Turtle Shell Rot Vs Shedding: How To Differentiate Them?

Turtle Shell Rot Vs Shedding

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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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

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 bacterias, injuries, more likely to get shell rot.

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.


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.


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

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.

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.

Signs Of Healthy Shedding

  • 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.
  • The shed scute will appear thin and translucent. This will look exactly like the shell itself.
  • 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.

Turtle Shell Rot Vs Shedding

Unhealthy 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 


  • 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.


  • 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.


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.

Muntaseer Rahman

I have been keeping turtles as a pet for many years now. I’ve fallen in love with these cute pets from the moment I saw them. That’s why I am writing articles to share my turtle keeping knowledge with you.

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