Nancy the tortoise

The UF Small Animal Hospital discovered that Nancy, a sulcata tortoise, is allergic to orchardgrass hay.

The UF Small Animal Hospital never encountered a reptile with allergies — until Nancy was brought in.

Nancy, a sulcata tortoise, was brought into the hospital by an anonymous Gainesville resident in October, said Amy Alexander, a clinical assistant professor of zoological medicine.

Alexander noticed that part of Nancy’s eyelids were swollen, which led the zoological medicine team to discover something that UF had never documented before: a reptile with an allergy.

Alexander said she recalled asking herself if Nancy could be allergic to hay after leaving the tortoise near an armadillo’s enclosure. To test this, she put Nancy in a separate room away from the hay, and within a day, Nancy’s eyes were back to normal. Veterinary dermatology services at the hospital performed an allergy skin test on Nancy for the three most common types of hay in Florida: orchardgrass, timothy and alfalfa, Alexander said. They found the tortoise is allergic to orchardgrass hay.

She said dermatology services confirmed the allergy after they injected the orchardgrass hay and her eyelids swelled up.

Alexander is planning to document Nancy’s orchardgrass allergy in a peer-reviewed journal publication.

At the time, Nancy still didn’t have a home. Alexander listed Nancy on Petfinder and contacted animal shelters but was unsuccessful.

“These types of tortoises are native to Africa but common to the pet trade in the U.S., and the issue with them is that they are really great escape artists because of their strong legs,” Alexander said. “They burrow out of people’s yards, so it’s actually not uncommon to have stray sulcata tortoises, but they are not meant to be here.”

The zoological medicine service team searched for a home for Nancy for months until Marley Iredale, a veterinarian and anatomic pathology resident at UF Small Animal Hospital, decided to adopt Nancy.

“She’s settled in really well,” Iredale said. “She seems to enjoy being outside instead of in the hospital.”

Contact Anna Wilder at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @anna_wilder.

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Anna is a rising sophomore majoring in journalism on a pre-law track. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors and at the beach, doing yoga or cooking. She hopes to pursue a career in investigative journalism or become a civil rights lawyer.