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turtle shell rot treatment

In today’s article, I will review everything you need to know about shell rot. I will cover what it looks like, how to treat it, and how to prevent it in the future.

What is shell rot?

Shell rot is a bacterial or fungal infection that eats away at your turtle’s shell. In advanced stages, it can spread across a turtle’s shell and cause it to rot away.

Turtle with shell rot

In early stages, shell rot usually appears as small white dots on your turtle’s shell. It’s more common for shell rot to appear on the bottom of a turtle’s shell compared to the top.

turtle with shell rot

What does turtle shell rot look like?

As shell rot develops, the white dots begin to spread and form larger shapes. Then the area begins to cause a divot in your turtle’s shell as it begins to eat away at the shell. At this point, the shell rot area will likely have a bad odor. The area of the shell rot will also be soft.

shell rot on turtles

Shell rot is most commonly confused with normal turtle shedding. While shell rot and other types of fungus can form in between your turtle’s scutes, white lines along the scutes are usually just a sign that your turtle is shedding its scutes. You can learn more about the difference in my video below:

Shell rot can also be confused with mineral deposits.

While mineral deposits can look similar to early stages of shell rot, it is easy to determine which is which. If you use an old toothbrush, dip it in some water and gently brush away the spots. Mineral deposits are white and should be easily brushed away. You can learn more about mineral deposits here. If the white spot stays, it could be shell rot.

Turtle shell rot treatment

Luckily, if caught in the early stages, shell rot is pretty easy to treat in turtles at home. Below are the steps you should follow if you suspect your turtle has shell rot.

Step 1: Remove turtle and apply antifungal cream

The first step to treating shell rot in turtles is to remove the turtle from the tank. You should start by drying off the shell. Next, using a toothbrush gently rub the area of the shell rot. This should help remove some of the soft fungal/bacterial tissue.

Step 2: Applying antifungal solution

Next, you will need to apply an antifungal solution to the shell rot. A lot of people have had success treating their turtle’s shell rot with this antifungal solution:

There are also some other over the counter options including betadine or iodine. If your turtle’s shell rot is very advanced, you can also try a solution called kopertox.

You can apply the antifungal solution directly on to the shell rot areas. You can do this with your fingers, or with a glove.

After you apply the solution, make sure that your turtle stays dry for the next 20 minutes to ensure that the solution dries on the shell rot.

Step 3: Dry dock

Over the next week or two, you should regularly dry dock your turtle. You should do this after you apply the antifungal solution. Find a container that your turtle can easily fit in, and then position a basking light so that it is 6-10 inches away from the bottom of the container. You should make sure that the temperature inside the container is between 75 and 85 degrees.

By forcing your turtle to dry dock and bask, it will help your turtle synthesize calcium and help its shell grow. This can help combat the shell that is rotting.

The frequency of dry docking will depend on the severeness of your turtle’s shell rot, as well as how fast your turtle is recovering. If your turtle’s shell rot is not bigger than centimeter, you will only need to dry dock your turtle for around 30 minutes a day, and then return it to the tank.

I do recommend that you do a water change in your tank either every day or at least every other day to make sure their water is clean. The key is too observe the shell rot areas to see if the rotting persists. While there will likely be divots in the shell, your turtle is likely healing if the white spots get smaller or disappear over time.

However, if your turtle’s shell rot continues to spread and does not improve, you may need to dry dock it for at least an hour or two. In extreme cases, you will need to keep your turtle dry docked 24/7 until you see improvement. However, if you do keep your turtle dry 24/7, you should still let them soak in water once or twice a day to ensure that they don’t get dehydrated.

Step 4: Take to the vet

If your turtle’s shell rot continues to worsen, you will need to take him/her to the vet. At the vet, they will likely do a blood test and other procedures to identify if it is indeed shell rot, and also to check for any other turtle diseases.

If they confirm that your turtle does indeed have shell rot, they will likely remove the rotted tissue and apply an anti-fungal or antibacterial cream. They might also administer antibiotics to your turtle to help fight off infection and relieve pain.

Depending on the severity of your turtle’s shell rot, the vet might keep your turtle for a couple days.

Now that we’ve reviewed how to treat shell rot, let’s talk about what causes it and how to prevent it in the future.

What causes shell rot in turtles?

The two main causes of shell rot are dirty water conditions and inadequate basking spots.

Water conditions

turtle tank with bad water quality

If the water in your tank is not clean, it can make it easier for bacteria to grow and spread onto your turtle’s shell. Therefore, it is very important that your filter is functioning correctly and keeping the water clean. You should also make sure to do partial water changes (at least every other week), and also make sure to clean your filter every couple of months.

It is also important that your water is the right temperature. Most aquatic turtle species require a temperature between 75 and 85 degrees fahrenheight.

Basking spot

turtle basking

One of the main reasons why shell rot forms in the first place is because your turtle is not basking enough. In order to have a healthy turtle, it is essential that your turtle has access to a basking platform and a basking light that emits UVA and UVB lights. The temperature should be between 85 and 95 degrees fahrenheight.

If your turtle isn’t basking, you should make sure that they can easily access the ramp to the basking platform, and that the platform is at the right temperature. You also need to make sure that the basking area is completely dry and out of the water.

Shell rot in turtles

While you might panic if your turtle has shell rot, it’s important to understand that it can usually be treated at home. As long as you follow the steps listed above, your turtle should start to heal in a week or two. The key is to catch it early before it spreads to other parts of the shell.

In order to prevent your turtle from developing shell rot, it’s important that your turtle has access to clean water and a proper basking platform.

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