Turtle shedding and shell rot

Turtle Shedding and Shell Rot: What’s the Difference?

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Shedding vs Shell RotThe turtle shell is a protective sheath that covers the turtle’s spine. It protects the turtle against predators and parasites and provides physical support for the turtle when they are walking on land. As a turtle grows, it will shed its shell.

While not typical, turtles sometimes develop infections or parasites that cause them to shells to rot. First-time turtle owners may mistake this for shedding, but it’s quite different and dangerous for the turtle. This article will discuss what turtle shell rot is, how it can be treated, and why it happens.

What's the Difference Between Shedding and Shell Rot?

Turtle Shell Rot

It’s important to catch shell rot early. Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for: 

  • A red-tinted white fluid under several scutes
  • Pitting within the shell
  • Some plates begin to fall off and expose bones
  • Noticeable odor near the wounds and affected area

Normal Shell Shedding Or Peeling

It’s important to know what typical shedding looks like, too. Here’s what you’ll notice:

  • A white or clear-ish fluid can be seen under the turtle’s scutes.
  • When the scutes fall off, they come as a whole scute and underneath it new plates have already been formed. 
  • An absence of odor or noticeable smell

Tips to fight Shell Rot

If you notice any signs of shell rot, here are some initial steps you need to take: 

  • Get a UV lamp
  • Add a calcium supplement
  • Get a high-grade tank filter
  • Clean the tank and change the water frequently.


What is Turtle Shell Rot?

Turtle shell rot is a condition in which the turtle’s shell becomes infected and slowly rots. Also known as Ulcerative Shell Disease, it takes one of two forms; a dry and a wet form.

Dry and wet forms of shell rot are ofter caused by different things. 

  • The dry form is usually caused by a fungal infection. 
  • The wet form is typically from a bacterial infection.

Other causes of turtle shell rot include: 

  • Injury to the shell
  • Exposure to cold temperatures
  • Poor water quality. 

Turtle shell rot will typically begin with small holes on the outside perimeter of the turtle’s plastron, or the bottom of the shell. These holes may become larger and deeper until eventually, they penetrate the turtle’s body.

How to Fix Shell Rot in Turtles

What Causes Shell Rot?

Turtle shell rot is typically caused by an infection or parasite that has entered the turtle’s body. However, there are multiple reasons that the infection can start.

Shell Damage and Injury

This is most common after an injury to the shell, even if it is only a minor scratch.

The turtle’s shell has a large surface area, which makes it susceptible to injury. This is especially true for turtles that live in outdoor enclosures or ponds, where other animals and people come into contact with the turtle regularly.

Even small scratches or shell damage are enough for shell rot to start taking hold.

Pro Tips

Be on the lookout if you have multiple turtles in the same tank, especially two or more male turtles. Fighting amongst turtles is a common cause of shell damage.

Poor Water Quality

Water quality affects whether or not your turtle gets shell rot. If the water is dirty, your turtle’s shell might be more susceptible to damage and infection. 

Bacteria and viruses thrive in dirty or spoiled water, so be sure to change the water regularly. Invest in a good turtle tank water filter to help manage the water conditions with less hassle.

Pro Tips

  • Change out your turtle’s water regularly, at least once per week
  • Add in some aquarium salt for turtles
  • Consider getting an aquarium filter

Turtle Soft Shell

Ensure your turtle is getting proper nutritionPoor diet and nutrition can cause turtle rot to set in. If your turtle isn’t getting enough calcium or other nutrients, its body will start to break down the outer layers of its plastron to get them. This causes a soft spot on the bottom of its shell. It will eventually lead to open wounds and possible infection.

Pro Tips

  • Be sure to feed your turtle a diet rich in calcium and other nutrients including vitamins. 
  • Make sure your turtle gets plenty of sunlight so it can produce vitamin D naturally.
  • Consider using supplements if you have doubts about sunlight exposure. 
  • If your turtle is in an area of low sunlight consider investing in a high-end UV light to provide enough light to convert nutrients into calcium.

How to Treat Shell Rot in Turtles

There are several ways to treat turtle shell rot. Here are some things to get you started: 

  • Take the turtle out of the terrarium and clean the tank and replace the water with new freshwater. This ensures that the turtle has a clean environment when you place it back.
  • Let the turtle shell dry and try to keep it dry other than when cleaning it.
  • Use a small toothbrush and a solution of soap and water to clean the affected areas. 
  • Try removing any debris around the infected area using a utensil or tweezers.

After the area has been clean and cleared we recommend using an antiseptic to further clean the area. Be sure to follow the instructions on your antiseptic solution and apply a small amount of it onto a Q-tip or cotton swab so you can carefully treat the affected areas.

Pro Tip: Do not clean turtle shells while they are still wet – this will only cause issues with bacteria growth in addition to being painful for the turtle.

If the condition does not improve within ten days, you should visit your local veterinarian for further treatment options.

How Do You Prevent Shell Rot in Turtles?

The best way to prevent turtle shell rot is by keeping your turtle’s habitat clean and well-stocked.

  • Clean the tank
  • Change the water regularly
  • Provide them with clean food

In addition to the turtle’s habitat, you should also pay attention to their health and behavior with other turtles. Watch for signs of fighting or damage to their shells and take precautions if necessary.

Pro Tip

Be on the lookout for shell rot in the early stages. It is easier to treat before it has developed into a more serious condition or infection.

What is Turtle Shell Shedding?

Turtle shell shedding is a natural process in which turtles shed their old shells for new ones.

This happens to young and adult turtles alike, but it happens more often with younger turtles who are still growing quickly. 

  • As the turtle grows and the bones grow, the cuts will fall off and newer, larger ones will grow in its place.
  • Turtles may also shed their shell to prevent bacteria growth and infections.
  • Shedding is a turtle’s way to keep itself clean and get rid of any blockage on the shell or underneath the scutes.

When this happens, they will begin to crack or flake off of the turtle’s body until it is completely shed.

What Does a Shedding Shell Look Like?

Check your turtles shell for signs of rotA healthily shedding shell looks like small pieces of the turtle’s shell falling off, with new pieces present underneath. 

It can come in different shapes and sizes. Some pieces may be larger than others, but they will appear as loose fragments on top of your turtle or underneath its scutes.

If you notice that there are many places where the skin is red or irritated, then it is recommended that you take your turtle to a veterinarian as there could be deeper issues.

Normal shell shedding may have a white or clear liquid underneath, has a growing scute underneath the one being shed, and there is no foul odor associated with shedding.

Healthy Turtle Shedding

Normal turtle shedding will not hurt your turtle and it should be able to do this on its own.

Turtles need to shed their shell for several reasons:

  • Shedding helps keep their shells strong to fight off predators
  • Helps prevent shell rot and other types of illness
  • Helps with hygiene and keeps the turtle clean
  • Helps with growth and with repairing and damaged parts of the shell

How often Do Turtles Shed Their Shell?

Turtles will shed their shell as often as they need to. Once they reach a certain age, they will shed quite frequently. Some species, such as Red-Eared Sliders, will shed their shell every 1-2 months.

Young turtles may do this more often than adults. It depends on the turtle and how fast it is growing. It can take years for a turtle to grow out of its shell, so keep an eye on your pet’s health if you are concerned about them shedding frequently. Some turtle species won’t shed until they reach around 4-inches long.


Shell rot and normal turtle shedding can look extremely similar, but there are a few key differences to watch out for. If you notice your turtle is showing signs of shell rot, then it is important that you take action immediately before the condition worsens. It is advised not to wait until the next time they shed their shells, as this will only cause more damage to their body.

In most cases, turtle shell rot will appear as a small hole or crack in the shell with some mild signs of infection, such as redness and swelling around it. If you see your pet turtle is displaying these symptoms, then visit a veterinarian before the condition worsens. They can help provide treatment options that are not as invasive or risky.

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