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Approach to Hit by Car Turtles/Tortoises by Chris Tabaka, DVM

August 2001- Ask the Vet - Copyright 2003 World Chelonian Trust. All rights reserved.

Perhaps the most common question I receive is the following: "I found a turtle on the side of the road. It's been hit by a car. What should  I do with it?"  The following is the basic approach I suggest in this situation:

1. Try to find a local licensed rehabber who is experienced in reptiles. Licensed rehabbers will generally have the required permits, caging setups, and experience with the species the good Samaritan finds. They will also have a local vet they utilize who has worked with them in the past. See the inset for some sites with links to various rehabbers around the world.

 

If you are unable to find a local reptile rehabber in rapid fashion and the animal is not in need of expert medical attention immediately or if it is before/after your regular reptile vet's hours, proceed to the following:

 

2. Provide a dark and quiet location for the animal. I cannot emphasize this enough. Fresh trauma patients are extremely stressed from the event that led to their injuries and further stress can push them over the edge if they are overhandled. They need some time to recover from the initial shock before the following steps
occur.

 

3. Determine what species of turtle/tortoise you are dealing with. This can be done via a number of methods including reptile field guides, the internet, local nature preserve personnel, and sending digitized photos via email to various experts. This is also all important for determining how the animal should be set up (aquatic turtle, semiaquatic turtle, terrestrial turtle, tortoise), what it should be fed, temperature requirements, etc.

 

4. Assess the injury. There are a variety of injuries that can result when modern machinery meets primitive chelonian-everything from fractured shells and exposed livers to bridge fractures to road rash to missing shell fragments. Each situation mandates a different course of action. Carefully examine the animal. Things to check
for include:

1. Many hit by car cases, especially during the spring, occur because the females are searching for appropriate areas to lay.

 

2. Even if the animal is dead in the road, ova can still often be recovered, incubated, and hatched.

 

3. Checking for this can include a radiograph (X-ray) or palpation by experienced hands.

 

4. Debridement and lavage. Debridement is the removal of foreign material and dead tissues from a wound. This can include substances such as gravel, grass, or other foreign bodies that become embedded after the injury. It also includes the removal of  devitalized tissues which can become gangrenous and/or impede healing. Lavage is the copious flushing of the injuries with warmed solutions to try to remove particulate matter. Unless the injuries are very minor, both of these procedures should be undertaken or done under the supervision of a veterinarian. Vets will have the various instruments, lavage solutions, as well as experience to do the job well to minimize further damage.

 

5. Repair. In the case of shell fractures, there are almost as many methods to repair shell fractures as there are possible fracture  sites. These various methods will be discussed in future Ask the Vet columns!


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