A tale of Alisha – the hungry, hungry turtle


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At Willunga and Aldinga Vet Clinics we are happy to see all different animals – big and small. However, a case a few weeks ago was quite a novelty when Alisha a 15 year old, short-necked turtle presented to Dr Brooke Hasler at the Willunga Clinic.

Alisha is an indoor turtle kept in a large tank with the same flooring she has had for her 15 years. The flooring was fine river gravel and her tank was regularly cleaned. The night before, Alisha’s owner had noticed her straining to poo a small amount. She also recalled seeing Alisha scooping food off the floor of her tank and possibly eating some gravel. When Alisha first presented she had so much gravel build up that she was starting to prolapse her rectum. Imagine our surprise when we took an Xray and discovered just how much Alisha had ingested (eaten) of her gravel flooring!

She had a small enema to remove as much of the gravel as possible. She also had some paraffin oil to help move along the gravel higher up in her intestines. As she was straining so much and causing a rectal prolapse, we also placed a small stich to make sure this didn’t recur. Alisha got upgraded to the spa with minimal water and no gravel to make sure she couldn’t eat anymore. We also started her on a calcium supplement, as it was likely her abnormal eating habits were due to low calcium and she was trying to substitute for it.

After 2 weeks on oil we had to administer another small enema to remove some built up gravel again and removed the rectal stitch. After this there was a mass exit of the last bits of gravel from Alisha’s system!

Alisha has since recovered 100% and is back in her tank without river gravel flooring. Instead we have gone with large rocks only. Although she has an UV light she also has more time outside to enjoy natural sunshine and provide environmental enrichment.

Alisha’s case is a good reminder of the importance of diet, the environment and solar exposure in all our pets. Although Alisha was fed proper turtle food she was indicating that she needed an extra boost of calcium in her diet. Turtles also need a good UVA and UVB light source to utilise calcium and if they’re kept in tanks, turtles need to have finely controlled pH and nitrate levels in their water. If you have a pet turtle yourself and have any questions feel free to contact us for advice or arrange a vet health check.


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