Disgusting but most likely Harmless
Our large back yard is shared by our Russian tortoise and our 5 pound (11 month old puppy) poodle. Last spring, when “Tortie” came out of hibernation, our puppy started spending a lot of time outside. I then discovered why: the puppy was finding and eating Tortie’s poop!! Gross. Can she get sick?
Your poodle puppy, that delicate little flower, has become a tortoise stalker, motivated by her taste for – well, the good news is that her scatological proclivity is most likely benign.
For expert advice I contacted reptile specialist Dr. Robin Lane. I learned that Tortie most likely carries a species of pinworms that can only set up housekeeping in tortoise intestines. Unlike pinworms that bedevil unlucky school children Tortie’s would be harmless to dogs and humans.
Tortie may also be involved in a synergistic relationship with a single celled parasite called nyctotherius. Covered in cilia (short wiggly legs) these intestinal bugs help themselves to a miniscule amount of passing nutrients while actually improving colonic action. Everyone benefits with no risk to man or beast.
Tortoises can carry giardia, another single-celled parasite. Most species of this odious organism won’t infect humans or other animals. To be sure that all creatures great and small, that Tortie may be expelling from her rear end, are safe for canine consumption and possible accidental human exposure I advise dropping off a sample of each pet’s stool at your veterinarian’s office. Parasites that may risk anybody’s health can be safely eliminated from both Tortie and her shadow by administering a liquid medication called fenbendazole.
None of this would be an issue if that little poop eater of yours had healthy after school activities. Rather than feeding her from a bowl you can measure her daily ration into food-dispensing toys and puzzles. Dog food is a better diet for her than tortoise poop anyway.
Tortie’s safety is also a priority. While a 5 pound poodle may not be a threat, I advise keeping a close watch. Turtles and tortoises can get badly maimed, or worse, by dogs who lose control of their predatory instincts. Aesop was right; they’re kinda pokey.
Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.