Turtles/Red-Footed tortoise - growth under ear
Hi Jeannie- we have a red-footed (what we NOW think is a male) tortoise, approx. 3 years old and approx 8.5" in length. Enclosure: 36" x 24" with a UV-B Zoo-Med bulb (on a timer) and a 100 watt Zoo-Med ceramic heat lamp on one side (stays on 24/7) with a custom made cover to help retain heat and humidity in winter (we have forced-air heat). Temps: approx. 80 degrees F and humidity is a REAL challenge to keep past 40% in winter. Substrate: coconut fiber/cypress mulch/repti-bark mix, sprayed daily during feeding time (tortoise is sprayed lightly as well). Diet: fresh organic spring mix (spinach removed) fed once daily with a more-than-occasional blackberry or tortoise-appropriate treat thrown in. Water dish kept full and clean (we have very hard water). He/she is usually only soaked when constipation is suspected.
THE PROBLEM: A growth has recently developed below the ear. It first appeared to be a bit of extra scaly skin but today it appears raw and bloody as if he's scratched it off (see attached pics). Have you seen anything like this? Is it serious or can it be treated at home?
ALSO: Due to our extremely hard water his shell is full of white hard water stains in the grooves- is there anything we can do to avoid this or clean safely? Thanks in advance for any advice you can offier. -Andre
Based on the location of the problem, I think it's most likely an ear abscess and unfortunately can't be treated at home. In tortoises, an ear abscess will become filled with hard pus, so will need to be lanced and cleaned out by a vet, and then he'll be treated with a course of antibiotics. He's probably been digging at it because it hurts--it certainly doesn't look too bad at this point, but will really start to bulge out if untreated.
I'd suggest making a few changes to the setup and diet as well. First, I think the enclosure is probably much too warm, even for a tropical tortoise. If the overall ambient temperature is 80 degrees, the basking temperature is probably much higher (check it by measuring on the substrate directly under the basking lamp). Basking temperature should be 90 degrees, but there should be cooler areas of 70-75 degrees. If it's too warm, the tortoise won't be able to regulate his temperature properly, and of course, it's harder to maintain enough moisture. I'd take out the CHE and just use the Powersun UVB bulb. A night drop in temperatures is fine. I don't use night heat (down as low as about 56 in winter), and my redfoot does fine.
Ambient humidity doesn't matter as much as surface moisture, but the substrate needs to be kept very moist. The best substrate is a coir/playsand mix, with some sphagnum moss mixed in, but you really have to wet it down a few times a week. Spraying is a good addition, but won't do enough to combat the drying effect of the basking lamp. You need to pour water in and really wet it down.
Redfoots are omnivores, not herbivores. They need animal protein, although not a lot, on a more or less weekly basis--worms, boiled eggs, boiled chicken or shrimp, superworms, pinky mice, etc. They also need a good mix of greens, fruit, and some veggies. They do tend to eat their poop, so you may not see much of that in the enclosure.
As far as the hard water staining, it's probably best to just leave it since it won't hurt him. You can try to clean his shell gently with water and a toothbrush, but as you know, that won't do much with hard water stains. Anything that will remove hard water isn't going to be good for him (acids). My redfoot has the same issues from the hard water here.
Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions!