Very little research has been carried out on poisonings in Chelonia compared to that done on poisonings in humans, animals, fish and birds. In the absence of definitive research, we may therefore have to assume that what isnít safe for us isnít safe for reptiles, and we must make sure that tortoises and turtles in our care arenít allowed to come into contact with anything we consider poisonous.
Tortoises often donít appear to know which foods are good to eat and which are not, and there is some evidence of tortoises dying after eating plants such as Buttercups, Daffodils and Foxgloves, which are considered poisonous. Neither do they know whether we have used weed killers, fertilisers, or pesticides such as rat poison, in areas where they are allowed to roam and graze. Toxic plants and dangerous chemicals put our tortoises at risk of poisoning, so it is up to us to ensure that all the plants we offer, plant, or grow near our tortoises, are safe ones, and that we keep all weedkillers, pesticides and fertilisers completely away from them.
Different plant lists may give varying opinions as to the safety of certain plants for reptiles, but the view taken by owners of The Tortoise Table website is that we should always err on the side of caution where our beloved tortoises and turtles are concerned. It is therefore up to us to learn which plants are toxic and may poison our animals.
A good tip is to try and identify all the plants that you have in your garden or yard. Make a list of their names and look them up on our website for a guide as to their safety. If you canít identify the plant yourself, or if it is not on our database, take a picture of it and either post it on The Tortoise Table Garden Chat forum or send it to us at Images@thetortoisetable.org.uk and we will endeavour to identify it and let you know if it is safe.
Alternatively, take a large cutting of the plant (including the flower where possible), to your local garden centre or nursery and they will attempt to identify it for you. Once you have your plants identified, always write their Latin names down alongside the common name. This is important as sometimes different plants share the same common names and can only be accurately identified by their Latin name.
Always keep your reptile veterinary contact details near to your telephone as this will save time in an emergency situation. If you know what your tortoise or turtle has eaten, take the plant or any packaging with you to the vet, as this will help him/her decide on what the poison is and the type of treatment that your tortoise will need.
The signs of poisoning do vary and can include some or all of the following: respiratory distress, excess salivation, choking, vomiting, tremors, convulsions or paralysis. As death may occur as a result of poisoning, ensure there is no delay in getting your tortoise to a specialist reptile vet for immediate treatment.
Some poisons work quickly, with catastrophic effects, and some work slowly, causing damage as they gradually accumulate in the body. With accumulative poisoning the symptoms may include the tortoise showing signs of muscular weakness, the tortoise unable to lift itself to walk or unable to walk, and gastro-intestinal upset including diarrhoea. Do not attempt to diagnose a case of poisoning yourself, specialist veterinary help should be sought as a matter of urgency. If the poisoning is one that is accumulative, the tortoise should make a good recovery if the offending poison is removed, the tortoise is kept well hydrated and is fed on safe food so that the toxins can be eliminated from the liver and out of the body.
DONíT FORGET! Information provided in this article is not meant to be a substitute for expert medical advice. If you suspect that your tortoise has had an adverse reaction to any food, or has ingested poison in any other way, then specialist veterinary advice should be sought immediately.
With special thanks to Hannah Bould B.V.M.S., M.R.C.V.S., who reviewed this article to ensure that the contents were accurate.
© The Tortoise Table, 2012. All rights reserved.