The clinical features and treatment of fishhook injuries in freshwater turtles: 126 cases from 1997–2022

Lily M. Hale College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

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Sabrina L. Kapp College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

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James B. Robertson Office of Research, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

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Gregory A. Lewbart Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

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Sarah M. Ozawa Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE

To describe the clinical features, treatment, and outcomes of wild freshwater turtles with fishing hook injuries.

ANIMALS

126 wild turtles residing in central North Carolina that were presented to a wildlife rescue clinic.

METHODS

Medical records from July 1997 to July 2022 were reviewed, and data were collected and analyzed.

RESULTS

The most common species presenting for a fishhook injury was the yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) (n = 69/126 [54.8%]; 95% CI, 45.7 to 63.6). The most common location identified was the oral cavity (n = 77/140 [55%]; 95% CI, 46.4 to 63.4) and the most common removal method was retrograde removal after cutting the barb off of the hook (76/120 [63.3%]; 95% CI, 54.1 to 71.9). Fishhooks embedded in the esophagus had a significantly higher chance of complications affecting recovery (OR estimate, 3.49; 95% CI, 1.07 to 11.38). There was no significant increase in mortality associated with the location of the injury; however, there was a significant increase in mortality in patients that experienced complications (P < 0.001). The time in care ranged from 1 to 150 days (median, 16 days). Of the turtles evaluated, 10.8% (n = 12/111; 95% CI, 5.7 to 18.1) were euthanized or died after treatment and 89.2% (99/111; 95% CI, 81.9 to 94.3) were released.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE

These findings describe various successful techniques to remove fishhooks from turtles. While no superior treatment was identified, considerations should be taken to provide patient comfort, decrease injury-associated complications, and shorten recovery time by using minimally invasive techniques. Overall, freshwater turtles with fishhook injuries have a high release rate even when the injuries are severe.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE

To describe the clinical features, treatment, and outcomes of wild freshwater turtles with fishing hook injuries.

ANIMALS

126 wild turtles residing in central North Carolina that were presented to a wildlife rescue clinic.

METHODS

Medical records from July 1997 to July 2022 were reviewed, and data were collected and analyzed.

RESULTS

The most common species presenting for a fishhook injury was the yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) (n = 69/126 [54.8%]; 95% CI, 45.7 to 63.6). The most common location identified was the oral cavity (n = 77/140 [55%]; 95% CI, 46.4 to 63.4) and the most common removal method was retrograde removal after cutting the barb off of the hook (76/120 [63.3%]; 95% CI, 54.1 to 71.9). Fishhooks embedded in the esophagus had a significantly higher chance of complications affecting recovery (OR estimate, 3.49; 95% CI, 1.07 to 11.38). There was no significant increase in mortality associated with the location of the injury; however, there was a significant increase in mortality in patients that experienced complications (P < 0.001). The time in care ranged from 1 to 150 days (median, 16 days). Of the turtles evaluated, 10.8% (n = 12/111; 95% CI, 5.7 to 18.1) were euthanized or died after treatment and 89.2% (99/111; 95% CI, 81.9 to 94.3) were released.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE

These findings describe various successful techniques to remove fishhooks from turtles. While no superior treatment was identified, considerations should be taken to provide patient comfort, decrease injury-associated complications, and shorten recovery time by using minimally invasive techniques. Overall, freshwater turtles with fishhook injuries have a high release rate even when the injuries are severe.

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