Saturday, November 17, 2012

De-worming the torts

When I brought home Mo and Joe, Mo was terribly infested with worms. It was so bad that I could see large numbers of them wiggling in his droppings.

After talking to the vet and my wonderful reptile rescue friend Mary Esther (I will introduce her to you in a later post!) we decided to treat all of my torts for worms. Joe was living with Mo, so he probably had some. Although I quarantine my rescues from Timmy and Roz, most tortoises do carry a small number of parasites in their gut, so it certainly couldn't hurt to just treat them all, since I had to purchase the medicine in a bigger dosage anyway.

We chose to treat with fenbendazole (the active ingredient in Panacur and Safeguard), which is safe for tortoises (and some other reptiles) in the proper dosage. The dosage is calculated by weight. I am not going to post the dosage here, because it is important that you work with your vet and/or someone experienced in treating tortoises for parasites... an overdose can kill a tort. Plus, make sure that after the treatment (which is usually 2 doses 2 weeks apart), you have a fecal sample examined by a vet to make sure you killed the worms.
The "horse" paste version is best for herbivores such as tortoises. Ask your vet about proper dosage.
I used a small syringe to measure the proper dose of the 10% fenbendazole paste, and rolled it up in a lettuce leaf cigar style. I prepared each of the 4 doses first and put each on a piece of paper labelled with the tort's name (since each tort is a different size, they each need a different dose). Then one by one I had them eat the medicine-cigar out of my hand, to make sure they got the full dose.

Mo and Joe were easy to dose. They are both so friendly and laid back, and like to eat out of my hand. Roz is GREEDY, and while he'll come right to me to eat out of my hand, he's also accidentally bitten me a few times. I held his 'cigar' at the veeeery end, and as usual, he went to town and gobbled it up. Timmy wanted nothing of hers (she doesn't like to eat out of anybody's hand), and Roz kept trying to nab some, so I finally took Roz out of the enclosure and let him run around the floor for a little while. After 2 tries, Timmy finally took her dose. Boo is so new, I haven't dosed him - he still hides whenever anyone comes near, and is also a bit of a picky eater. I'll probably just collect a fecal sample to see if it's even necessary to treat him when I have fecals run for the other torts.

Mo digging
While treating with fenbendazole, it is SUPER important to keep your tortoises well hydrated, both by soaking them every 1-2 days, and by providing a water dish (which you should have in their enclosure anyway). The protein from the dead worms will stress the tortoises' filter organs, so the extra water will help them process the waste. I gave my torts a little more of the "wet" lettuces (like romaine) than usual, to ensure they got some extra water.

Don't be surprised if your tortoises act kind of nauseated for a few days. As long as the dosage was correct, and they are getting enough water, they will be ok. After about 2 days, Mo began pooping out big clumps of dead worms (sorry, TMI). This was good, because it meant the meds were working!

I gave the torts a second dose of fenbendazole 2 weeks later, to be sure that any newly hatched worms were killed, too. This time around, Mo's droppings looked much better, with only the occasional worm.

Now that treatment is complete, I will wait a couple of weeks, and have the vet run a fecal sample for each tort. You may also want to feed some probiotics. I purchase TNT supplement from Carolina Pet supplies, and these include probiotics if you choose that option, which I did. This will help your newly wormless tort to grow healthy digestive flora in his gut.

While (very) small numbers of worms are 'normal' in wild-caught specimen, large numbers of worms can draw nutrients away from the tort, causing vitamin deficiencies. After treating Mo, I noticed a steep increase in activity and alertness. He acts so much more like a tortoise now, and seems healthier overall.

Mo chowing down on some arugula. 
DISCLAIMER: I am in no way affiliated with or being compensated by Panacur or Safeguard. I only mention them because this is the brand of medicine we successfully used. Please talk to your vet before using any medication on your pet, to insure proper dosage. 


  1. My Russian Tortise has not eaten since we got him (a little over a week)?so we took him to the vet. After a fecal exam the vet determined that he has worms. He gave us syringes with panacur and told him to put it on the food. The problem is that he won't eat so how do we get the meds in him? The vet was not very helpful when I asked that question and just said to try a strawberry or something. He won't eat anything! What do we do?

    1. I am surprised the vet didn't give the tortoise the first dose himself (herself). I'd call the vet and tell him that the tortoise is not eating, and ask if one of the vet techs could help you administer the meds. They have a special little hook tool that helps open the tortoises mouth so that the syringe can be inserted.

      A second dose will be necessary 11 days after the first dose.

      It sounds like your tortoise may still be settling in. It's not uncommon for a new tortoise not to eat for a few weeks after moving. Rather than messing with him a whole bunch, maybe give him a few days of calm, soaking him daily (wash the container out with boiling water after, to kill any worms) in warm water (depth up to his chin) to keep him hydrated. Once he starts eating, you can try giving him the panacur wrapped inside a lettuce leaf, or in a strawberry, or in cantaloupe. Apple works, too, for this. I don't normally feed any fruit, but when they get dosed with panacur, I cheat by offering fruit.


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