Turtle Shell Rot Vs Shedding: How To Differentiate Them?

Turtle Shell Rot Vs Shedding

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Are you confused about whether your pet turtle is shedding or suffering from shell rot? Well, shell conditions are common in turtles. But if it goes untreated, the pet has to suffer a lot. So, it is important to determine the condition and take immediate actions.

Shell shedding or peeling can be both healthy and unhealthy. In healthy shedding, the shell will come off as a whole. On the other hand, in shell rot, the scutes become slimy and flaky with spots.

In the following article, I will discuss with you everything about turtle shell rot and shedding. Also, in the end, you will be able to recognize the condition on your own.

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a collage of box turtle shells
Owner: April Kelley McGallion

Turtle Shell Rot Vs Shedding: How To Differentiate Them?

If you are a novice, getting confused over shell rot and shedding is not new. So, here’s a quick chart to help you out:

Shell RotShell Shedding Or Peeling
A reddish, white slurry fluid stores under several scutes.A white, thin fluid is observed under all the scutes.
Pits will be present and parts of it may fall off. Sometimes, the plates fall off exposing the bones and cavities.The scutes come off as a whole and underneath it, the new plates will be present. 
A bad odor comes from the wounds and the rotten area.There are no sharp smells that will bother your nose.

Turtle Shell Rot: What Is It?

The medical term for shell rot is ulcerative shell disease. Both the carapace and plastron can be infected by this condition. Shell rot can be proven to be a severe condition in turtles, though the wild turtles are more victims of this disease than the captive ones. This condition is more visible in aquatic turtles.

What Causes Shell Rot In Turtles?

Several factors are responsible for the turtles having a shell rot. Such as,

1. Injury:

A single scratch, puncture, crack, or damage on the shell may lead to shell rot. The bacteria or fungus find the open crack suitable to grow. And within a short time, they start growing in number. Eventually, when the bacteria or fungus outgrow in number, the infection becomes more visible and you can notice the spots and symptoms of shell rot. In the worst condition, the infection can attack the bones and flesh of the turtle.

How do turtles get injuries? Multiple turtles in a single enclosure often get involved in fights over territory or food. Especially adult males try to dominate the female and the young ones. Also, the sharp edges of any rock or the dock can give your turtle a scratch on the shell.

2. Humidity In The Tank:

Many of you might not recognize but the humidity plays a significant role in a turtle’s health. For instance, a turtle native to the humid environment will suffer from the dry substrate and tank condition. Its sink and shell will become dehydrated and rough.

A damaged shell will get a crack all on its own. Similarly, for the turtle who lives in arid weather, the damp tank will do no good to it. The moist environment will aid the bacteria and fungus to grow.

3. Filthy Tank:

I am indicating the overall condition of the tank including the water, basking dock, and even the substrate. You know the shell rot is a bacterial or fungal infection. And what can be a better place for the bacteria and fungus to grow than a dirty terrarium?

If your turtle is living in a filthy environment, it has a high risk of having shell conditions, especially shell rot. A small cut will invite the bacteria and fungus to grow infection on the shell.

4. Soft Shell:

Turtles are not born with hard shells. At the early stages, the shells are soft and within a short period, they harden. Even without a proper environment, the shell of adult turtles can become soft. Of course, there are some factors that decide if a turtle shell will be healthily tough or weak. For example, dietary and UV bulbs.

The experts suggest that poor nutrition hampers the healthy growth of the turtle shell. Likewise, without the UV bulb, the pet can not absorb the calcium and vitamin D3 absorbed from the food. Without these nutrients, the shell can not be hard and stays soft if it is a hatchling. And a soft shell is more vulnerable to bacteria, injuries, more likely to get shell rot.

Turtle Shell Rot Vs Shedding

5. Heating And Basking:

This factor works for the semi aquatic turtles. If the enclosure lacks a basking platform and proper heating equipment, the scutes will become soft. And the bacteria or fungus will find its way to grow on the plates.

Turtle Shell Rot Symptoms

If you notice any of the following signs, your turtle may have developed shell rot:

  1. Swallow areas and soft spots on the shell
  2. Dry lesions without any soft patches
  3. The cracks, punctures, or scratch on the shell will be more visible. The wounds will look like a moth eaten white patches.
  4. The shell of the turtle looks uneven. You may find a few plates lifted slightly.
  5. Pits will be present on the shell. If the condition gets worse, parts of the pits will fall off.
  6. White or reddish fluid under the shell plates
  7. A slimy layer may be visible on the shell of the pet
  8. The rot will spread a foul smelling odor
  9. In the worst cases, the whole shell plate will fall off and the bones will be exposed.

Turtle Shell Rot Treatment

If the shell rot is noticed at the primary or, even in the mild stage, home treatment is possible. With a little change in lifestyle and care, the pet will get around soon. But if the pits and plates are falling off, you must seek help from a vet.

For home treatment, you can follow the steps stated below:

  • First of all, make sure the wound you are looking at is shell rot. The patches will look discolored and soft.
  • Next, take a new toothbrush and mild soap for cleaning. Remove any dirt, debris, and broken pieces clinging to the rotten areas. If any bits can be peeled off, do it carefully so that you can reach the root of the rot. The dry white patches on the shell should be scraped off using plastic cards or utensils. Remember to clean the whole shell with mild soap.
  • Now let the shell dry. Keep your turtle in a warm place like under the heating lamp or your table lamp.
  • Once the shell is completely dry, put a disinfectant cream on the wound. Hydrogen peroxide, betadine, 10% Povidone iodine solution, all works great to heal mild shell rot. Apply the clean using the toothbrush and make sure each crack and corner is covered.
  • Apply the cream thrice within 30 minutes with a 10 minute break in sessions. After the third time, keep your turtle in a warm place for the shell to dry. Wait for half to one hour. The heating bulb or table lamp will boost the process.
  • Continue the steps for one week and you will observe positive results. If not, then take the turtle to a vet for better treatment.

Besides the medicine, you have to perform some other activities too. Such as,

  • Clean the whole terrarium with disinfectant and change the substrate.
  • Remove dirty water and replace it with hygienic water of a suitable pH. Install a water filter to keep the water clean.
  • Maintain the humidity of the enclosure that suits the pet.
  • Make sure the UV lamp is working and the heating bulb is spreading off sufficient heat.
  • A balanced diet with calcium and vitamin D3 supplements will fulfill the nutrition demand.

To avoid future shell rot, keep your pet and the terrarium clean. Remove any sharp things from the tank. Look out for any scratch or crack on the turtle’s shell. As shell rots are contagious, if you notice symptoms in any of your turtles, isolate them immediately and take action.

Turtle Shell Shedding: What Is It?

Turtle shell shedding or peeling is a natural phenomenon for all turtles. It indicates that the turtle is growing and getting bigger. For those, who have no idea about shell shedding, allow me to discuss it in short.

You know a turtle’s shell is nothing but bones. Not just one, the shell has around 60 bones. If you look more closely, the shell is divided into several scutes or plates, which are made of keratin.

As the turtle grows, so does its shell. To make this happen, the old scutes of the shell wear off and new ones produce under them. This is called turtle shedding and peeling.

Turtle shedding can both be healthy and unhealthy. In the upcoming sections, I will talk about both conditions.

What Is Healthy Shedding?

You already know that shell shedding or peeling is a natural event all the turtles experience. Here are the benefits of healthy shedding:

  • Shedding staves off and fights shell rot or other infections.
  • Scute peeling keeps the turtle clean and prevents any temperature or infectious blockage.
  • Shedding can be a way to regenerate the damaged or lost plates.

3 Signs Of Healthy Turtle Shedding

  1. The scutes come off as a whole and intact not in parts. It will come off not only from the top, but also from the bottom, sides, and edges. The gradual peeling of the shell is also natural. The turtle will drop the whole scute on its own without any help. Do not pull off or try to peel off the plates.
  2. The shed scute will appear thin and translucent. This will look exactly like the shell itself.
  3. You may find your pet eating the fallen healthy scutes. Though it is normal, you should not let your turtle do it. Because the peels can damage your pet’s throat and internal organs.

Healthy shedding can occur annually or twice a year. When the pet prepares for hibernating and emerges from the long sleep, its shell may peel off. Aquatic and semi aquatic turtles like red eared sliders, painted turtles, map turtles shed more often than the nonaquatic ones.

On the other hand, the box turtles shed once a year. When a turtle grows old, the shedding rate will decrease. Do not worry about your turtle’s health as long as the shedding appears fine.

How To Spot Unhealthy Turtle Shedding?

Do you know sometimes the environment can force a turtle to shed? Yes, and it is totally unhealthy. Dysecdysis or unhealthy peeling indicates that the turtle is sick and something is wrong. As a turtle owner, you must know the difference between healthy and unhealthy shedding.

What Causes Unhealthy Shedding In Turtles?

  1. High ammonia level and unfiltered water
  2. Fungal or bacterial infection
  3. Overfeeding and rapid growth
  4. Overheated basking area
  5. Shell injury or damage
  6. Low environmental temperature 

Turtle Shedding Signs

  • The scutes will come off partly not as a whole.
  • There can be a thick fluid present under a few plates.
  • If the shell is damaged or infected, unhealthy shedding may take place.

Treatment For Unhealthy Turtle Shedding

  • Provide your pet turtle a balanced diet and to avoid overfeeding follow the 15 minute rule or the head method.
  • Keep the terrarium clean and take the necessary steps to prevent fungal or bacterial growth in the enclosure.
  • The basking dock temperature should be maintained according to the turtle species.
  • The air and water temperature should not be low. Install a water heater if necessary.
  • Set up a good quality water filter inside the tank.
  • Remove all the sharp edges and rocks from the enclosure that can hurt your turtle’s shell.
  • Also, visit the vet for a prescription and further advice if needed.

To prevent unhealthy shedding, ensure a balanced diet and proper enclosure for your pet.

why is my turtles shell peeling?

The peeling of a turtle’s shell is a common occurrence and can happen due to several reasons. Here are some detailed explanations:

  1. Natural Growth and Shedding: As turtles grow, they shed the outer layer of their shells, a process known as scute shedding. This is a natural and healthy process that allows for the growth of new, healthy scutes (the individual plates that make up the shell). You might notice the old scutes lifting or peeling away to make room for the new ones.
  2. Nutritional Deficiencies: Sometimes, a turtle’s shell might peel due to nutritional deficiencies. If the turtle is not receiving a balanced diet that includes all the necessary vitamins and minerals, it can affect the health of its shell. It’s important to ensure that your turtle has a well-rounded diet to maintain a healthy shell.
  3. Fungal or Bacterial Infections: Shell peeling can also be a sign of fungal or bacterial infections. These infections can cause the shell to become soft, discolored, or start peeling. If you suspect an infection, it’s recommended to consult with a veterinarian for appropriate treatment.
  4. Improper Water Quality: In aquatic turtles, poor water quality can lead to shell problems, including peeling. It’s essential to maintain clean and appropriately balanced water in your turtle’s habitat to prevent issues with its shell.
  5. Excessive Scratching or Rubbing: Sometimes, turtles might scratch or rub their shells against hard surfaces, causing the shell to peel or flake. This behavior might be due to irritation or parasites. It’s advisable to monitor your turtle’s behavior and check for any signs of irritation or parasites.
  6. UVB Light Exposure: Adequate exposure to UVB light is essential for turtles to metabolize calcium and maintain a healthy shell. Ensure that your turtle has access to a proper UVB light source to prevent shell issues.
  7. Environmental Factors: Various environmental factors, such as changes in humidity or temperature, can affect the condition of a turtle’s shell. It’s important to provide a stable and suitable environment for your turtle to prevent shell peeling.

If you notice excessive or unusual shell peeling, it might be beneficial to consult with a veterinarian or a turtle expert to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate advice or treatment.

what does turtle shell rot look like?

Shell rot in turtles is a serious condition that usually involves a fungal or bacterial infection affecting the turtle’s shell. Here are some detailed descriptions of what shell rot might look like:

  1. Discoloration: One of the first signs of shell rot is discoloration. The shell may develop unusual colors, such as white, yellow, or gray patches, which are different from the normal color of the shell.
  2. Soft Spots: The shell might develop soft spots, indicating that the underlying bone structure is getting infected and deteriorating. Normally, a healthy shell should be firm to the touch.
  3. Foul Smell: Shell rot often comes with a foul smell, which is a result of the infection. If you notice a bad odor coming from the shell, it might be a sign of shell rot.
  4. Ulcers or Lesions: The shell might develop ulcers or lesions, which are open sores that can be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. These sores might appear as pits or depressions on the shell’s surface.
  5. Fluid Discharge: In advanced cases of shell rot, there might be a discharge of pus or fluid from the affected areas. This is a sign that the infection has progressed and needs immediate attention.
  6. Altered Texture: The texture of the shell might change, becoming flaky or peeling away in layers. This is a sign that the shell is deteriorating due to the infection.
  7. Reddened or Inflamed Areas: The affected areas of the shell might appear reddened or inflamed, indicating an ongoing infection.

do turtle shells shed?

Turtle shells shed or peel naturally. A turtle’s shell is made up of approximately 60 different bones covered with a thin layer of epithelium that produces the hard outer shell layer.

When a turtle grows, this shell will produce new scutes that will allow the shell to expand. In a normal situation, turtles will shed their shell once every one to five years, depending on the type of turtle and its specific needs.

Shedding helps turtles to grow and replace portions of their old shell with new ones.

how often do turtles shed?

In general, turtles shed their skin and shells once or twice a year, but some species may shed more frequently. The frequency of turtle shedding depends on the species, age, and health of the turtle.

Younger turtles tend to shed more often than older turtles, and turtles that are growing rapidly may shed more frequently than those that are not. Factors such as diet, temperature, and humidity can also affect the frequency of shedding.

Is my turtle shedding or fungus?

To help you determine whether your turtle is experiencing a normal shedding process or if it might be dealing with a fungal infection, it’s important to closely observe and describe the symptoms or changes you are noticing.

Here are some characteristics of both conditions to help you identify what might be happening:


  1. Appearance of New Scutes: During shedding, you might notice new, healthy scutes appearing underneath the peeling layers. This is a sign of healthy growth.
  2. Even Peeling: The shedding process usually involves even peeling, where the old scutes lift off uniformly to reveal the new ones underneath.
  3. No Foul Smell: Shedding is a natural process and should not be accompanied by any foul smell.
  4. No Discharge or Fluid: Shedding does not involve any discharge or fluid coming from the shell.

Fungal Infection

  1. Uneven Discoloration: Fungal infections often cause uneven discoloration on the shell, with patches of white, gray, or yellow appearing on the surface.
  2. Soft or Mushy Spots: The presence of soft or mushy spots on the shell can be a sign of a fungal infection, indicating that the shell’s structure is compromised.
  3. Foul Smell: A fungal infection might produce a foul smell, which is a result of the fungal growth and decay process.
  4. Fluid or Pus Discharge: In advanced cases of fungal infection, there might be a discharge of fluid or pus from the affected areas, indicating a severe infection.

If you are unsure or concerned about your turtle’s health, it’s always best to consult with a veterinarian or a turtle expert who can provide personalized advice and guidance based on a thorough examination of your turtle.

can I help my turtle shed?

Assisting your turtle during its shedding process can be beneficial in ensuring a healthy and smooth transition. Here are some steps you can take to help your turtle shed effectively and without complications:

  1. Maintain Proper Water Quality: For aquatic turtles, maintaining clean and well-filtered water is essential. This helps in preventing infections and facilitates a healthy shedding process.
  2. Provide Adequate Basking Areas: Ensure that your turtle has access to a well-lit basking area where it can dry off completely. Basking helps in loosening the old scutes and promotes healthy shedding.
  3. Balanced Diet: Providing a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals can promote healthy shell growth and facilitate a smooth shedding process.
  4. Gentle Brushing: In some cases, you might assist the shedding process by gently brushing the turtle’s shell with a soft-bristled toothbrush. This can help in removing loose scutes. However, it’s important to do this gently to avoid causing any harm or discomfort.
  5. Avoid Pulling or Peeling Scutes: It’s important not to pull or peel the shedding scutes manually, as this can cause injury or infection. Allow the turtle to shed naturally, and only remove scutes that are already loose and ready to come off.
  6. Increase Humidity: For terrestrial turtles, maintaining a higher level of humidity in their enclosure can facilitate the shedding process, as it helps in keeping the skin and shell supple.
  7. Regular Health Checks: Regularly check your turtle’s shell for any signs of infection or abnormalities. If you notice any issues, consult with a veterinarian for appropriate advice and treatment.
  8. Consult with a Veterinarian: If you are unsure about how to assist your turtle during the shedding process, or if you notice any complications, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles for guidance.
  9. Environmental Enrichment: Providing an enriched environment with various textures and surfaces can help in the natural shedding process, as the turtle can rub against different objects to remove loose scutes.


Shedding is a normal process of growth for turtles. On the other hand, shell rot and unhealthy shedding can damage the pet’s health. You need to look out for the symptoms and determine the condition. Then go for the home treatment or take a consultation from the vet.

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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