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Large bladder stone removed from 80-year-old desert tortoise

dvm360dvm360 June 2023
Volume 54
Issue 6
Pages: 20

UC Davis exotic animal specialists performed the least invasive option for a successful surgery

This article was updated April 25, 2023.

Tortie, an 80-year-old California desert tortoise, was recently admitted to the University of California-Davis (UC Davis) Veterinary Hospital after a bladder stone about the size of an average human fist was found in an X-ray during his wellness examination. This is considerably large for a 12-pound tortoise, according to a news release from the university.

Tortie, the 80-year-old California desert tortoise (All images photo courtesy of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine).

Tortie, the 80-year-old California desert tortoise (All images photo courtesy of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine).

Tortie recently moved homes as his owners passed away, and he went to live with their son, Cal Dalrymple, who grew up with Tortie as a pet. Dalrymple’s wife, Michelle, scheduled a wellness checkup for their tortoise before last winter’s hibernation season, when the bladder stone was revealed.

The exotic companion animal specialists at UC Davis advised Tortie’s family that the stone had to be surgically removed. There are 2 different approaches to complete this surgery. According to a university release, the first is referred to as a plastronotomy, an invasive cut through the bottom of the shell to reach and remove the stone. However, David Guzman, LV, MS, MA, chief of the companion exotic animal medicine and surgery service, and resident Mariana Sosa Higareda, MVZ, were in favor of trying a less invasive procedure. This method consisted of surgically entering Tortie’s body cavity through an area in front of his back leg (the prefemoral fossa), using endoscopy tools to access the bladder, break up the stone and remove it through that area. If this stone was not removed, it would further grow and wreak more havoc on Tortie’s vital organs.

CT scan of Tortie's bladder stone.

Sosa Higareda (left) and Guzman (right) review endoscopy images while performing surgery on Tortie.

Tortie's bladder stone in various pieces after being removed.

“Tortie is a great example of the importance of annual wellness examinations,” said Guzman, in the release. “Thankfully, his owners chose to get a hibernation consultation, but the stone could have been identified even earlier with an annual examination, and that smaller stone could’ve been removed much easier.”

“While this procedure is less invasive, it still presented some challenges,” added Sosa Higareda, who performed this less invasive procedure for the first time during her residency. “We needed to get good exposure to the bladder through such a small opening and also come up with techniques to break down such a large stone and remove the pieces.”

After 3 hours of surgery, the massive stone was wholly broken down and removed, confirmed by endoscopic examination and a post-operative X-ray. Tortie was placed on a feeding tube for food, water, and medicine intake, as it was anticipated he would not eat on his own for some time after surgery. Because tortoises have slower metabolisms, they are known to have a slow recovery from anesthesia and it took Tortie about 24 hours to become fully awake. He was closely monitored at the hospital during that time.

Tortie received recheck examinations at 2 weeks and 6 weeks post-surgery. He gradually improved during this time, and his feeding tube was removed.

“It’s really a miracle what Dr Sosa Higareda and the team were able to do,” expressed Michelle, in the release. “They put so much effort and concern into Tortie’s care. I was so appreciative. Tortie is absolutely back to his old self. He eats well and is active every day. He even seems to have a slight spring in his step since the procedure.”


Warren R. UC Davis exotic animal specialists treat 80-year-old desert tortoise. News release. UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. April 24, 2023. Accessed April 24, 2023. https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-exotic-animal-specialists-treat-80-year-old-desert-tortoise

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