Information about activities. How to join the TT. Discussion list, for members and others! Species-specific Care sheets Articles from our Newsletter. Links to important sites. Links to members' sites. Search our site! What has been updated, and when.

FAIRBRASS, S.B. (1991) Tortoise Epidemic - Quarantine and Barrier Nursing Techniques.

Tortoise Trust Newsletter, 1991 No. 4

         Some species are highly susceptible to epidemic disease while others appear to be immune. Certain species may be carriers. Tortoises which are not found together in the wild should not be kept together in captivity. All tortoises should be quarantined when symptoms appear.

         Disease can be spread by head-to-head contact, spitting, coughing, sneezing, biting, courtship and copulation. There can be indirect spread if tortoises eat or drink from the same dishes, bath in the same water, eat or walk through urine or faeces or simply walk over the same ground. Flies can carry disease from one pen to another. Food rejected by one tortoise should never be offered to another. Owners can transfer infection by handling tortoises, particularly if an animal urinates, defecates or bleeds while being held. Always wash hands and change or clean and disinfect contaminated clothing before handling another tortoise.

         Sneezing and coughing expel germs into the air with enough force to travel several feet. Germs from dried faeces, urine and saliva are carried on dust particles. Ideally pens should be several feet apart, with boundaries several times the height of the tortoises. Vegetation acts as a natural filter.

         Even sick tortoises should be kept outside if possible to maintain natural conditions. If an indoor vivarium is used, it should have fitted forced air ventilation and the animal should be transferred to more natural conditions as soon as possible.

         Barrier nursing: Always use clean food utensils and tools, and wash hands between handling different tortoises. Do not use the same equipment (drinking bowls etc) for different tortoises, and do not use for the same tortoise without cleaning and disinfecting. Immediately after use, put items into a pot of disinfectant. Break disposable items to prevent them being used again. Reusable items should be first washed and rinsed, then soaked overnight in Milton or 5 vol hydrogen peroxide and rinsed thoroughly in clean water before use.

         Wear disposable gloves and apron when handling sick tortoises, and plastic overshoes if you have to walk into their pens. Polythene bags over the shoes are adequate. Wear separate clothes for dealing with sick and healthy tortoises, and wash them daily.

         Check each pen daily to remove faeces and uneaten food, then disinfect the area with iodine or 70% alcohol. Garden tools must be disinfected between pens. Wash off visible debris, immerse in diluted bleach for five minutes, rinse and wipe dry. Rubbish should preferably be burnt but can be wrapped and put in a dustbin. Don't put in on a compost heap.

         Germs can contaminate soil for years so never re-use a pen occupied by a sick or suspect tortoise without disinfecting it. Remove and burn all vegetation. Dig up the top three inches of soil and sterilise by burning, turning the pile often until each batch is thoroughly 'cooked'. Small amounts may be spread on trays and put in an oven at 250C for two hours, or in a pressure cooker at 15psi for twenty minutes. The soil can then be returned to the tortoise pen and replanted.

         Rocks, wood, concrete and other hard surfaces should be cleaned with detergent, rinsed and swabbed with diluted bleach. Work it well into corners and crevices and rinse off after five to ten minutes.

         Occupied quarantine pens should not be kept sterile. The organisms in air, soil and vegetation are important to the tortoise. Simply sterilise any area suspected of harbouring the epidemic disease.

Recommended disinfectants: Milton for feeding equipment.

70% alcohol (seven parts isopropanol or methylated spirit to three parts cold water). Swab or spray onto clean surfaces and allow to dry. Good for surfaces and tools which must be used often.

5 vol hydrogen peroxide: 30 vol hydrogen peroxide diluted with five volumes of cold water.

Bleach: Dilute as recommended. Swab or spray onto clean surfaces and rinse off after five minutes.

Iodine: Betadine or other makes of povidone iodine work well if used neat. Tincture of iodine may be diluted 1:10 with clean water.

Alternatively mix 1g iodine crystals with 2g potassium iodide in a little cold water, then dilute to 100ml with cold water. Swab or spray onto clean surfaces and leave to dry. Iodine continues to act for a long time after drying.