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K-State Today

September 23, 2020

Veterinary medicine students participate in tortoise anesthesia research

Submitted by Piper Brandt

David Eshar and Tess Rooney performing injectable anesthesia in a leopard tortoise.

Students in the College of Veterinary Medicine are getting an inside look at how to provide good medical care to a four-legged animal that isn't known for moving quickly.

"Turtles and tortoises — known as chelonians — are often kept as pets and in zoological collections, but due to their shy nature, they can be very challenging to handle, even if sick," said David Eshar, associate professor of exotic and zoological medicine. "Sedation or anesthesia is often needed for their treatments, obtaining blood samples or performing diagnostic imaging. Effective and safe immobilization protocols, however, have not yet been established for many captive species."

In this study, led by Eshar, Sara Gardhouse and Tess Rooney from the Exotics and Zoological Medicine Service at the Veterinary Health Center, an injectable anesthesia protocol was tested in three different tortoise species: leopard tortoises, red-footed tortoises and ornate box turtles.

"This opportunity provided third- and fourth-year students with great training in clinical research and tortoise anesthesia," Eshar said. "This work will improve their clinical skills, promote their development as researchers and offer conference presentation and publication opportunities."

The students performed physical exams and anesthesia monitoring, including recording the vital parameters — heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature — and reflex responses.

"The novel data from this study will enhance the clinical knowledge of these species," Eshar said. "It is expected this project will generate several scientific publications and conference presentations, thus contributing to the reputation of the College of Veterinary Medicine in promoting the growth of reptile medicine knowledge."

The participating fourth-year students were Meghan Lancaster, Anna Richard, Camille Pizarro, Ariella Barry, Megan McKenney, Rachel Sahrbeck, Alexis Sutter, Danielle Russell, Carly Erickson, Stephanie Esmond and visiting student Miranda Thomas. The third-year students were Daria Hagan, Tori Matta, Carolyn Mark, Kallie Woodruff and Tess McPheeters.

Alice Wang, small animal medicine intern, and Amber Melton, exotics veterinary nurse, also assisted with the research.

The study was performed with the generous collaborations of the Milford Nature Center, Sunset Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo, Rolling Hills Zoo, The David Traylor Zoo of Emporia and the Lincoln Zoo in Nebraska.