Tortoise Mouth Rot: Causes, Prevention, Treatment

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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An inflamed oral cavity in your tortoise can never be good. The chances are that your pet is suffering from stomatitis or mouth rot. If it does, then immediate medical care is necessary.

Tortoise mouth rot brief,

CauseTreatmentPrevention
Outgrown bad bacteria in the oral cavity.Mouth rot wash with disinfectant and antiseptic solutionsClean enclosure
Antibiotic Balanced diet
SurgerySuitable temperature and humidity
Stress-free environment 
Regular bathing

More details are discussed below.

Mouth Rot In Tortoise, Aka Stomatitis

Stomatitis or mouth rot is a common infectious disease in tortoises. You can also tag mouth rot as the inflammation of the oral cavity.

Either the bacteria, virus, or fungus can be responsible for the infection. But generally, opportunistic bacteria take the weak immune system for granted, attacking the gum lining and mouth. If viruses too come to the scene, the oral infection will get complicated and severe. 

Viruses related to mouth rot are, herpesvirus, adrenovirus, iridiovirus, ranavirus, west nile virus, picornaviridae, papillomaviridae, etc. Similarly, bacteria associated with stomatitis development are Mycoplasma spp., Pseudomonas, Aeromonas, Klebsiella, Salmonella, Mycobacterium, etc. 

A tortoise with a compromised immune system is more vulnerable to stomatitis. The chance of getting mouth rot increases due to the imbalance in the habitat environment. Again, tortoises suffering from any trauma are also at risk.

Causes 

Tortoise mouth inhabits millions of bacteria, both good and bad. But these bacteria are in harmony and harmless to the pet under normal conditions. Any imbalance in the environment can break this tune and influence the outbreak of bad bacteria. 

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As a result, the mouth and gum lining of the tortoise get infected.

Factors that lead to mouth rot are,

  1. Physical trauma 
  2. Stress and anxiety 
  3. Untreated mouth injury 
  4. Illness 
  5. Weak immunity 
  6. Filthy enclosure 
  7. Improper temperature and humidity 
  8. Poor diet 

Tortoises coming out of brumation have a weak immune system. As a result, they often fall victim to stomatitis. 

Symptoms 

Though the signs of mouth rot are not visible initially, the tortoise still exhibits some discomfort. The diagnosis process is easy if you pick up the hint and take the tortoise for a thorough check-up. However, the pet will show visible symptoms as the infection grows worse. 

7 common signs of stomatitis in tortoises are,

1. Swelling & Discharge:

Inflammation in the oral cavity and gum lining is one of the common symptoms of mouth rot. As a result, the pink gum of the tortoise swells and turns blood red. 

2. Ulcer:

In many cases, the inflammation is accompanied by an ulcer. The wound may bleed, making the tortoise suffer even more. 

3. Pus Accumulation:

A yellow pus development is observed around the mouth. Sometimes, the pus looks white and cheezy.

4. Discharge:

White or yellow discharge from the cavity lesion. Also, runny noses and excessive drooling are noticeable. 

5. Fatigue & Discomfort:

The sick tortoise is in constant pain because of the mouth rot. Most of its stored energy will go into healing the wound, which is why the pet looks lethargic. 

6. Appetite Loss:

The inflammation and pus development in the mouth cavity will limit the chewing ability of tortoises. Therefore, you will notice the pet refusing food. However, tortoises may refuse food for several reasons. You should first check inside the tortoise’s mouth if you notice such behavior.

7. Stress:

Any physical illness can stress your tortoise buddy. The pet will act aggressively towards its tankmates and you. Again, the tortoise may spend its time hiding because of the anxiety. 

Diagnosis 

You can determine stomatitis by studying the symptoms in tortoises. Also, inspecting the gum lining color can tell you about the pets’ health condition. However, you can not proceed to the treatments yet, without the approval of the vets.

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The professionals prescribe lab testing to be 100% sure. Blood testing and Next-Gen Sequencing are two methods to diagnose stomatitis clinically. 

Treatment 

Tortoises with mouth rot should not go untreated. In fact, you need to take the pet to a vet at an early stage. Otherwise, the infection spreads to the esophagus or food pipe and may even reach the lungs. In such cases, stomatitis can turn deadly.

3 types of treatments are available for tortoise stomatitis, depending on the severity. Such as, 

1. Creams & Solutions:

At an early stage, cleaning the mouth rot with a disinfectant stops the infection from spreading. Such antiseptic solutions are chlorhexidine diacetate/ Nolvasan (0.25 – 0.5%), 1% povidone-iodine/ Betadine, etc. Applying antiseptic cream on disinfectant wounds helps in quick healing. 

2. Medicine:

Vets may prescribe antibiotic medicines to treat stomatitis in tortoises. Ampicillin is a common drug used in mouth rot.

But do not offer your tortoise any medications without the vet’s permission. The expert will first remove the pus and then continue with the meds. 

Tortoises may show allergic reactions to antibiotics. Therefore, signs like vomiting, diarrhea, frothing, etc., after having the meds should be considered with urgency.

3. Surgery:

Removal of the necrotic tissue with an invasive surgery gives the tortoises great comfort. It takes time to heal the scar and wound. Hence, offer the tortoise meals through fluid therapy during the period.  

5 Prevention & Post-Treatment Care

Unfortunately, the removed mouth plaque can return if you are not careful enough. Hence, experts suggest following the post-treatment care for the tortoises. You can use the same guideline as prevention for stomatitis too. 

Here is what to ensure for your tortoise, 

1. Maintain Enclosure Hygiene:

A filthy habitat promotes bacterial, fungal, and viral growth. If you leave the pen dirty, the tortoise will be at a higher risk of getting infected. So, maintain the minimum enclosure hygiene. 

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For example, remove tortoise waste and food scraps every day. Make sure the substrate is not too damp for the pet.

Perform a thorough enclosure clean-up once a month and change the bedding when necessary. Cleaning the water bowl, meal dish, and bathing container is also important.

2. Focus On The Environment:

An imbalance in the enclosure can also lead to mouth rot. For example, too high or too low humidity level and temperature. 

Usually, tortoises prefer 40 – 50%++ moisture level, depending on the species. Similarly, a basking temperature of 90 – 100F and an ambient temperature above 75F are preferable for tortoises. Access the temperature guide for each species from this article.

The pen must include a proper heating lamp and a UV light. 

3. Feed Your Pet Well:

A poor diet can weaken the immunity of tortoises. So, ensuring a nutrition-rich and balanced diet is a must. Generally, tortoises are herbivorous and prefer a meal of high fiber. 

Hence, add grass, hays, vegetables, green leafy salad, plants, etc., to the tortoise meals. A fruity treat once in a while will boost their appetite. Besides, supplements are also a staple for tortoise meals.

Multivitamins, vitamin B, vitamin D, and calcium supplements are recommended to build the solid immunity of pets. Experts suggest magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, etc., minerals to beat mouth rot. 

Plan a detailed diet chart for tortoises from here.

4. Tortoise Hygiene:

Your pet itself can carry germs and bacteria on its skin and shell. Therefore, a regular bath is necessary to ensure personal hygiene. Also, mouth rot is a contagious disease, and you should keep the sick or cured tortoise isolated for now.

5. No Stress:

Tortoises feel threatened and vulnerable when you constantly pet them. Again, loud noise, continuous pen change, the sight of dogs, etc., can also stress the pets. As you know, anxiety or mental trauma is not good for the tortoise, especially when sick. Hence, avoid any source to disturb or stress the pets.

Before You Go

The shell problems in tortoises are equally severe. However, unlike mouth rot, home treatment is possible for shell diseases. Go through the common shell conditions in tortoises with symptoms, treatments, and preventions. 

5 Tortoise Shell Diseases And Home Treatments

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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