Veterinarians replace tortoise’s injured leg with wheel

PULLMAN, Wash. — A 12-year-old, African spur-thighed tortoise recently had its left front leg amputated at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and is doing well with a swiveling wheel attached to his shell.

The tortoise was relinquished by its owner on April 20 because the animal’s leg had suffered a severe thermal injury and tissue damage from an unknown source. The veterinarian making the initial diagnosis referred the tortoise and its ownership to WSU’s veterinary teaching hospital for definitive care. In this case, the injury was life-threatening so the decision to amputate was made.

Subsequent surgery by Dr. Courtney Watkins, a final year surgery resident, and Dr. Nickol Finch, head of WSU’s Exotic Animal Service required that the limb be amputated at the shoulder and, as a precaution, that a temporary feeding tube be surgically implanted.

To help the animal ambulate after the surgery, a small swiveling ball-type caster was attached to its shell with an epoxy adhesive. The animal took to his new prosthetic quickly with little encouragement and ambulates well on most surfaces.

“Understandably, complicated amputations in tortoises are not common surgeries so we did not know how well he would eat afterwards,” said Dr. Finch. “The feeding tube just ensured we could keep his nutrition up.”

The nutritional strategy worked. On admission, the tortoise weighed almost 20 pounds and today weighs more than 23 pounds.

The tortoise is part of a larger group of similar animals native to northern Africa known as sulcata tortoises. They are increasingly found in the U.S. pet trade and are captive bred also. The largest such tortoise on record topped 232 pounds. The oldest known sulcata tortoise in captivity is 56 years old.

WSU’s tortoise is named Gamera. The name comes from a fictional giant, flying turtle from a popular series of Japanese giant monster films produced in 1965. Gamera was a creation of Daiei Motion Picture Company to rival the success of Toho Studios’ Godzilla films.

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