An 82-year-old tortoise from Cornwall has undergone major surgery to remove a bladder stone “bigger than a tennis ball”.
Joey the tortoise needed the expertise of two veterinary surgeons to safely remove the 150g mass through her shell.
Tortoises heal slower than birds and mammals and their shells are like their skeleton so it will take over a year for Joey to fully recover.
Vet Viliam Hoferica, from Penzance, discovered Joey’s bladder stone during an X-ray.
He sought the advice of an exotic veterinary medicine group as this was “the biggest” bladder stone he had come across since becoming a vet.
He said: “If the stone remained inside, it would mean that we would lose Joey for certain.”
The bladder stone with a hand for scale.
Pas Medina, an advanced exotic pet practitioner, offered his support to Viliam hoping to get Joey back to full health as soon as possible.
Pas said: “Operating on tortoises is a challenge because we need to get access to the inside.
“Given the size of the stone, the only possible way was through cutting a window onto the plastron (bottom of the shell).”
Bladder stones in tortoises and other pets can happen for a variety of reasons, including urine infections, lack of hydration, kidney disease and poor diet.
A large hole was cut on the underside of Joey’s shell.
Pas added: “There are several challenges associated with this surgery and with reptile anaesthetic. These animals’ metabolism is very slow and dependent on the external temperature.
Both surgeons and other veterinary staff were “very surprised” by the mass of the stone when it was successfully removed which “ended up being bigger than a tennis ball”.
Pas said: “In order to close everything back together we had to use resin and fibreglass. Almost like fixing a surfboard or a boat!”
Viliam added: “That will remain in place until the new layer of shell grows out.”
Joey after the fiberglass has been applied to her shell
While the stone could have been growing inside Joey for years, or even decades, it can be difficult to assess whether tortoises are in pain or not.
Pas said that the owner was “very good” at reading the signs and bringing Joey to the vet as soon as possible.
“Tortoises are tough fighters and can take a lot before they look sick,” Viliam added.