How To Treat A Turtle’s Shell Rot? [Treatment At Home Guide]

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

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Last night my friend shared a short video of his turtle. The pet has got red tinges on the shell, and there was reddish fluid under and over the scutes. I am almost sure that the turtle has been suffering from shell rot. I asked my friend to start the treatment immediately after consulting with a vet. He wanted to know how to treat a turtle’s shell rot?

In mild cases, the turtle keeper can treat shell rot by applying antiseptic and topical antibiotic cream on the wounds for weeks. Keeping the turtle in a dry place and away from water will speed up the healing process.

Shell rot can be severe and cause permanent damage to your turtle. But treating the turtle in the primary stage minimizes the impact. The following article includes the most effective home treatment method of shell rot. So, make sure to read to the end.

How To Treat Shell Rot At Home?

Treat shell rot at home gets more effective with 5 simple steps:

  1. Identify
  2. Debridement
  3. Dry house
  4. Antibiotics
  5. Diet

Allow me to explain all these steps in detail. But first, take a quick look at all the supplies you would require to conduct the treatment,

  • Scalpel blade
  • A soft brush/toothbrush
  • Antiseptic (Betadine or povidone iodine)
  • Topical antibacterial cream (Silver sulfadiazine ointment/2% mupirocin ointment)
  • A soft towel/ paper towel/ soft cotton cloth
  • Mild soap
  • Lukewarm water
  • UV or heating lamp
  • Gloves

Identify

The first thing you should do is to determine whether your turtle has shell rot or not. There are many more shell conditions a turtle suffers. An inexperienced eye might confuse one disease with another.

Take a symptom chart and see to what extent the conditions match. If your turtle has shell rot, you can move with the home treatment as long as it is safe.

Of course, collect the supplies after you identify the condition.

Now that your turtle has shell rot, you have to think of the probable reasons and note them down. You need to work on those issues.

Then, mark down the infected areas on the turtle shell. Generally, the affected plates will be discolored, rougher or softer.

Sometimes, there is a mushy layer on the shell, and the discharged fluid smells disgusting.

Debridement

You can not apply the antiseptic directly to the wound. Cleaning off the dead cells, algae, and dirt is a mandatory step.

Dead cells on the scutes are not easy to remove. You have to use a scalpel or sharp knife to scrape off the dry cells. Sometimes, cutting down the pits is also necessary in severe cases. This whole process is called debridement.

It takes nerve to use a scalpel on your turtle, and at the same time, preciseness is mandatory. A wrong move can hurt your turtle. So, only perform it if you are confident. Otherwise, call a vet.

Clean the remaining loose cells, algae, and dirt from the turtle shell. Soap can be an excellent option for this purpose, but make sure it does not bother the turtle.

Limit the soap usage only on the shell as the bubbly water can irritate the turtle’s skin. Now, many experts discourage using soap at all.

Honestly, it is your decision whether to use soapy water or not. If you are not confident with the bubbles, get to the following process.

Added antiseptic in the water speeds up the healing process. Usually, betadine, povidone-iodine, chlorhexidine, and hydrogen peroxide are the best available options. However, make sure these solutions are not in contact with the turtle’s eyes as they can cause irritation.

The trick is to soak the turtle shell with water that includes either one of these solutions and rest it for 10 minutes. Once the scutes are soft, use a toothbrush to remove the algae and dirt. Finally, rinse off the shell with fresh water.

If you are confused over water temperature, lukewarm or cooler water will work.

When you are done cleaning the shell, dry your turtle with a paper towel. There should be no moisture left on the rotting area.

N.B. Do not add betadine in the cleaning water daily. Antiseptics can inhibit the shell growth causing the turtles permanent harm. Using these solutions 2/3 days is a better idea.

Dry House

Drying your turtle with high-absorbent clothes is not enough. Place the turtle under a UV or heating lamp. This way, the shell totally dries off.

I have seen owners who find it convenient to apply Betadine or any other antiseptic after rinsing the shell with soap water. Dry off the turtle after layering the scutes with antiseptic in such cases.

Now, when I mentioned a dry house, I am indicating a temporary enclosure for the time being. It is not advisable to let the turtles swim with a shell rot. Water makes the wounds worse by inviting fungus or bacteria.

Hence, you have to limit the swimming hours for the turtles and keep them in a dry, warm place.

How to dry dock a turtle? The procedure is simple. Move your turtle to a place where it has no access to water. Generally, keeping the turtles under a heating light or the table lamp is an excellent idea.

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However, water is still necessary for the turtles as they are aquatic species. Let them swim in the water for 1-hour max to have meals and dump waste. Dry their wet body with a towel and place them under the lamp immediately after the bath.

Is 1 hour of swimming enough for the turtles? No. That is why while dry-docking, you have to soak the turtle shell with a damp towel from time to time. But make sure the scutes are not always damp.

One more thing. Turtles require UV light. Without sufficient UV rays, their shell and bone growth gets hampered. Experts advise letting the turtles soak artificial UV exposures or direct sunshine for at least 20 minutes a day.

N.B. Never let your pet turtle swim with medicine on its shell. Wait for 20 minutes to 1 hour for the antiseptics and antibiotics to sit on the shell properly.

Antibiotics

Apply a healing antibiotic cream after a thorough clean with an antiseptic solution. Silver sulfadiazine iodine and 2% mupirocin ointment are two popular antibiotics. But you would require a prescription.

If you are looking for an over-the-counter healing cream, triple-antibiotic Neosporin is an excellent choice.

Continue the use of the healing cream daily for a week or two. If you are looking for a systematic treatment, ceftazidime injections are a safe option.

Diet

Turtles require daily nutrition to heal the wound. Feed your turtle a balanced diet and follow the golden feeding rules.

Remember, your turtle will have no energy to recover without proper nutrition. In cases of shell fracture, owners fit a feeding tube in the esophagus to pass food and water into the pet’s body.

Here is the proper diet chart for different turtle species,

Tips: Continue the steps for weeks until your turtle gets around from the shell condition. If it shows no sign of development, consult a vet.

Wear rubber latex gloves while cleaning the turtle shell and apply the medicines with a cotton swab or toothbrush.

How Do You Treat Shell Rot On A Turtle?

The shell rot treatment on a turtle can be put in the following steps,

  • Clean the debris, algae, dead cells, and dirt from the shell.
  • Use an antiseptic solution (Betadine) for bathing and healing cream (sulfadiazine iodine) afterward.
  • Let the medicine dry on the scutes and keep the turtle away from water.

You can allow the turtle to swim for only one hour during the recovery period. Basking in the sun or under a UV light is mandatory, even if it is only for 20 minutes. And yes, a nutritious diet is a must.

I have discussed the whole home treatment in detail in the previous section.

When To See A Vet?

Home treatment will work in the primary case of shell rot. But if the infection gets severe, you have to see a vet.

What are the signs of severe shell rot condition,

  • The rot is spreading to other healthy scutes.
  • Multiple lesions are on the shell.
  • Foul smell and fluid discharging from the wound
  • The plates are falling apart
  • The sick turtle is not eating
  • The pet is inactive and showing less interest in swimming
  • Home treatment has zero improvement

Take your turtle to a vet before the condition gets worse. Turtles might die in severe cases of shell rot.

Antiseptics And Antibiotics For Turtle Shell Rot

I have mentioned several antiseptics and antibiotics for turtle shell rot. Are all of them equally effective? Do they have any alternatives? Let’s find out.

Betadine For Shell Rot

Betadine is one of the most effective antiseptics used for turtle shell rot treatment. The main ingredient for betadine is povidone-iodine, which plays an active role in treating minor cuts, scratches, scrapes, and burns. Also, the released iodine prevents any infection by fighting against harmful bacteria or fungus.

You have to apply betadine on the turtle shell before or after the primary scrubbing. Scientists have proven that betadine can inhibit shell growth in turtles. Hence, regular use is not advisable at all. Instead, continue the treatment with betadine for 2/3 days or a few days more in severe conditions.

After layering the turtle shell with betadine, keep the pet in a warm place to dry off the medicine. This way, the solution settles on the affected scutes and speeds up the healing process. The turtle should not be near any water source for 20 minutes to 1 hour during this treatment process.

Chlorohexidine For Shell Rot

The market name of this solution is Nolvasan. I must say, chlorohexidine works like magic on the turtle shell rot.

The antiseptic fights against 60 different bacteria and cleans off the shell. Compared to other antibacterials, Nolvasan is safe and heals the rot faster.

Iodine For Shell Rot

Iodine is a weak antiseptic and shows a slow healing process. Though this solution is not as strong as betadine, it actively kills bacteria, germs, and other micro-organisms.

Turtles will take more weeks to recover. But this antiseptic is safe and has no harmful effect on the turtle shell.

Coconut Oil For Shell Rot

Experts have found coconut oil extremely helpful in treating shell rot at home. The medium fatty acid activates the antibacterial properties in coconut oil. This is how the oil heals infection and builds protection against micro-bacterial attacks.

The market is full of coconut oil varieties. Both the extra virgin and cold-pressed coconut oils have antibacterial properties.

However, I personally recommended cold-pressed coconut oil.

You can use coconut oil in any shell condition of the turtle. Massage it thoroughly on the scutes twice a day, and later on, polish it off with a soft, absorbent towel. Do not let your turtle swim with coconut oil on the scutes.

Neosporin For Shell Rot

Go for Neosporin only if you are looking for an over-the-counter solution. This antiseptic surely disinfects the affected scutes and builds protection against acute micro bacteria. Yet, the efficiency is not as satisfactory as the sivadyne.

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You can not apply Neosporin directly on the turtle shell. Instead, you have to wipe off the scutes with hydrogen peroxide and wait until the solution dries off completely.

However, you might find pain-relieving Neosporin in the market. Never use such medication for your turtle.

How Do You Know If A Turtle Has Shell Rot?

In the primary cases of shell rots, you will notice fluid accumulation on the scutes, discoloration of the plates, and foul smell coming from the shell. The scutes crumble, exposing the bones when the condition gets worse.

You know, shell rot starts with a simple crack. When the infection spreads, the turtle will exhibit signs of the disease. Here is a list of symptoms of this condition,

  • Unnoticeable discoloration on both carapace and plastron
  • The scutes might turn into white or faded yellow
  • Blotches will be visible on the scutes
  • The small spots soon turn into pits having moth-eaten appearances
  • Soft spots here and there on the shell
  • The plates might lift off, exposing the internal bones and tissues
  • Reddish fluid on the shell
  • Discharge coming from the wound
  • Foul odor
  • Lethargy in the turtle
  • Refuse to eat food

If you notice multiple signs from above, the chances are your turtle has shell rot. Take it to a vet for proper diagnosis and start the treatment.

How Do Turtles Get Shell Rot?

The probable causes of turtle shell rot are:

  • Shell damage
  • Pre-existing wound or injuries
  • Improper habitat
  • Improper habitat environment
  • Ulcerative diseases, etc.

Shell Damage

Turtle shells are hard and can resist almost 1000 pounds of force. However, a slip from height, running into a car, or falling victim to a dangerous predator can fracture its shell.

Turtles can get a scratch on the shell when they fight each other. I am assuring you about one thing that turtle fights are the worst. It can get bloody, and the weak one often runs away with an injury.

If the damage is severe, you have to take the turtle to a vet. Otherwise, bacteria or fungi might find a way in and spread their population. As a result, you will notice the shell rot symptoms in the turtles in a few days.

Pre-existing Wounds Or Injuries

The untreated pre-existing injuries can be an entry point for the bacteria or fungus. Once they are in, they will take over the scutes and infect the turtle.

Improper Habitat

You know turtles require a basking dock, a heating lamp, and a UV light. These are mandatory for their healthy growth. The turtle suffers from sickness and growth issues if one of these supplies is missing.

Imagine you have provided no basking dock to your pet turtles. They will have to stay in the water 24/7 as they have no other places to rest.

I guess you know the damp shell and skins are tempting for bacteria and fungus. As a result, your turtle will exhibit symptoms of shell and skin infections in no time.

Now, what if you have built a dock for your turtle, but the lighting quality is below average? Turtles will surely come to the platform for resting. Yet, they can not dry their wet bodies in any heating sources.

Hence, they will roam around in that condition, and the chances are the pet will get a shell infection.

So, a basking dock, UV light, and heating lamp are necessary for the turtle enclosure. However, there is one more thing you should consider.

Focus on the decoration part of your turtle enclosure. Make sure you haven’t placed any supplies with a sharp edge. Those corners can give your turtle a cut on the scute, which will turn into a shell rotting condition.

Improper Habitat Environment

Maintain the temperature, humidity level, and hygiene of an enclosure to call it perfect. Do you know the consequences of your mismanagement? Let’s see.

Turtles are cold-blooded reptiles and require an external source for regulating body warmth. If the source temperature is high, they will have dry and flaky scutes. And as you know, rough plates are more likely to get infected.

Again, turtles hibernate to cope with the unbearable cold. The chilly weather also welcomes viral and other diseases. Hence, the risks of shell rot increases.

Turtles also require the perfect humidity in the enclosure. The higher humidity causes a damp shell, the low humid environment causes dry and flaky scutes. Both conditions are not desirable as there might be an infectious attack.

Now, what is the deal with the dirty habitat? You know the unhygienic enclosures are the perfect place for the bacteria to grow in the population.

An unclean bedding, low-quality water filter, etc., are the reasons behind a dirty habitat. The turtles will suffer from shell rot, even from a small scratch in such conditions.

Is Shell Rot Painful For Turtles?

In primary conditions, turtles rarely exhibit any symptoms or signs of pain. But in mild or fatal cases, the scutes turn black, discharges fluid, and sometimes the plates come off. The severe shell rot conditions are intolerably painful for turtles.

Many of you think turtles can not feel their shell. The turtle shells can withstand enormous pressure, and there is no question. But these creatures can sense through the surface.ens

The turtle shell is permanently connected to the spinal cord and the rib cage. Hence, the spinal nerves are also linked to the scutes.

Now, if you place your hands on the turtle scutes, it will feel the touch as a vibration. So, you can not say turtles do not feel the shell.

Any fracture or shell conditions that expose the bones are a fatal issue. Turtles can be severely hurt and in intolerable pain. You should contact a vet immediately in such cases.

You can read more about a turtle shell from this link.

Can Shell Rot Kill Turtles?

Fatal cases of shell rots can kill turtles without any mercy. The shells might get punctures, holes, and exposed areas in the worst conditions. Your turtles are at risk of losing their life, in case the infection reaches the internal organs.

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In the primary stages, shell rots are not severe and curable. The condition will get more painful if you do not offer treatment to the pets at those hours, and it goes untreated for a long time.

The infection gets into the turtle’s body and reaches the bone and soft tissues in fatal conditions. If the germs enter the bloodstream, it will cause a blood condition called septicemia.

Septicemia is a common cause of death in turtles. The condition has treatment. But you have to be quick, and luck should be on your side. Otherwise, your turtle will experience a miserable death.

Is Turtle Shell Rot Contagious?

Shell rot in turtles is highly contagious among other animals. Fortunately, humans do not get affected by this disease. But precautions are always recommended.

In primary cases, the bacteria and fungus take shelter on the scutes. But these germs enter the bones and bloodstream as they grow in number. Wait! They do not stop there.

The bacteria or fungus responsible for shell rot spreads from one turtle to another. Hence, experts advise isolating the sick turtle as soon as it exhibits any symptom. Otherwise, your whole turtle gang is doomed.

Wash your hands before and after handling the sick turtle. Or at least wear rubber gloves. If you touch other turtles with germs on your hand, they are most likely to have shell rots too.

How To Prevent Shell Rot In Turtle?

Septicemic Cutaneous Ulcerative Disease (SCUD) or shell rot is a common yet dangerous health condition for turtles. These little innocent pets suffer unbearable pain in severe shell conditions.

Prevention is always better than cure. It saves your money, energy, and of course, the pain your turtle would go through if it were diagnosed with shell rot.

Here is how you can prevent shell rot,

  • Keep your turtle terrarium clean and hygienic.
  • Install a powerful water filter for quality filtration.
  • Tank heater and heating lamps are a must for regulating habitat temperature.
  • Set up UV light and build a dock inside the enclosure.
  • Provide the turtle with a healthy diet with necessary supplements.
  • Remove any sharp objects from the tank.
  • If you house multiple turtles in the same tank, ensure that they get along. Otherwise, there will be a fight.
  • While moving the turtles, be careful and always keep them closer to the ground. This way, even if they slip from your hand, the damage will be minimal.

Can Turtle Shells Heal On Their Own?

The astonishing thing is, turtle shells heal on their own. The injured scutes will grow back as it is made of living organic materials. Generally, a mild wound heals within 12 weeks, and it takes almost 30 months to restore any fracture.

Any cut on our skin or fractured bones heals with time. Right? It is because they are made of living things. The same happens for the turtle shells.

The turtle scutes contain muscles, membranes, and keratin. In case of any injury, the damaged cells and torn muscles of a turtle shell regenerate all by themselves. But yes, the process takes a long period.

In the wild, turtles naturally heal from any injury. The regenerated shells do not match the color or integrity of the original one.

Is it wiser to wait and let the turtle heal its injury? I strongly oppose this idea.

The longer you let your turtle live with a severe wound, the risk of shell rot increases. In the worst condition, the sick turtles die a miserable death.

I suggest you treat your turtle as soon as possible and take all actions to restore its health.

What Happens If Your Turtle Shell Is Soft?

Turtle soft shells often indicate MBD or metabolic bone disease. It is due to the poor diet, insufficient UV light, improper habitat, etc. Treatment for MBD or soft shell is an emergency, or the condition can become life-threatening.

The metabolic bone disease needs immediate attention. The condition hampers the growth of the shell and bones.

Not only that. The MBD also deforms the shells and bones. Your turtle goes through extreme pain because of this disease.

What is responsible for metabolic bone disease, and how to cure it? I would blame 4 things that cause this condition. Such as,

  • Calcium deficiency
  • Poor diet
  • Inadequate UV light
  • No basking dock

Turtles require calcium and vitamin D3 for shell and bone growth. They get these minerals from food and UV light.

When the turtles bask under the sun or an artificial UV source, their body generates vitamin D. The vitamin then helps in calcium absorption from food.

Hence, if there is no baking dock or a UV light, the turtles can not consume the calcium from their food. As a result, you will notice softness in the scutes.

Why Is My Turtle’s Shell Soft Around Edges?

The soft shell around the edges is nothing serious until you feed your turtle right and the lighting arrangement is perfect. Hatchlings also have soft areas in their shells, which is totally fine.

You know hatchlings do not have a strong shell, and it takes time to develop a healthy one. You might notice softer scutes or edges in the babies during those ages. The phenomenon is not abnormal or unhealthy.

Yet, you have to feed the turtles a balanced diet and let them bask in a quality UV light. You can also visit a vet if you have doubts.

Experts claim sometimes adult turtles have soft and flexible edges.

Soft edges around the shell are rarely a sign of shell disease or MBD. Yet, it is always safer to consult a professional.

Conclusion

Treating shell rot is easy, and even the newbies can try it at home. However, if you are nervous or the condition is severe, you must seek professional help.

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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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