Shell Repair in a Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 1998
Rachel L. Smith1; Maryanne E. Tocidlowski2, DVM; Joseph P. Flanagan3, DVM; Andrea Cannon3, BS; George Kollias1, DVM, PhD
1College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA, 2Houston Zoological Gardens, Houston, TX, USA, 3Sea Turtle Research and Rehabilitation Facility, Galveston, TX, USA


A 58-kg, 7- to 10-year-old Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) was injured in an oilrig explosion off the coast of Louisiana on November 20, 1997. The turtle was flown by helicopter to the Sea Turtle Research and Rehabilitation Facility at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Galveston, Texas. Initial examination revealed a full-thickness, midline cranial to caudal carapacial fracture. Serosanguinous fluid was present at the fracture site. Blood and mucus were orally expelled during respiratory excursions. The turtle demonstrated rear limb paresis. These clinical signs were compatible with pulmonary trauma and possible spinal cord injury secondary to shell trauma. The referring veterinarian performed radiographs. Enrofloxacin (Baytril, Bayer Corp., Shawnee Mission, Kansas 66201 USA) 5 mg/kg IM, SID, EOD and parenteral penicillin at 10,000 IU/kg SID, EOD were prescribed due to possible wound contamination.

The turtle was transported to the Houston Zoological Gardens’ veterinary hospital the following day exhibiting no change in physical condition. The animal was not severely debilitated yet was considered a significant anesthetic risk. Additional radiographs were obtained but were not contributory to determining the extent of spinal cord injury or the severity of pulmonary trauma. Additional visceral trauma was not evident. The diagnosis, based on history and clinical signs, was severe carapacial fracture secondary to trauma, with presumed pulmonary and equivocal spinal cord trauma.

The carapace was lavaged and scrubbed with povidone-iodine scrub and braced with orthopedic plates, screws, and wires on either side of the fracture. The turtle was tolerant of all procedures and returned to the rehabilitation facility immediately following repair.

Rehabilitation included initial placement in shallow water to minimize movement, with gradual increase in water depth over a period of approximately 1–2 weeks. The turtle was slowly introduced to food. Parenteral penicillin and enrofloxacin were continued for 2 and 4 weeks, respectively. The turtle’s progress included absence of oral blood and mucus after 2 days in rehabilitation, learning to swim in shallow water without the use of the rear legs, and resumption of eating after 3 weeks in rehabilitation. The turtle regained use of the rear limbs in early January 1998. It currently exhibits normal behavior and is scheduled for release from Galveston Island in late spring of 1998.


Speaker Information
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Rachel L. Smith
College of Veterinary Medicine
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY, USA

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