Turtle Shell Rot

Turtle Shell Rot: How To Treat Your Pet Turtle At Home?

If you figure out grey or whitish spots in the turtle shell, it’s probably rotting. A foul odor can further confirm it and require you to treat it with some topical medicine. 

How to treat shell rotting at home? Shell rotting in turtles is typically treated with topical antibiotics such as silver sulfadiazine or mupirocin. It’s generally applied twice a day for a week to the affected area. Sometimes a soap bath or cleaning the wound with antiseptics, such as hydrogen peroxide or betadine, can heal the shell rot. Since pathogens like fungus or bacteria in dirty tank water cause it, you must clean it regularly.

Also, dry dock your pet turtle and keep it under UV light for some time using a warm heat lamp to encourage healing. Wondering what else can speed up the recovery? Continue reading the article to find all the home treatment options for shell rot in detail.

Shell Rot Causes & Symptoms


Shell rot is an infectious condition. It could be dangerous if left untreated and lead to liver issues, paralysis, and even death. It can occur either in the carapace (the top half of the shell) or the plastron (the bottom half). Learn more about turtle’s exoskeletal structure.

Shell Rot Causes & Symptoms

Shell Rot Causes

The shell rot is mainly caused by a dirty environment in the tank where there’s a possible presence of algae or pathogens like bacteria and fungus. If the outer keratin or shell of the turtle is damaged for some reason, these pathogens gain access and cause fungal or bacterial infections. 

Turtle Shell Rot Causes

The shell could get damaged for the following reasons:

  • Improper substrate humidity: Turtles native to humid atmospheres may suffer shell cracks due to excessively dry substrate. And the ones from the arid environment may suffer from shell softening or distortion due to overly damp substrate.
  • Some external injury: Turtles can suffer shell injury because of their internal fighting, especially when the males become aggressive to both males and females. Some sharp objects may also harm your turtle’s shell.

To avoid such conditions, here are a few things you must do regularly:

  • Clean the water in the turtle tank once a week. Replace water in the tank with clean water. Also, clean the tank surface using the warm water bleach solution.
  • Allow dry docking and UV sunlight exposure for a few hours every day. 
  • Remove sharp objects from the turtle’s enclosure. 
  • Don’t house multiple male turtles in one tank; provide a large habitat and separate basking areas while ensuring enough food.

Shell Rot Symptoms

There are quite a few symptoms that indicate shell rot in your turtle. Let’s look at some of them here.

Shell Rot Symptoms
  • A foul odor with or without bloody discharge
  • White, green, or yellow blotches or spots in different parts of the shell
  • Reddish tinge or fluid beneath the shell plate
  • Flaking shell plates
  • Small pits that look like uneven or moth-eaten shell appearance
  • Shell turning soft and may crumble

How To Treat Your Pet Turtle At Home: Primary Treatment Options

To start treating your pet turtle at home, move your infected turtle away from the water tank first. There are a few home treatment options available. You can choose one or more based on the severity level. Let’s discuss them in detail below.

How To Treat Your Pet Turtle At Home

Debridement with Mild Soap & Brush

It’s the most basic treatment option and should be considered if your pet turtle has a milder shell rot. It requires you to bath your turtle in the following way:

  • Apply mild soap to the affected shell to clean the wound.
  • Use a soft toothbrush like a baby toothbrush to scrub and scrape off any algae, dirt, or other damaged portion on the shell surface.
  • Scrape out the small pits and dried white spots.
  • Put your turtle in the natural light or around the heat to get it dry.
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Debridement with Antiseptic

Since normal soap cleaning won’t clean the bacteria or the pathogen, the shell rot might come back. So debride with some disinfectant in the following way.

  • Use hydrogen peroxide, betadine, or chlorhexidine solution to do the debridement.
  • Clean the shell with mild soap and use any of the above antiseptics or directly use them.
  • Soak the shell with betadine, hydrogen peroxide, or chlorhexidine for ten minutes. 
  • Then scrub the shell with a baby toothbrush or surgeon’s hand brush.
  • Rinse off everything with clean water.
  • Repeat the process until it gets completely healed.


If the shell rot has started to look severe, it may require to be treated with antibiotics.

  • Make sure the turtle is dry.
  • Apply topical antibiotics such as silver sulfadiazine or antifungal cream like 2% mupirocin to the affected shell area. 
  • You’ve to apply it twice daily for one week.
  • Don’t let the turtle get into the water for at least an hour after swabbing.

Some More Tricks to Speed Up Healing

Some more tricks can speed up the healing process of your pet turtle. Let’s look at them in detail below.

Some More Tricks to Speed Up Healing

Also read: How To Get A Turtle To Come Out Of Hiding?

Dry Docking

Dry docking can help turtles with shell rot. Even the aquatic turtles should be dry docked for a particular time. If your pet turtle suffers from shell rot, put it in its water tank for one hour or so to let it eat and excrete. After that, dry dock your turtle in a soft towel. And for the remaining part of the day, keep it in a small water bowl or backup tank.

Heat Lamp

If your pet turtle suffers from shell rot, you need to get it some UV lights with an external heat source. It requires being in the UV light for at least 20 minutes of the day while suffering from such a condition.

If you can put it in the sunshine, that’d be great. But a heat lamp could also be a good idea in this case. It’ll encourage healing as external heat can ensure their preferred body temperature.


Weight loss is a common problem in sick turtles as they lose their appetite. But to heal from shell rot, your pet turtle needs to have a balanced diet. If they refuse to eat, you can put a feeding tube in their esophagus to feed and keep them hydrated. 

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But if they’re feeding on their own, provide them with a balanced diet consisting of leafy greens, turtle pellets, and adequate protein, along with occasional treats to encourage eating.


Oil or moisturizing your turtle’s shell regularly or when it’s healed from shell rot is recommended. Don’t use coconut oil as it can trap dirt; use some specially formulated oil or moisturizer to keep your turtle’s shell healthy and glossy. They can also remove any impurities and provide refreshment to the shell.

When Should You See the Vet?

Turtle shell rot is also known as Ulcerative Shell Disease (UCD). In severe cases, the pet turtle could show serious symptoms. You’ve to keep an eye on the following symptoms that’ll require seeing the vet.

When Should You See the Vet
  • The persistent infection even after the home treatments
  • Bleeding in the underlying tissue
  • Bones becoming loose while scraping
  • Oozing or pus noticed from the wound area
  • Maggots at the site of the wound
  • Visibly in pain with a possible deep shell abscess

What will the vet do? In case of a severe infection, your vet will most likely start a systematic treatment with ceftazidime injection. Besides, they will continue putting on the antibiotic cover. If started early, a severe infection causing shell rot can be cured within a few days.


Let’s look at some FAQs answered on the topic below.

1. Does shell rot heal on its own?

Although it’ll take quite some time and suffering, most milder turtle shell rot eventually heals on its own. But if it’s big and severely infected, the treatment is inevitable to avoid life-threatening consequences for your turtle.

2. Is shell rot contagious?

Yes, shell rot is contagious due to spreading pathogens like bacteria and fungi. It can spread to other turtles, so you must separate the affected turtles from the others. Besides, turtles carry a bacterial called salmonella, which can affect human skin. So always disinfect your hands after handling a turtle.

Related: How Can You Tell If A Turtle Is Dead?

Final Words

Aquatic wild turtles generally have softer shells and are more prone to shell rot than semi-aquatic pet turtles. Pet turtles have subtle signs of shell rot and can be challenging to diagnose with the naked eye. However, some symptoms, like a foul odor or visible patches, can confirm a shell rot infection. 

Since it’s an infectious disease, you can’t overlook it and must start the treatment immediately.

We’ve discussed the home treatment options to opt for a shell rot. They’re straightforward, like cleaning the affected area properly with mild soap or antiseptics and applying topical antibiotics such as silver sulfadiazine. Also, measures like UV light exposure, dry docking, proper nutrition, and moisturizing can further speed healing. But if the symptoms are severe, take your turtle to the vet for systematic treatment.

Turtle Shell Rot

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