from a variety of conditions including upper respiratory disease (mycoplasma), bacterial infections, internal parasites, bladder stones, liver and kidney disease, and many other conditions.
Young desert tortoises may lose their appetite, limp or not move much, twitch, and seizure from conditions such as low calcium, lack of ultraviolet-B light, and insufficient heat. Over time, this may cause deformed shells, legs, tails, and jaws.
The Arizona desert tortoise adoption program discourages breeding desert tortoises. Dr. Kevin Wright will spay female desert tortoises when they weigh one pound or more (over 450 g). There is no easy way to neuter a male desert tortoise.
SEEK IMMEDIATE CARE for your desert tortoise if you see any of the following life-threatening conditions:
If its is not moving or moving weakly, not responding to touch or noise
If its has been attacked by another animal, such as a cat, dog, or larger bird, or struck by an object. See Shell Injuries of Turtles and Tortoises
If it is open-mouthed breathing, wheezes or clicks, forms bubbles in the nostrils or mouth
If it seizures, twitches or rolls uncontrollably, frantically moves its legs and tail, staggers, has a head tilt or has its head rolled back
If you see bleeding that doesn’t stop, a broken bone or leg that is held in an odd position, an eye injury, or a cut in the skin that has a flap or exposes muscle or internal organs
If it has been in the sun or in a room that is uncomfortably hot to you and is open-mouthed breathing, weak, or unconscious
If it has something coming out of its cloaca (vent) that is red, pink, white, black, green, or bleeding, or it is straining to pass something
If it has eaten swallowed a rock, large piece of mulch, or other indigestible object
If its acts as if it is in pain and refuses to move or bites at a body part
While the following signs are often not life-threatening, your desert tortoise needs veterinary care as soon as possible and no later than by the next day:
If it is hiding a lot or sleeping a lot
Watery discharge to mucus discharge from its nose or eyes
Swelling or growth anywhere on its body
Crusts or other changes in the skin
Stops eating or becomes fussy about what it eats
Copyright 2012, Dr. Kevin Wright, DABVP (Reptile & Amphibian Specialist)
Member of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians
Wright Bird & Exotic Pet House Calls
Distinctive Veterinary Care for Unusual Pets
(480) 495 3420
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