Lumps Under a Tortoise’s Skin – Recognizing and Treating Abscesses

Lumps under a tortoise’s skin may indicate an abscess. Ear abscesses are the most common type, occuring due to bacterial infections. Early stage abscesses can be treated with injectable antibiotics, while those that are more advanced may require surgery to open and drain the abscess.

A tortoise with a lump under its skin might be a very unusual sight for most. Unless you work with tortoises or study them, you may not know why there is a lump under your tortoise’s skin, and what you should do if you spot one. Believe it or not, even tortoises can get abscesses, and when this happens, they should be taken care of as a matter of some urgency.

Unfortunately, not many tortoise owners know what to do, and many may think it is simply a normal part of the tortoise’s physiology. As a result, the abscess might progress, making it harder to treat. So, how do you recognize an abscess under your tortoise’s skin, and how can it be treated?

What Are Abscesses and Why Are Tortoises Prone to Them?

Abscesses are collections of pus that form under the skin or inside the body. They can develop anywhere, and they can be very painful.

Even though it seems unlikely to someone who’s never taken care of tortoises, abscesses or ‘furuncles’ are something that tortoises are prone to. They are very hard to the touch, and they will be seen under your pet’s skin when they occur.

So, if you notice a lump under your tortoise’s skin and know it’s an abscess, you should do a bit of investigation to know what caused it. It’s important to find the reason so that not only can you treat the current abscess, but just as importantly, you’ll be able to prevent any further abscesses cropping up again in the future.

Some factors that contribute to an abscess in tortoises are:

  • Improper Temperatures – Tortoises need to live in an environment that has the ideal temperature for them. Otherwise, it might weaken their immune systems, which in turn makes it more likely a bacterial infection will develop.
  • Lack of Vitamin A – Vitamins are necessary for tortoises, and Vitamin A is one of the most crucial. Vitamin A helps generate the cells in the skin and lining of the respiratory tract. Not getting enough Vitamin A can lead to an abscess. This is possible in captive tortoises that are only fed foods with low levels of Vitamin A.
  • Not Having Enough Direct Sunlight or a Good UVB Bulb – Tortoises need to absorb calcium, and they do so by getting direct unfiltered sunlight. So, having a high-quality bulb is a must. Therefore, if they do not get the light they require, they will not have enough calcium and this will drag down their immune system, again making them more susceptible to abscesses, and other serious health issues.
  • Environmental Stress – Tortoises need to stay in a peaceful environment, where they are not stressed or scared that they might be preyed upon. If you do not provide your tortoise with enough space, enough water, or a hide in which to retreat, they can easily become stressed, leading to a compromised immune system, which may in turn lead to the development of abscesses. Another source of stress might be having too many tortoises kept in the same enclosure.
  • Dirty Conditions – Not only is it unpleasant for a tortoise to live in an unclean environment, but it might also make them more likely to develop an abscess. If your tortoise lives in an enclosure with urine, feces, and unclean water, it will be prone to getting a bacterial or fungal infection. Bacteria and fungal organisms can irritate the skin, thus making an abscess more likely to happen. Even leftover foot that has been allowed to fester might lead to this issue.
  • Injuries – There is also a possibility that your tortoise might get injured while spending time in the garden, or if there are sharp objects in their enclosure. An injured area may become infected due to bacteria getting into the skin, which will later potentially cause an abscess.

How to Recognize if Your Tortoise Has an Abscess?

Recognizing an abscess is not that difficult, but if it’s in the very early stages, it might be harder to spot. Abscesses appear in the form of lumps under the pet’s skin. Most commonly, they appear on the legs, inside the nares, inside the mouth, and the ears. Thus, any lump or bump under the skin should receive immediate attention from an expert.

Aural abscesses are the most common ones for tortoises. They form right where the tortoise’s ear is located, on the side of the head. Swelling is a definite sign that an abscess formed there.

When the tortoise has this issue, it will feel a lot of discomfort and might refuse to eat too.

How to Treat Abscesses

In order to treat the abscess, you should make an appointment with the vet, and crucially, you mustn’t attempt to do anything to treat it home. If you do, you risk introducing further infection or inflicting unecessary suffering on your tortoise.

At the vet surgery the tortoise might receive injectable antibiotics to deal with the abscess, but this is only done if the infection is in its early stage. The right antibiotic will be chosen after some tests are carried out.

However, the most common way to treat the tortoise is by making an incision and opening up the abscess to drain and clean away the puss that has accumulated. While the tortoise is healing, the abscess may be left open so any further/leftover pus will continue to drain.

Until the tortoise heals, you will have to take care of it by cleaning the area with antiseptics, giving it antibiotics, and applying topical medications as directed by your vet. Exactly what you do will depend on what the veterinarian thinks is the most appropriate course of action.

How to Prevent Abscesses

Preventing an abscess is possible. You have to make sure you feed your pet the right food, especially those foods that are rich in vitamin A. Then, it’s imperitive to clean and maintain the enclosure of the tortoise, getting rid of the feces, leftover food, and any other detritus, while making sure the drinking water is always clean.

In addition, the tortoise should be housed in a stress-free environment, have the right temperature and light requirements met, and not be able to access any sharp objects that may lead to injury.

Final Thoughts

Abscesses are painful for tortoises, but luckily, they can be both prevented and treated. At the first sign of an abscess on any part of your tortoise’s skin, make sure to take every action you need to so that they do not continue to suffer unecessarily.

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