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Turtle Injuries

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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In the springtime, it's common to see turtles attempting to cross our roadways. All too frequently, they are injured by passing cars, sometimes fatally. However, with veterinary wildlife rehabilitation assistance, these injuries can often be treated, and turtles can continue to lead normal, healthy lives.

Shell Fractures

A frequent non-lethal injury is a fractured shell. Shells are injured most often when these animals are run over by cars while crossing the road. They may also be damaged by attacks from dogs or wildlife or lawn mowers.

The shell of a turtle is composed of an upper dome-shaped piece called the "carapace" and a lower plate called the "plastron." These are joined together by bony plates overlaid by hard dermal plates. Each shell is composed of living tissue.

The most obvious function of the turtle shell is to provide the animal with a protective fortress that grows larger as the animal matures. However, a turtle shell is not the same as a snail shell; he cannot leave his shell and inhabit a new shell. Injuries to the shell must be repaired and healing must occur in order for the turtle to survive.

Infection is the primary concern with fractured shells. Thorough cleaning of the wound is necessary. After cleaning, the fracture to the shell must be closed. Certain types of tapes and bonding materials can be used to close small fractures of the shell. If large pieces of the shell are missing, replacement meshes are used to help seal the defect in the shell and allow the turtle to heal. Veterinary casting material is frequently used to help seal openings in shells.

Broken Legs

Turtles also sustain injuries in the form of fractures of their legs. Usually, these injuries are so severe that amputation is often required. In these cases, the best chance for survival is through veterinary assistance.

Beak or Facial Injuries

Turtles often fracture their mouths or beaks. These fractures can be difficult to treat and healing is problematic. Continued ability to grasp and ingest food is crucial for survival in the wild.

Reconstructing a mouth can be difficult and the healing process may take a long time. Bonding and casting material are commonly used to treat facial and mouth injuries, and cleaning of the wound and removal of dead tissue is very important.

If you find an injured turtle, contact a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitation center to give the turtle proper medical care and treatment. This will give the turtle the best chance to survive and be returned to his home.

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