One of the more interesting, not to mention unique, surgeries veterinarians perform is the removal of a bladder stone from California desert tortoises. Some of these stones grow to tremendous size, and it’s a wonder that these animals can survive with such a problem.

The cause is unknown. Symptoms vary from nothing apparent to nasal discharge, poor appetite or weight loss. They’re detected during a veterinary exam. A diagnosis is confirmed by taking a radiograph. As can be seen from the radiograph below, these stones can be huge. Think about what this would feel like in your bladder!

X-ray Stones

X-ray of a bladder stone in a California desert tortoise. All graphics courtesy of Long Beach Animal Hospital (LBAH). 

The procedure for removing a stone from a California desert tortoise is described as follows: After giving general anesthesia, the bottom of the shell is cut with a rotary tool (we use Dremels), exteriorize the bladder, and incise it. We then remove the bladder stone, suture the bladder, put the cut piece of shell back over the opening, and then seal the shell with fiberglass  and epoxy resins. The shell is living tissue and takes at least a year to completely heal. 

CDT Anesthesia

CDT Dremel

General anesthesia is adminstered, followed by cutting the shell with a rotary tool.

CDT Stone

The bladder stone is excised. Note the enormous size of the stone.

CDT Epoxy

After the excision, the cut in the shell is closed with fiberglass and epoxy.

Tortoises have a very slow metabolism, so a feeding tube may be put in to give them proper nutrition while they heal. Since they have no diaphragm, the heartbeat can be directly watched during the surgery.

This page on our website offers a lot of detail about this surgery. You can watch the whole procedure and even see the beating heart at the end of the page.