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What is Dystocia (Egg Retention)?

Dystocia in most animal species is known as difficulty during the birthing process.  In turtles, it can also be known as egg retention; they do not actually lay the egg and therefore, it remains inside the turtle.  This can happen due to environmental problems such as the habitat being at the incorrect temperature, not having nesting supplies, or even from nutrient deficiencies from lack of a proper diet.  These situations can be addressed somewhat easily once the cause is known.  In other cases, the egg is simply too big to pass through the cloaca and can get stuck.  No matter the cause, you should seek professional veterinary care for your turtle.  Recovery of this condition is good, even if it does require surgical correction.  In the majority of cases of dystocia, the turtle recovers well and does not experience any reproduction related complications the following nesting season.

Dystocia, also known as egg retention, in turtles can be a serious medical condition that can lead to complications if not addressed.  If your turtle stops laying eggs abruptly or seems to be straining excessively, take her to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

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Symptoms of Dystocia (Egg Retention) in Turtles

  • Straining, especially if one or two eggs have already passed
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Change in personality
  • Irritability

Symptoms are considered vague and can indicate may other diseases a reptile may develop.

Types

Dystocia, also known as difficult birth, can occur when the egg has trouble passing through birth canal.  Sometimes the eggs are too big and cannot pass through the cloaca successfully.  In other cases, the uterus fails to expel the eggs and get stuck.  Egg retention in turtles leads to the arrest of embryonic development and decreased thickness of the shell.  If shell thickness does not decrease, the period of egg retention could be extended. 

Causes of Dystocia (Egg Retention) in Turtles

There are many factors that can play a role in turtle dystocia;  however, the major cause is unknown.  Poor diet, incorrect environmental factors such as the wrong temperature, and other underlying diseases are all contributing factors.  If your turtle cannot find a place to build her nest, this may also lead to egg retention. 

Diagnosis of Dystocia (Egg Retention) in Turtles

Your veterinarian may attempt to palpate an egg in the cloaca area.  However, when it comes to fully diagnosing your turtle with egg retention, your veterinarian will want to verify by taking radiographs.  If there are calcified eggs within your turtle, they will appear on the image and therefore,  may give the veterinarian her diagnosis.  If your turtle does have retained eggs but they are no longer calcified, these will not show up on the radiographs, but would then indicate your turtle’s body is already dispelling of the eggs.  

You veterinarian may want to run blood work to ensure your turtle is not deficient in any vitamins or minerals.  This will give her an idea of how to proceed in her treatment recommendations.  If her blood work is all normal even though your turtle is retaining eggs, it is safe to come to the conclusion that the eggs are simply too large to pass.  

Your veterinarian will want to complete her diagnosis by performing a complete physical exam on your turtle.  She will look for any other hints as to what may have caused your turtle’s condition.  She will also take a history from you regarding your turtle’s egg laying habits of the past.  She will also want to know details about your turtle’s environment to see if it contributed to the condition in any way. 

Treatment of Dystocia (Egg Retention) in Turtles

For treatment of egg retention in turtles, there are multiple methods the veterinarian may suggest and try.  Increasing the turtle’s hydration is usually the first step; this includes administering fluids to the turtle herself and by soaking her in fluids.  She will also want to ensure your turtle is provided the correct optimal temperature zone.  If the blood work shows any deficiencies, she will want to correct them to see if that helps.  Also, there are medications to promote the birthing process she can administer in an attempt to get your turtle to expel the egg herself.

If these techniques do not help, your veterinarian may try to remove the egg manually if she thinks it is possible.  As another option, she may consider ovariocentesis of the egg with careful shell removal.  If none of these therapies work, she may have to go with surgical intervention.

Recovery of Dystocia (Egg Retention) in Turtles

Prognosis of recovery from egg retention is very good.  In cases where the female has good general health, prognosis of survival is excellent.  If no complications arose during dystocia, prognosis of future reproduction and egg laying is good.  As long as at least one side of the female’s reproductive tract is intact, she should be able to reproduce.