Seventeen desert tortoises, Xerobates agassizii, with upper respiratory tract disease were examined; thirteen were euthanatized for necropsy. Four normal control desert tortoises from a clinically healthy population were similarly evaluated. Hemoglobin and phosphorus values were significantly (P ≤ 0.05) lower and serum sodium, urea, SGOT, and cholesterol values were significantly higher in ill tortoises compared to controls. No significant differences in concentrations of serum or liver vitamins A and E were found between the two groups. While no significant differences were found for concentrations of lead, copper, cadmium, and selenium, the livers of ill tortoises had higher concentrations of mercury and iron. Lesions were found consistently in the upper respiratory tract (URT) of ill tortoises. In all ill tortoises dense infiltrates of lymphocytes and histiocytes obscured the mucosal epithelium and underlying glands. The mucosal epithelium was variably dysplastic, hyperplastic, and occasionally ulcerated. Electron microscopic studies revealed small (350 to 900 nm), pleomorphic organisms resembling Mycoplasma sp., in close association with the surface epithelium of the URT of ill tortoises. Pasteurella testudinis was cultured from the nasal cavity of all ill tortoises and one of four control tortoises. A Mycoplasma sp. was cultured from the nasal passageways of four ill tortoises and was ultrastructurally similar to the pleomorphic organism present on the mucosa in tissue section.
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Vol. 27 • No. 2