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For tortoise, terrapin and turtle care and conservation

Barium Studies in two Spur-thighed Tortoises, Testudo graeca

BCG Bristol Symposium 1978.

Apart from obvious radio-opaque lesions, radiography of chelonian internal organs is not very satisfactory largely because of the external shell. In June-July 1977, barium studies were performed on two Spur-thighed Tortoises, Testudo graeca to determine the value of barium in delineating the chelonian G.I. tract and the rate of Passage of ingesta in an attempt to rationalise oral drug dosage regimes and artificial feeding.

The tortoises were maintained in a similar environment to other British pet tortoises and average daily temperatures over the study were 69°F. (range 65-75) and nocturnally 57°F. (range 52-64). Routine anthalmintic treatment with thiabendazole (Equizole. Merk Sharp & Ohom at 400 mgm/Kgm soft body weight (Moser, 1973) was performed via a stomach tube and a quantity of barium sulphate was added to the aqueous solution. A-P radiography revealed that barium accumulated in the gastric pylorus after three hours but gastric emptying was not complete until twenty-three hours (male tortoise) and eighty hours (female tortoise). The barium was Followed radiographically through the B.I. tract and was cornpletely eliminated per cloaca by twenty-Five days in the male and twenty-eight days in the female. Interestingly, expulsion of the barium/thiabendazole mixture was accompanied by passage of both live and dead nematodes, Angusticaecum sp. in both chelonians.

Although this study was very limited and could have been affected by the presence of the barium, thiabandazole and/or nematodes, it does illustrate that G.I.contents may be retained For long periods in chelonia and that some suggested drug dosage regimes are irrational. Moser (19731 for example suggested a worming regime of thiabendazole at 400 mgm/Kgm repeated after two days which is virtually the same as giving 800 mgm/Kgm once. Even at 400 mgm/Kgm, the efficacy of thiabendazole in killing Angusticaecum was poor.

In debilitated specimens, oral Force-feeding may be necessary.Overzealous feeding with rich proprietary foods should be avoided since prolonged retention in the chelonian G.I. tract may allow bacterial proliferation. A recent postmortem on a tortoise revealed a severe enteritis and peritonitis caused by a profuse growth of E. coli and Enterococcus organisms. In retrospect, this was almost certainly due to the Author's over-Feeding with Complan (Glaxo-Farley Foods Ltd.) and he now only feeds anorexic specimens with such diets once weekly.

Bisset (1973) noted that barium was still present in her tortoise eight days after administration but there was no further follow-up. Further studies are needed, on tortoises kept at their optimum temperature of 80-850F. as well as "pet" tortoises.

A Full account of this study has been published in the Veterinary Record,

REF. Holt, P.E. (1978) Vet. Rec. 103, 198-200.


BISSET, D. (1973) The Dented Tortoise. International Turtle and Tortoise Society Journal 7 (1) : 23-25.

HOLT, P.E. (1978) Radiological Studies of the Alimentary Tract i n two Greek Tortoises. Veterinary Record, 103, 198-200.

MOSER, H. (1973) Helminths in the Alimentary Tract of Tortoises and Therapeutic Trials with various Anthelmintics. Munchen Inaug. Diss. 66pp.

Testudo Volume 1 1978