From time to time we have to stomach tube a (usually reluctant) tortoise or terrapin. There are a few reasons for doing this, to administer medicines or give fluids or food, especially if the tortoise is not eating, particularly after coming out of hibernation.
Tortoises are not particularly co operative!, the first thing we have to do is get hold of the head, this can take some doing as when a tortoise sees a hand coming towards him or her he or she immediately pulls the head under the sheall. Once we’ve got the head we have to open the mouth, again not easy, tortoises have jaws of steel!. Once we have the mouth open we have to keep it open, if they can shut their mouth they can bite off the end of the feeding tube. Usually we wedge open the jaw with a piece of plastic from a needle cover which are the right size and strength for this purpose. We then have to get the tortoise into a vertical position and then introduce a tube, usually a dog urinary catheter (new of course!) which has been pre measured and marked with the length to where the tortoises stomach is using markings on the outside of the tortoises shell. It is important that the tube is put into the stomach and not into the lungs, if there is any doubt a little drop of water can be put down the tube and see if it moves as the tortoise breathes. Once we have done all this we can introduce, slowly, the food, medicine or water. It can take alot of time and alot of staff to get to this point!