What the Shell is wrong with my turtle?
If your Turtle's shell is showing signs pitting, soft spots, fluid under the shell plates, discharge or foul smell, or shell plates falling off and exposing tissue, you've got rot. If your turtle has shell rot chances are you need to examine your turtle's environment to figure out what caused this infection. Too much moisture, too little moisture, unsanitary conditions, improper diet, improper heating, and improper lighting can all lead to shell rot and other ailments. It is important to research the needs of your turtle and create an environment to meet those needs before you purchase the actual animal.
What is shell rot?
Besides gross, shell rot is a fungal or bacterial infection of a Turtle or Tortoises shell; it can happen to aquatic or terrestrial animals but is more common in aquatic turtles. The problem begins when a turtle's shell is damaged - by a scratch, a crack, a puncture, etc. It does not have to be serious wound; a simple scratch on a rough rock can be enough to open the shell to infection. This wound leaves room for bacteria or fungi to move in and grow. The infection will rot away at the shell and if left alone can rot through the bone and into the body cavity, which can be fatal. Shell rot is contagious and can spread to other turtles that are housed with an infected turtle. To prevent shell rot it is essential that you maintain a clean environment for your turtles. For aquatic turtles this means heavy duty filtration that is maintained regularly as well as regular water changes. I always like to use canister filters for turtle tanks, I recommend changing the filter media weekly and changing around 50% of the water weekly or every other week. Because of the amount of filter media you end up going through I prefer to use the cheap bulk filter floss and carbon, the fancy inserts for canister filters are too pricy for me. Keeping your tank clean will help to prevent shell infections and will keep current infections from getting worse. Shell rot can also be caused by incorrect housing of turtles. It is important to allow aquatic turtles to climb out of the water and bask, not only does this get your turtle out of the water to dry off from time to time it also helps to expose them to your lighting system which should provide them with proper amounts of UVA/UVB which is required for Vitamin D3 creation (more later). If your turtle's water is warm your turtle might not feel the need to get out and bask. If this occurs it is a good idea to lower your tank water a few degrees to encourage them to climb out and bask. Terrestrial tortoises can suffer from improper housing as well. If kept too dry, turtles from humid environments can experience deterioration of their shell, and if turtles from dry environments are kept too moist it can lead to shell rot. Another major problem that can lead to rot and other shell deformities is
Metabolic Bone Disease.
Metabolic Bone Disease is caused by improper amounts of
calcium and phosphorus in your Turtle. Vitamin D3 is required for the
absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the reptile's body, to
synthesize Vitamin D3 reptiles need exposure to UVA and UVB lighting,
UVB being the most important. When housed outside turtles will get this
UV exposure from natural sunlight. If housed inside we must use
specialized lighting systems which in addition to heat will also
provide the correct amount of UV light. You will want to use a full
spectrum fluorescent bulb which can produce between 3% and 8% UVB, the
amount of UVB needed depends on the species you are keeping. Animals
that have more exposure to sunlight in nature (such as desert
tortoises) require more UVB. Some of the key signs of Metabolic Bone
Disease are deformed/crooked limbs/tails, pyramiding of the shell, and
softening of the shell.
If you do not see signs of improvement in a week, or if you are unsure about treating the infection at home, take your turtle to a qualified reptile vet.
Melissa Kaplan Â©1995 Melissa Kaplan http://www.anapsid.org/shellrot.html
A. C. Highfield http://www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/shellrot.html