Deworming treatment is vital when parasitic worms are present in a tortoise's system. However, it is important to confirm the presence of the parasites through the testing of a fecal sample before treatment.
Why deworm without knowing if the animal has parasites? Deworming agents can be harsh on an animal’s digestive system. If you are concerned about the presence of parasitic worms, collect a fecal sample and take it to your reptile veterinarian. If the sample tests positive for parasites, then treat the tortoise with an anthelmintic, a medicine that expels parasitic worms from the system. I think treatment is best left to the qualified veterinarian.
Even with proper husbandry and diet, captive sulcatas may be exposed to parasites in foreign fecal material from neighborhood cats and dogs, and wildlife including birds, raccoons, nematodes and many other species.
An anthelmintic is a drug or substance that expels or destroys intestinal worms. An anthelmintic medication is commonly called dewormer or wormer. One of the more popular brands is Panacur® (fenbendazole), which has been used with good results in tortoises.
Never use or allow the use of the broad-spectrum
antiparasitic medication ivermectin.
It is toxic to turtle species and has caused the
deaths of many tortoises!
Please read A. C. Highfield’s article on worming for more information.
Whether chemical or natural, all anthelmintics kill worms by either starving them to death or paralyzing them. This is accomplished by interfering with the parasites' feeding for about 24 hours.
There are natural dewormers: pumpkin seed, garlic and others. Some people use ground, air-dried pumpkin seed kernels that contain an anthelmintic known as cucurbitacin. This has been used for generations by Native Americans and others as a wormer for humans.
Dosage of natural anthelmintics has not been scientifically established for humans or animals. To quote the University of Maryland Extension's Small Ruminant Info Sheet, “Numerous plants are being tested for their anthelmintic properties (e.g. pumpkin seed, garlic). So far, none have been proven under formal research conditions to be effective anthelmintics.”
All this being said, using pumpkin seed to deworm your tortoise may or may not work, but at least it is not toxic. If you have a positive case of parasites and you successfully deworm using pumpkin seed, please document all criteria, dosage, number of times administered, etc. and please contact us with the details.
When we arbitrarily deworm our animals, are we running the risk of accelerating the rate of anthelmintic resistance and/or upsetting the balance of naturally-occurring beneficial gut residents? Underdosing, overdosing and frequent arbitrary deworming certainly can contribute to this resistance. In the best interest of the tortoises, I think collecting a fecal sample and taking it to your local reptile veterinarian for testing is the best course of action before beginning any type of anthelmintic treatment.