Turtle Shell Rot Vs Shedding

Turtle Shell Rot Vs Shedding

Turtle getting sick is the other side of having a turtle as a pet. It could be very difficult for a first-time turtle owner to understand what is wrong with your turtle.

Turtle shell shedding and shell rot are among the most common illnesses turtles face. Due to their similarities, people often confuse shell rot with shell shedding. It is important to correctly identify shell rot or shedding to give the best treatment. Both are different and resemble different health concerns, which you must know.

This article will answer everything about shell rot and shell shedding in turtles. We will discuss differences, causes, and treatment for shell rot and shell shedding conditions in turtles.

Related Article: Why Is My Turtle Not Basking?

Turtle shell rot vs. shedding: What is the difference?

Shell rot and shell shedding in turtles are serious health conditions that require immediate medical supervision. To give you a clear understanding, below is an overview of shell rot and shedding. 

Shell rot is a condition in which turtles develop a fluid under the scutes. Shell becomes slimy, and it smells bad. You can also observe red fluid under their scutes. This condition is called shell rot or ulcerative shell disease. 

Shell shedding is a natural phenomenon that enables turtles to prevent several shell diseases and even help them maintain their body temperature. Sometimes turtles shed their shells due to health issues, poor water conditions, unsuitable basking temperature, or poor diet. This kind of shedding is bad for them, and they may need immediate help. 

The turtle’s shell is constituted of 60 bones. These bones are covered with layers of keratin called scutes or plates. As turtles grow, their scutes peel off to make ways for new scutes. New scutes come up and take the place of old scutes, and this process keeps repeating every once in a while. 

Turtle shedding is also important to keep them healthy. Turtles absorb heat from UV light to maintain their body temperature. As they spend most of their time underwater, bacteria and algae grow on their shells, preventing them from absorbing UV lights. 

To their rescue, turtles start shedding their shells. This process also helps them remove bacteria from their shell and prevent shell rot. 

It is important to notice how the scutes are coming off. As a healthy shedding, scutes should come off as a whole, and a new scute should be present underneath. Also, there should be no sharp or bad smell coming from this shedding. 

What causes shell rot in turtles?

Shell rot could be dangerous for your turtle. It could affect both carapaces and the plastron part of the turtle shell. Turtles in the wild are more prone to shell conditions like shell rot than pet turtles. 

Below are some of the most common reasons for shell rot:


Turtles often fight with each other, which sometimes results in shell damage. If shell damage is not taken care of in its early stage, then bacteria and fungus grow in there, which causes shell rot. You may not notice any sign of shell rot until bacterias outgrow in number, making rot visible. In the worst case, Shell rot can also damage bone underneath the scutes, so immediate action is needed to save your turtle’s life. 

Humid environment

When turtles are not provided with basking spots to dry themselves, it causes bacteria and fungus to develop on their shell, causing shell rot. If your turtle species belongs to a humid environment, keeping them in dry substrate would lead to shell cracks, making them vulnerable to shell rot. It is very important to understand your turtle’s requirements and provide them with an adequate environment accordingly. 

Dirty water

Turtles need clean water for their survival. It is as important as them getting food to live. Turtles spend most of their time underwater, and if water is not clean, it will increase the risk of fungus growth on their shell. Bacteria and fungus grow exponentially in dirty water, so shell rot is more likely to happen. 

Inappropriate lighting condition

Turtles need UV light to disinfect their shell from harmful bacteria and fungus. When turtles are not supplied with a proper basking spot and UV light, they won’t be able to dry their shell, which leads them to a higher risk of developing fungus or bacterial infections. 

Turtles absorb vitamin D from UV light, which is crucial for processing calcium from their diet. When turtles are not provided with enough UV lights, chances are very high of being calcium deficient, leading to various shell diseases, including soft shell and shell rot. 

What does shell rot look like?

Shell rot causing bacteria found and flourish in dirty water. When outgrowing in number, these bacterias start eating the blood vessels in the turtle shell, which causes shell rot.

In the initial stage of shell rot, you would hardly notice anything severe. However, as bacteria start eating up their shell, they will end up creating small pits and divots on thei

r shell. Depending on the severity of the shell rot, you might be able to see soft white spots or bloody discharge from their shell. If left untreated, shell rot could lead scutes to fall off completely, leaving behind the bones and nerves underneath.

White spot on the turtle shell

The white spot on the turtle shell could be because of hard water, fungal infection, shell rot, or other medical conditions. Poor lighting setup could also be a possibility that your turtle has white spots on its shell. Among all other reasons, shell rot is the most probable reason for any such condition. White spots on shells are considered an early stage of shell rot. If you have found any such spot of your turtle, consult a veterinarian for help.

How to treat shell rot?

Turtles can be given home treatment in mild or early stages of shell rot. Below are some steps you can follow to help your beloved turtle from suffering. However, if shell rot is spread all over the shell or scutes are falling apart, consult a veterinarian as your turtle might need surgery. 

For home treatment, follow the steps given below:

  1. First of all, it is very important to know the exact reason for shell rot. Check your water condition and if dirty water is the reason behind shell rot, make sure to change the water. If you have more than one turtle in the tank, keep them in different tanks as shell rot bacteria from one turtle could harm healthy turtles in the enclosure. 
  2. Take out the turtle and clean its shell using a soft bristle brush. Make sure to brush off the dirt and algae from its shell to prevent bacteria from causing further infection. 
  3. It is very important to disinfect the shell rot area. You can use hydrogen peroxide or chlorhexidine solution and wash off the wound.
  4. After a thorough cleaning, use a towel to dry up the turtle. Keeping the turtle under a heating lamp would also be a good idea.
  5. Now it’s time to apply antiseptic cream to the wound. I mostly use betadine as it always does wonders. Use your finger to spread betadine cream on every corner of the wound. For best results, follow the steps every day for about a week. Also, avoid keeping your turtle back in the tank until the wound is healed properly.   
  6. If the shell rot is giving a foul smell, you can use antibacterial or antibiotic cream such as Neosporin. Apply it a few times a day to all the infected areas. 
  7. Follow all these steps for about a week, and you will start seeing positive results. 

Turtle shell shedding

Shell shedding in turtles is a natural phenomenon. It is completely different from shell rot and fungus infection. Turtle shells have scutes or plates which are nothing but keratin. As the turtle grows, its shell also grows. In this process, turtles shed so new scutes can take the place of older ones.

The reason behind this shedding is very interesting. Turtles live underwater, so their shell develops a layer of algae and bacteria. Shedding of scutes helps turtles remove these harmful bacteria from their shells, preventing shell rot and other shell diseases. Another reason for shell shedding is to remove algae layers from their shells. Excess algae deposition on their shell makes it difficult for them to maintain their body temperature, so they undergo shell shedding.

Shell shedding or peeling can be classified into healthy and unhealthy shell shedding.

Healthy shell shedding is when scutes come as a whole and not in parts. It should be natural and should not happen more than twice a year. Turtles usually shed their scutes before going under hibernation and just after coming out of hibernation.

Unhealthy shell shedding occurs because of some medical condition or factors like humidity, poor water condition, or bad quality diet. In this type of shedding, scutes will come out in parts, and you may notice some fluid under the scutes.

Turtle shedding skin on the neck

Turtles not only shed their scute but also shed their skin on the neck and legs. Turtles do not shed old skin all at once but in stages. Turtle’s skin is not elastic like ours. As they grow, their skin does not expand, and thus it starts peeling off to accommodate new skin.

However, not all skin shedding is normal. Sometimes factors like basking area temperature, water condition, filtration, diet, etc., also influence this process. Ensure your turtle is provided with the optimum tank setup for healthy shedding skin.

What causes shell peeling in turtles?

Although shell shedding is a normal process, it may sometimes be a cause of concern. Dysecdysis or unhealthy shell peeling could happen when your turtle suffers from some illness or other factors. It could also be a sign of liver, kidney, bone disease, or malnutrition. Bacterial infection or shell rot also causes shell peeling. 

Some common causes of shell peeling in turtle includes:

  1. High ammonia in water or water being dirty
  2. Basking area being too hot
  3. Overfeeding can lead to rapid growth and so shell peeling
  4. Fungal or bacterial infection
  5. Shell injury

How often do turtles shed?

Aquatic turtles are more prone to bacterial or fungal infection, so they shed more often than other turtle species. On the other hand, Box turtles shed very rarely, and when they do, it is because of their healing process.

Shell shedding is the turtle’s defense mechanism to fight against shell rot or other parasitic infection. Most turtles shed their shells twice a year, mainly before and after hibernation. During this time, the turtle remains inactive, and so they prepare themselves to survive months-long hibernation.

What to do if turtle shell is peeling?

If your turtle is healthy and shedding its shell naturally, it is a good thing, and you need not do anything here. However, it is important to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy shell shedding. In case of unhealthy shedding, consult a veterinarian for medical help. 

Below are some tips you should follow to help your turtle avoid any such discomfort:

  1. Never overfeed your turtle. To know more about overfeeding, read our article on how much to feed your turtle?
  2. Use a heavy-duty filter for keeping turtle tank clean
  3. Use water conditioner for breaking down turtle waste into less harmful chemicals
  4. Keep changing tank water regularly
  5. Use a good quality basking lamp with optimum temperature as per your turtle species
  6. Remove all the sharp objects from the tank which may cause injury to your turtle


Shell rot could be fatal for your turtle, whereas shell peeling or shell shedding is natural for aquatic turtles. A pet owner needs to identify whether their turtle is undergoing shell rot or shell peeling. You can treat mild or early-stage shell rot by cleaning the wound and using antiseptic, antibacterial creams. For more serious shell rot, medical supervision is required.