Tortoise recovering after surgery to remove softball-sized bladder stone

TAMPA, Fla. – A 55-pound Sulcata tortoise named Sully is recuperating after having a softball-sized stone surgically removed from his bladder at BluePearl Veterinary Partners hospital in Tampa.

Dr. Peter Helmer, who performed the five-hour procedure to remove the stone Thursday, said the surgery was successful and Sully is recovering nicely.

Sully (BluePearl Veterinary Partners photo).

Sully (BluePearl Veterinary Partners photo).

“It went really well,” said Helmer, who is board-certified in avian practice. “I’m always cautiously optimistic and Sully appears to be doing just fine.”

Sully’s bladder stone was discovered after owner Renee Niehaus took him to his primary care veterinarian to treat a nosebleed. An X-ray revealed the stone and the case was referred to Helmer, who has years of advanced training within his specialty.

“Tortoises hide their diseases really well,” Helmer added.

Operating on a tortoise isn’t easy. Helmer first had to use a special surgical power saw to gently cut a flap in the underside of Sully’s shell in order to reach the bladder. The flap was glued back into place after the surgery using epoxy.

Sulcata tortoises originally come from north central Africa but are becoming increasingly common as pets in the U.S. because of their ability to adapt to different climates.

Helmer said it’s hard to say why Sully developed the bladder stone. While it’s not common for Sulcata tortoises to develop these stones, it’s also not unheard of.

The stone removed from Sully's bladder (BluePearl Veterinary Partners photo).

The stone removed from Sully’s bladder (BluePearl Veterinary Partners photo).

Sully, who is 6 years old, will need to stay inside for a while as he recuperates. He’s also on pain medication and antibiotics to ward off any possible infections.

Niehaus, who has owned Sully since he was the size of the palm of her hand, said she’s very grateful her pet tortoise is on the mend. She said he’s very friendly and loves to dig tunnels.

“He thinks he’s one of the dogs,” said Niehaus, who runs a pet boarding service. “I can pet him and kids love to come by and feed him. He’s a cool dude.”

An X-ray showing the stone inside Sully's bladder (BluePearl Veterinary Partners photo).

An X-ray showing the stone inside Sully’s bladder (BluePearl Veterinary Partners photo).

Dr. Peter Helmer cutting a flap in Sully's shell (BluePearl Veterinary Partners photo).

Dr. Peter Helmer cutting a flap in Sully’s shell (BluePearl Veterinary Partners photo).