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Tortoise Personal Health Issue

I am concerned because my reptile has been dragging his privates all day.

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I have a 45-pound sulcata that stopped eating today. I am particularly concerned because he has been dragging his penis all day. It has been hot this weekend but no more than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Do you have any idea what could be causing this? I have not changed his diet, and he gets a regular dose of orchard grass and fresh greens (romaine, radicchio and baby greens). Could it be that he has an urge to mate?

Please make an appointment with a qualified herp vet as soon as possible to have your tortoise examined and treated. A penis that remains out for an extended period of time is likely to become damaged, sometimes irreversibly. This is a potentially serious situation.


Find a vet in your area who can help you deal with this. If you cannot find someone with experience, see if you can locate a vet willing to utilize the consultation service offered by most of the larger veterinary diagnostic labs. Vets can call in and request a consultation with an experienced herp veterinarian who can help with difficult or unusual cases, or provide a second opinion. This can be very valuable for inexperienced vets, such as vets just out of school or vets who simply don’t see a large caseload of herps.

Once the penis falls out of place, the tissue will become traumatized and swell, making it almost impossible for the penis to retract back through the cloaca. Sometimes, the tissue will also bleed excessively. Dragging his penis through his enclosure in the heat is a scenario for potential disaster.

A herp veterinarian will most likely sedate the patient, apply a hygroscopic agent to draw excessive fluid from the extruded penile tissue, and then gently place the penis back inside the cloaca. Sometimes a purse-string suture is placed loosely around the cloaca to help retain the penis until things start returning to normal internally. Occasionally, if the penis damage is extensive, it could be necessary to amputate the organ. This will not affect the tortoise’s ability to urinate, but it would render him unable to breed successfully with a female.

Support care is usually necessary, including antibiotic therapy and perhaps fluids. Please don’t wait. Have your tortoise checked out immediately.

Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP has been an avian/exotic/herp animal veterinarian since 1981. She is a regular contributor to REPTILES magazine.


Need a Herp Vet?
If you are looking for a herp-knowledgeable veterinarian in your area, a good place to start is by checking the list of members on the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarian (ARAV) web site at www.arav.com. Look for DVMs who appear to maintain actual veterinary offices that you could contact.