Putting a Humpty-Dumpty Turtle Back Together

Nov 17, 2015 / Student Blogs


Late this summer, the Wildlife Medical Clinic admitted a box turtle with a badly broken shell. The cause of the injury was some type of crushing injury and nearly half of the upper shell (the carapace) was compressed down into the animal’s body cavity. The finder had kept the animal for several days before deciding he needed some medical intervention, so by the time he finally made it through our doors, he was depressed and lethargic, and we were concerned about his prognosis.

turtleFortunately, turtles are pretty darn good at plugging along in life in almost any circumstance, and with some antibiotics, pain medication, heat, and fluids, he started to perk up until he was stable enough for a surgical procedure to fix his shell. The fracture repair was challenging, to say the least, and entailed some interesting maneuvers. Because the shell was not only broken but also crushed down, we had to find ways to pry the broken pieces up and hold them in place without further damaging the bone or the soft tissues (especially the lungs) beneath the shell. A couple of hours and a lot of teamwork and ingenuity later, Humpty Dumpty was mostly put back together, albeit a little oddly shaped.

Now, nearly four months later, our little turtle is a completely different animal. He’s active, he’s eating all the time, and he’s healing. The shell is still covered with screws, wires, calcium paste, and epoxy, so it’s hard to appreciate what’s happening on the outside, but the x-rays show that things are healing nicely underneath all of that hardware. This little turtle will stay in the clinic over the winter and avoid the cold months. In the meantime, he should continue to heal and, hopefully, start to slough the outer keratin of his shell so that the epoxy can be removed this spring. Then, as soon as that shell is back to au naturel, we’ll send him on his way back into the wild.

Do you have questions or comments? I’d love to hear! Post to the Wildlife Medical Clinic account on Facebook or Twitter @WildlifeatIL.

Nicki Rosenhagen, DVM