Shell rot on your red-eared slide can be very concerning, and as a pet owner, you need to know what shell rot is, how to prevent it, and how to treat it.
Knowing the ins and outs of shell rot is important to assist you in caring for your red-eared slider, as well as being able to identify when shell rot starts out, to prevent it from progressing any further.
What is shell rot on red-eared sliders? Shell rot is a problem that red-eared sliders are quite susceptible to, as they require quite a bit of water in their tank. Shell rot happens when bacteria get under the protective layer of the shell and eat away at the tissue underneath. This can lead to an infected wound and shell breakage.
If left untreated, shell rot can be fatal, so it is so important to know how to identify it, treat it, and even prevent it!
What Is Shell Rot?
Shell rot, Septicemic Cutaneous Ulcerative Disease (SCUD), is a health issue experienced by aquatic turtles, and particularly red-eared sliders, as they spend a considerable amount of time in water and need a large volume of water in their tank.
If there are microorganisms present in their tank, such as bacteria or fungi, these could get under the protective layer of the scutes, which are the individual sections that make up the shell. Once underneath this protective layer, they can multiply and grow and begin to eat away at the tissue underneath.
The destruction of this tissue can then lead to wounds that can become infected, and can contribute to shell breakage too. This shell breakage can create sharp edges of the shell, which could poke or cut your red-eared slider, and cause further wounds and infection.
Shell rot, if left untreated, can lead to some serious infections, and this could be fatal over time. It is a serious condition, and if you notice any signs of shell rot, you should work to sort it out straight away.
Symptoms Of Shell Rot
Shell rot can be difficult to pick up early on, as it starts out with a very small discoloration on the plastron, which is the bottom of the shell, or the carapace, the top of the shell. It can be really difficult to pick up on this discoloration at first, but as the shell rot spreads, it does become more noticeable.
The discoloration can appear to be white, yellow, or even greenish, and will look quite similar to mold. You will notice the discoloration appearing either as spots or as blotches across the shell.
If left untreated, the shell rot will then turn into small pits and dents and have quite a bad smell. The shell around this area will also be soft and might even have bloody discharge. When it reaches this stage, the shell rot is quite serious, and the shell is more susceptible to breaking and exposing the tissue underneath.
Once the tissue underneath the shell is exposed, there is a higher chance of it becoming infected.
Some red-eared sliders in captivity might even show red-tinged shells as a sign of shell rot, and the area of shell rot can become slimy. This might follow with flaking and damage too. If left for too long, parts of the outer shell can fall off, which then exposes bone, tissue, and nerves, which as you might expect, will be incredibly painful for a turtle.
So, simply put, these are the signs to look for of shell rot:
- Yellow, white, or greenish discoloration
- Mold-like spots or blotches across the shell
- Dents and pits form on the shell
- Soft shell areas with a bad smell and discharge
- Bloody discharge from shell
- Broken scutes
- Red tinge on the shell
Hopefully, you will be able to pick up the early signs of shell rot, to prevent it from progressing any further and becoming a real problem for your turtle.
Wet Shell Rot And Dry Shell Rot
There are two types of shell rot that a red-eared slider might experience, either wet shell rot or dry shell rot.
Wet rot is a more serious type of shell rot, as it can turn bad really quickly. It will start as a white or yellow discoloration, and spots and dents on the shell. Often, discharge appears quite quickly, and there will be a foul smell around these areas.
This is a sure sign that there is a bacterial infection, which can turn fatal. The wet rot will continue to spread quickly if not treated, and pieces of the shell will fall off and leave tissue underneath exposed.
Dry rot does not spread as fast, but it is still a condition that needs to be taken seriously. It appears lighter in color, either a white or tan color, and is mostly caused by fungal growth.
After some time, dry rot can lead to the shell becoming fragile and brittle, and it can then break and cause the shell to not be complete. Once too much of the shell has crumbled away, it can be really difficult to recover.
What Can Cause Shell Rot In Red-Eared Sliders?
There are a few different factors that can lead to shell rot in red-eared sliders. Many of these are preventable, and with proper care and attention, the chances of shell rot can be reduced.
Here are some of the main causes of shell rot in red-eared sliders:
Unsuitable Habitat Conditions
It is so important to ensure that your red-eared slider has the right habitat conditions. Not only will it make them more comfortable, but it is essential in keeping them healthy too.
There is a lot that goes into creating the right environment for your red-eared slider, and it is no easy job. You need to ensure the water is kept at the correct temperature, and that the lighting and humidity are all at the right level too. The water quality needs to be consistent as well.
Your red-eared slider should have a spot above the water where it can sit out of the water and bask in the light and heat. This area can help prevent shell rot by giving your red-eared slider a space to dry off properly from the water.
UVB lights are also great at fighting off infections, so your red-eared slider should have a spot available to bask in this light. Be wary of using floating docks, as these can sometimes become submerged in water and not give your turtle the chance to dry off.
Dirty Tank Water
Dirty tank water can be the number one cause of shell rot in turtles and red-eared sliders. The bacteria and fungi found in the dirty water would get under the shell and then cause an infection and rot.
A red-eared slider spends so much time in their tank water, and this just increases the chance of the dirty tank water causing shell rot. The chances of shell rot in dirty water are increased further if your red-eared slide has a wound in their shell.
It is essential to keep your red-eared slider’s water and tank clean, to prevent bacterial growth. There are filters that you can use to clean the water and maintain good water quality. You should also change the water often too, as turtles can create quite a bit of mess in their own tank.
Red-eared sliders can damage their shells in numerous ways, whether it be from a sharp object found in their tank, or even through fighting with another turtle.
While these small wounds and cuts might seem small and maybe not even noticeable, they give an opening for bacteria and fungi to enter below the shell and cause an infection.
Even the smallest of cuts can become infected easily, especially since a red-eared slider spends a large amount of time in the water, and even worse so if the tank water is dirty.
Keep a check on your turtle’s shell to look for any cuts or wounds, and make sure that there are no sharp objects that could cause them injury in their tank.
If you have two red-eared sliders in a tank who seem to fight often, you might need to get a bigger tank to give them more of their own space, or place them in separate tanks to stop them fighting any further.
Treating Shell Rot
Shell rot is a serious condition if left to progress, and if it is a serious infection, then you will need to speak to a veterinarian about possible treatments.
In the early stages, shell rot can be treated at home. This is why it is so important to regularly check on your red-eared slider for signs of shell rot so that you can catch it early if it does appear, and treat it in the initial stages.
Treating shell rot, even in the early stages, can be quite a long and tedious process, which is why you need to do everything you can to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Treatment for shell rot includes cleaning out the tank properly, applying antiseptic to your turtle’s shell after cleaning it, and ensuring that their environment is kept as clean as possible. If the shell rot does not improve after a while, you will need to take them in for professional help.
How To Treat Shell Rot
As mentioned above, treating shell rot is not an easy process, and you will need a few supplies to treat it.
These supplies include:
- Clean warm water (filtered or distilled)
- Soft toothbrush
- Reptile safe antiseptic
- Reptile safe topical antibacterial spray or cream
- Paper towels
- UV lamp
Here is how to treat shell rot:
- Make sure to wear gloves, so you do not come into contact with the shell rot, which can spread bacteria more.
- Using warm water and a soft toothbrush, gently scrub your red-eared slider’s shell. Do not only focus on the areas with shell rot but make sure to clean the whole shell in small circular motions.
- Once you have scrubbed the shell, rinse the shell off with some warm water that’s been filtered or distilled.
- After cleaning the shell, dry it off completely with paper towels or absorbent towels. Make sure to thoroughly dry the shell to the point where there is no moisture left.
- Once the shell is dry, apply some antiseptic to the affected area. Betadine is a good option and will help to kill off any bacteria. After applying the antiseptic to the area, keep your red-eared slider away from water for at least 20 minutes.
- Repeat this process for around two to three days, but no more than this, as the antiseptic might stop the shell from growing properly.
- If you are wanting to treat the whole shell, you can wrap your turtle in a towel that has been soaked with Betadine, and leave it for about 5 minutes. After removing the towel, allow the shell to dry.
- In more serious cases, if the shell rot causes a bad odor, apply antibacterial spray or cream to the area. This can be done twice a day for a week, and make sure to keep the red-eared slider away from water for 30 minutes to allow the medicine to be effective.
Some severe cases of shell rot call for debridement, which is where you need to remove dead areas of the shell using a scalpel or sharp knife. You should only attempt this if you are confident that you know what you are doing and have done so successfully before, otherwise take your red-eared slider to the vet for treatment.
Preventing Shell Rot In Red-Eared Sliders
The most effective way to prevent shell rot in turtles is to ensure that their tank and enclosure are kept hygienic and clean and that the environment is perfectly suited for them.
This includes maintaining the right conditions of lighting, temperature, heating, and water quality, as well as ensuring that there are no sharp objects that could harm your red-eared slider and cause any cuts or wounds.
Give your red-eared slider a dock that is completely out of the water, for them to bask on under heat and lighting, to dry off completely after going for a swim.
Shell Rot On Red-Eared Sliders
Shell rot on red-eared sliders is a very serious concern, and if left untreated, can be fatal. It occurs when bacteria enter under the shell and cause an infection in the tissue.
If caught early enough, shell rot can be treated at home, or if it is more severe, it will need treatment from a veterinarian.
To prevent shell rot, you need to keep your red-eared slider’s tank and water clean and maintain a good habitat for them through lighting, heating, temperature, and water quality.
Keep a check on your red-eared slider’s shell for any signs of shell rot, so you can treat it early on before it becomes more serious!
Can shell rot be fatal?
Shell rot can become serious enough to be fatal for red-eared sliders. The infection that affects the tissue underneath the shell can then cause septicemia, which will be fatal. It is so important to treat shell rot as soon as possible to prevent this.
Can shell rot go away on its own?
Shell rot does not really go away on its own, and you will need to treat the area. However, the shell can eventually repair itself over time, growing back together, as long as the wound underneath the shell is kept free from infection.
Why is my red-eared slider’s shell peeling?
It is normal for an older red-eared slider’s shell to peel, as the scutes and keratin layer will peel off in a thin layer as the shell grows. This is not cause for concern.
Up Next: Can Turtles Flip Themselves Over?