Epidemiology of Ulcerative Shell Disease in Colombian Slider Turtles (Trachemys callirostris) in a Wildlife Facility in Colombia Between 2005 and 2009
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2014
Andrés Alejandro Castro1, DVM; Zoila I. Vivas1; Claudia I. Brieva1, DVM, MS; Carmel Witte2, MS

1Unidad de Rescate y Rehabilitación de Animales Silvestres (URRAS), National University of Colombia, Bogotá, DC, Colombia; 2Wildlife Disease Laboratories, Institute for Conservation Research, San Diego Zoo Global, Escondido, CA, USA


Ulcerative shell disease (USD) is a dermatologic disease associated with inadequate husbandry in captive turtles characterized by cutaneous ulceration in the shell.2-4 Turtles affected by USD take longer to rehabilitate, which decreases the flux and release of turtles from wildlife facilities.1 Medical records from 568 Colombian slider turtles (Trachemys callirostris) admitted for rehabilitation to a wildlife facility in Colombia were reviewed to determine the incidence, prevalence, and describe characteristics of USD over a five-year period. Prevalence of USD was 23.8% (135/568). Among cases, 106 (106/135; 78.5%) presented with USD upon admission, while the remaining 29 turtles developed USD during rehabilitation. Thus, cumulative incidence and the incidence rate were estimated at 6.3% (29/462) and 0.15 (29 cases/193 total turtle-years at risk), respectively. Mortality was 2.6 times more likely (95% CI: 1.7–4.0, p<0.01) among turtles with USD compared to those without USD. The most common comorbidities recorded with USD upon admission were metabolic bone disease and dysecdysis. Different treatments lasting an average of 132.9±125.4 days were used for turtles affected by USD; 94.8% (128/135) were treated and 39.8% (51/128) finished treatment. Only 37 (27.4%; 37/135) turtles affected by USD were released back into the wild, highlighting the importance of USD in turtle conservation programs and the need to improve treatment protocols. Additional analyses are underway to advance our understanding of the epidemiology of USD and increase the survival rates for future releases of this species. This is the first epidemiological study of this disease in turtles in a wildlife rehabilitation facility anywhere in the world.


The authors would like to thank Dr. Liliana Rojas and Dr. P.K. Robbins for their support during data collection and analysis. We would also like to thank Mr. Jesse Clark and all the volunteers, staff, and interns from URRAS that helped make this study possible.

Literature Cited

1.  Granados JL, Moreno OG, Brieva CI. Lesiones ulcerativas cutáneas en tortugas dulceacuícolas; Cutaneous ulcerative lesions in freshwater turtles. Rev Med Vet Zoot. 2013;60:61–70.

2.  Hernandez-Divers SJ, Hensel P, Gladden J, Hernandez-Divers SM, Buhlmann KA, Hagen C, et al. Investigation of shell disease in map turtles (Graptemys spp.). J Wildl Dis. 2009;45(3):637–652.

3.  Johnson JH. Husbandry and medicine of aquatic reptiles. In: Tully TN, Mitchell MA, Pettifer GR, eds. Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, Volume 13. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2004:223–228.

4.  Lovich JE, Gotte SW, Ernst CH, Harshbarger JC, Laemmerzahl AF, Gibbons JW. Prevalence and histopathology of shell disease in turtles from Lake Blackshear, Georgia. J Wildl Dis. 1996;32(2):259–265.


Speaker Information
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Andrés A. Castro, DVM
Unidad de Rescate y Rehabilitación de Animales Silvestres (URRAS)
National University of Colombia
Bogotá DC, Colombia

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