Turtle Shell Rot

The phrase “shell rot” (opens in new tab) is used to describe an infection that can be found anywhere on the shell of your turtle or tortoise.

Both the plastron (the bottom half of the shell) and the carapace (the top half of the shell) are susceptible to shell rot. Shell rot is referred to in medicine as ulcerative shell disease.

Unfortunately, it might take a while to help your turtle or tortoise’s shell recover.

That is NOT intended to be a dissuasion from doing the necessary actions to help save your pet’s shell, though!

In fact, if you’re looking for a home remedy that will effectively treat the majority of minor cases of shell rot, go no further!

This article will describe what shell rot is, how to cure it at home, and why seeing an exotic veterinarian is necessary.

So without further ado, let’s start talking about anything shell rot!

What Is Shell Rot & What Does It Look Like?

Given how much time they spend in the water, aquatic turtles and several other reptiles frequently suffer from “Septicemic Cutaneous Ulcerative Disease (SCUD),” also known as shell rot. Red-eared sliders (RES) are vulnerable because their aquarium needs a lot of water.

The bacterial or fungal microbes that cause it penetrate a turtle’s scutes, the individual components that make up its shell, and start to eat away at the tissue there.

On the turtle’s shell, algae buildup can occasionally aggravate the problem. It typically begins with a wound or sort of shell breaking that becomes infected, worsens, and might become fatal if untreated.

The first sign of shell rot in a turtle is typically a barely perceptible darkening on either the plastron or carapace (the top and bottom of the shell). The color change might seem mold-like and be white, yellowish, or green.

It can occur anywhere on the shell and might take the form of dots or blotches. Small holes or divots may then form, the area may seem moth-eaten, get softer, and a foul-smelling, red discharge may come forth.

The shell has now become softer and is susceptible to breaking, exposing the susceptible tissue below. Scute shedding and shell rot can occasionally be confused. All of the carapaces will ultimately shed with paper-thin layers falling off due to scute shedding.

More mild symptoms of shell rot, such as a reddish tint to specific sections of the shell or the formation of a slimy covering, are more common in turtles kept in captivity.

Shell rot can sometimes occasionally be recognized by flaking and an easily broken shell. The flesh, bones, and nerves underlying the scutes (outside shell) can become exposed in severe instances, which can be quite painful for the turtle.

The two types of shell rot, dry and moist, can occur in different ways and have different causes. Fungal development is linked to dry rot, which is lighter in color (white or tan). It may weaken and souren the shell, making it easily shatter or crumble.

Older turtles with more fragile shells are frequently affected by dry rot. It may be difficult to repair or recover if the shell receives too much damage.

Wet rot is a little more worrisome since it can develop into an aggressive infection very fast. It frequently manifests as a discharge (pus), black pockets, patches, or pits, as well as a white or yellow discoloration and a bad odor.

Usually, a pre-existing wound on the turtle’s shell becomes infected with germs. All turtles are affected by this, however younger turtles with weaker shells may experience it more frequently.

Shell rot may be avoided and remedied with the right diligence. If you suspect a severe case of shell rot or if home treatment is ineffective, it is preferable to consult your veterinarian.

How Dangerous Is It?

Pathogens like bacteria or fungi may destroy the live tissue underneath the tough outer layer of the turtle’s shell as a result of turtle shell rot. The disease can also develop in aquatic species when algae stick to the turtle’s shell.

Abscesses may develop and remain for a number of years without treatment, causing significant tissue damage.

Septicemic cutaneous ulcerative disease, often known as SCUD, can develop as a result of shell rot.

Bacterial proliferation in the bloodstream is what distinguishes this condition. If the bloodstream germs assault the turtle’s key organs, this illness can swiftly prove deadly.

Can shell rot kill turtles?

Untreated shell rot can indeed lead to turtle death. A bacterial blood infection, or septicemia, can result from the infection on the shell penetrating the soft tissue beneath and entering the circulation.

It’s usually ideal to identify and cure these issues early on since, if it gets to this point, your RES might die after a few days. Better still, keep a suitable habitat for your turtle to avoid them altogether.

Main Differences Between Turtle Shell Rot vs Shedding

Turtle shell rot and shedding vary primarily in that they:

While shell rot happens when there is a bacterial or fungal infection due to inadequate husbandry, shell shedding happens naturally as a result of growth or damage.

While shell rot should be addressed as soon as it is identified, shell shedding should be allowed to occur unhindered.

While shell rot can be fatal if left unchecked, shell shedding won’t hurt your turtle.

As your turtle develops or recovers from damage to its shell, shell shedding will occur throughout the course of its lifetime. Careful handling can prevent shell rot, and minor instances can be managed at home.

What Causes Shell Rot?

Shell injury is one of the most frequent causes of turtle shell rot, however there are other factors as well.

There are several sorts of injuries that might lead to this. Fighting among turtles may cause shell damage, and males in particular are capable of acting aggressively against both females and other males. At the place of the injury or tail, such battling may cause shell rot to appear.

If the shell has any fissures, damage to the shell may also be seen. The enclosure’s unfavorable humidity and temperature levels may be the cause of this.

If the substrate is excessively dry, a species that is native to a moist environment may also experience harm to its skin and shell. A species from a dry climate, on the other hand, can undergo weakening of the outer shell if the substrate is excessively wet, enabling infectious organisms to penetrate.

All turtles, even those that are aquatic, require a little room so that they may periodically crawl out of the water to dry, so it’s vital to keep that in mind.

Keep an eye out for any sharp things in the turtle’s habitat, too. Some of the climbing and concealment gear may have jagged edges that might potentially harm the animal’s shell.

An unclean atmosphere is another factor in shell deterioration. Water should be cleaned often, even drinking water.

Additionally, if you have an aquatic species, such as a Red-eared slider, keep the water purified. Because their shells are typically softer, aquatic turtles are more likely to have this problem.

It’s also important to maintain the bedding clean since dirty or moldy bedding can cause bacterial or fungal shell rot.

How To Prevent Shell Rot

The best strategy to stop shell rot is to keep your turtle’s tank and water quality in excellent condition, which includes keeping it clean, clear of sharp things that might hurt your turtle, and with the right habitat conditions (temperature, lighting, heating, water quality).

Although wounds, which are frequently where shell rot begins, may be prevented, shell rot can also develop in the absence of wounds if the turtle’s tank is maintained unclean.

Choose smoother tank furniture and arrange your aquarium’s furniture to reduce the likelihood of scratches, abrasions, and shell chipping. A spot kept entirely dry for sunbathing should also be included in your tank. Since shell rot is infectious, if you have numerous turtles in a tank, you will need to separate the one that has symptoms.

All turtles should be cleaned carefully, and you should keep an eye on them if you notice one with shell rot. Following, a complete tank cleaning should be performed.

Symptoms Of Turtle Shell Rot

In the veterinary community, ulcerative shell disease is another name for turtle shell rot. It is a collective word for a widespread illness that can affect either the carapace, or top, of the shell, or its base (known as the plastron).

In comparison to captive turtles, the signs of shell rot are typically more obvious in wild turtles. Wild turtles seem dehydrated and have poor overall physical condition. The shell may be covered in moss and release an unpleasant odor or discharge, which may occasionally be bloody.

When it comes to pet turtles, the signs of shell rot are typically more subtle.

It’s possible to spot a slimy coating on the shell, a crimson fluid behind the shell plates, or softening, lifting, or flaking plates. The shell might be easily broken and generate a bad stench as well.

The shell appears to have been eaten away at as the condition worsens due to the development of tiny pits immediately below the shell’s surface. The shell will start to seem irregular as the situation deteriorates even further.

In really severe situations, whole shell plates may even come off, exposing the bone and nerves beneath.

A turtle with a minor case of shell rot may not even show signs of illness; instead, they may continue to be active, eat well, and have clean eyes. The shell will only be slightly impacted, and the lesions will be superficial and dry.

There won’t be any soft spots or pus either. Additionally, the pits or lesions may have a white crusty coating that blends in with the rest of the shell.

Is shell rot contagious to humans?

Despite the fact that shell rot is not particularly communicable to people, you should still take measures when treating it at home because you may be working with germs or fungus.

When treating the shell rot of your turtle, always operate on a clean surface while wearing gloves, and wash your hands completely both before and after.

When to See the Vet

Often, home remedies are sufficient to get rid of the infection in your turtle or tortoise.

Currently, if you have been administering home remedies for them for a few days and you have not noticed any progress, you must take your turtle or tortoise to an exotic vet.

Additionally, if it seems to be growing worse, it is necessary to consult a veterinarian since shell rot might develop into Septicemic Cutaneous Ulcerative Disease (SCUD).

The bacteria that is developing on the shell can enter the bloodstream, which makes SCUD a VERY dangerous condition. The fact that the viruses are spread through the blood supply and can start targeting your turtle or tortoise’s organs makes this a potentially lethal condition.

Antibiotics must typically be administered orally or intravenously to your turtle or tortoise to treat SCUD.

Home Care vs Seeing a Vet

Fortunately, there are many things you can do at home to treat your turtle’s shell issues as opposed to paying for pricey vet appointments. However, there can come a time when you are unable to treat them any longer and they need to see a veterinarian.

The shedding scute underneath it will be harmed if you try to pull one off the shell that is trapped. Make sure your turtle is getting enough calcium in their diet and increase the tank’s filtration system, if necessary, to speed up the shedding process. You should also swap out the UVB lamps.

Consult your veterinarian for assistance if the blocked shed still isn’t coming off after a few weeks. Routine shell shedding won’t often require veterinarian attention, although problems can happen.

If you clean your turtle’s shell and discover bone or blood in the pitting, there is a chance that the infection will penetrate the shell and enter the turtle’s circulation. This is usually lethal and necessitates a trip to the veterinarian.

You should also take your turtle to the veterinarian if the shell rot extends beyond 20% of the carapace or plastron so they may give it an antibiotic medication to help it battle the infection.

Veterinary aid is frequently required, while mild shell rot can occasionally be managed at home.

How To Prevent Shell Rot In The Future

It makes a lot of sense to put effort into preventative measures whether your turtle has had shell rot in the past or you wish to protect your healthy turtles from the condition in the future.

There are various steps you may do to safeguard your turtles from shell rot, and it’s far simpler to prevent future instances.

Keeping the cage and the water as spotless as you can is one of the finest strategies. If you’ve had turtle shell rot in the past, consider cleaning both items more regularly than you did previously. Also, don’t forget to remove any filthy or moldy bedding.

Additionally, keep an eye on the cage’s humidity and temperature. The turtles’ shells will break if the environment is too dry, and if the environment is too wet, the turtles’ shells will soften, which might lead to the plates pealing and provide a danger of infections entering below the shell.

Always give a location where the animals may sunbathe that is not submerged in water, ideally close to a warming light. Finally, take out any sharp things from the cage that can harm the turtles’ shells.