Slowly but surely, vet-med program makes progress on tortoise research

A view of the courtyard in front of the College of Veterinary Medicine. (Archive photo by Monica Melber | Collegian Media Group)

Graduate students in veterinary medicine had the opportunity to partake in a research project involving leopard tortoises, red-footed tortoises and ornate box turtles.

It is difficult to conduct medical procedures safely on these animals because of the unknown effects anesthesia has on them. The goal of the study was to learn more about these effects.

“Studies are being done to establish a baseline, like we have for dogs and horses,” Tess McPheeters, graduate student in veterinary medicine, said.

These species can be difficult to handle, making some treatments and procedures nearly impossible to implement safely.

Participants in K-State’s study said the difficulty seemed to only increase as the study was done.

“Every species will react differently to different drugs,” Daria Hagan, graduate student in veterinary medicine, said.

Students involved in the study recorded the vital parameters of the turtles and tortoises they observed, including heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature and the reflexes of the animals. The hands-on experience was a benefit for the students involved, Hagan, who intubated her first animal during the study, said.

“I think that here at K-State in the vet college, we place a lot of emphasis on exotic medicines, and this is one of the strengths of our program compared to other universities,” David Eshar, associate professor of clinical sciences, said.

Eshar said in order to obtain the number of turtles and tortoises needed to conduct the study, K-State had to reach out to local and regional zoos. He said the program is grateful to the zoos that volunteered some of their animals.

The results of the study are still being analyzed, but those involved are hopeful their findings can contribute to the health and well-being of exotic animals.