A TORTOISE has undergone complex surgery to remove her ovaries after vets cut through her shell at a St Helens veterinary practice after she developed a life-threatening condition.

Vet surgeon Dr Molly Varga Smith gave Flash a thorough examination when her concerned owners brought the poorly 13-year-old reptile to Rutland House Veterinary Hospital in Abbotsfield Road.

X-ray and ultrasound scans confirmed that the Red-footed tortoise had follicular stasis, a condition where undeveloped eggs remain in the body which could have made her gravely ill if not treated.

Dr Varga Smith leads the department dedicated to looking after exotic species, which include birds, reptiles and small mammals, at Rutland House Vets and carried out surgery to spay Flash who had also suffered from follicular stasis two years before.

The delicate operation involved carefully cutting an access hole in Flash’s lower shell with a saw and surgically removing the follicles and her ovaries.

Registered veterinary nurse Craig Tessyman, who works alongside Dr Varga Smith in the exotics team, monitored the reptile while she was anaesthetised, using a ventilator to effectively breathe for her while constantly checking her heart and oxygen levels.

St Helens Star: Dr Molly Varga Smith and vet nurse Craig Tessyman examine Flash at her post-operative check-up at Rutland House Vets.Dr Molly Varga Smith and vet nurse Craig Tessyman examine Flash at her post-operative check-up at Rutland House Vets. (Image: Rutland House Vets)

Flash also had a feeding tube fitted so that she could have nutrition and medication, if required.

Flash’s shell was secured back into place with dental acrylic – the material used to create dentures -which will stay in place for several years.

Dr Varga Smith, who is an RCVS-recognised specialist in zoo and wildlife medicine at Rutland House Vets, said the exotic department spays up to 15 tortoises each year.

She said: “It is not unusual for tortoises to have follicular stasis, but people don’t realise we can do something about it. Many other reptiles get similar issues, and we can also look after them here at Rutland House Vets as well.

“We spayed Flash and removed the eggs and the ovaries. She stayed in overnight so we could monitor her and went home the day after surgery. She started eating straight away which is great and has made a good recovery.”

St Helens Star: Pete and Janice Faulkner with Flash and Rutland House exotics team

The team praised Flash’s owners for seeking prompt veterinary advice and is urging other tortoise owners to keep a close eye on their pet’s activities. Symptoms of follicular stasis in reptiles include a lack of appetite and fatigue.

Craig, who has a Diploma in Veterinary Nursing of Exotic and Zoological Species, said: “We recommend that owners monitor their tortoises daily and make sure they are eating and drinking. When tortoises have follicular stasis, they normally stop eating.

“The risk is that the content of the follicles gets absorbed back into the body and goes into the liver, creating a fatty liver which becomes very difficult to treat. They become lethargic and it can ultimately lead to death.

“Flash had a cloacal prolapse which means she was trying to push the follicles out of her body. We cut through the bottom of her shell to make a ‘trap door’, which is quite a big square with one side still attached, to surgically remove the follicles and ovaries.

“We were also able to check all her organs and she did have some very slight liver problems, so we have given her medication for that.”

Flash quickly settled back at home in Warrington with owners Pete and Janice Faulkner who have praised the team for their treatment and aftercare.

St Helens Star: Red-footed tortoise Flash had surgery at Rutland House Vets in St HelensRed-footed tortoise Flash had surgery at Rutland House Vets in St Helens (Image: Rutland House Vets)

Mrs Faulkner said: “When Flash had the same problem two years ago, Molly looked after her really well and, on that occasion, the follicles went away on their own.

“This was the second time it had happened so they said it would be best to operate. I was shocked when I saw how many follicles there were after the operation.

“I know Molly and Craig give a lot of aftercare and I have a lot of faith in them.

“My husband bought Flash for me as a birthday present as I used to have one as a child, and I love her to bits. She has a good personality – you can tickle her under her chin – and we have her in the living room where we can see her, and she can see us. She is part of our little family.”