Chelonian Handling and Restraint

Key Points

  • Chelonians possess several defense mechanisms, including the protective shell and a strong, sharp beak. Aquatic turtles tend to be more aggressive, and will often attempt to bite the handler.
  • Chelonians can be challenging to restrain, because they are often extremely strong and very uncooperative. Nevertheless, it is possible to injure your patient, so only apply gentle, steady traction.
  • Often the most difficult part of the chelonian exam is gaining control of the head. Multiple techniques have been described, however patience is often a critical tool.
  • It can be physically impossible to gain control of large tortoises and chemical restraint may be necessary for many diagnostic or therapeutic procedures.
  • To minimize the risk of zoonotic exposure, wear disposable gloves whenever possible and always wash hands thoroughly after handling a chelonian.

Diagnostic and therapeutic procedures cannot be administered until you and your staff can safely handle and restrain the turtle or tortoise patient. Many chelonian patients presented to the veterinary hospital are ill and therefore their temperament and strength level can be reduced. Normal, healthy chelonians tend to be bright, alert and very strong, making them extremely challenging to restrain. Gaining control of the head can be particularly difficult, however multiple techniques have been described . . .

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