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How To Deal With Red Eared Slider Shell Rot

One of the scariest conditions you might encounter is red eared slider shell rot. It can manifest in different ways, like the dry variety that can cause the shell to fragment and crumble, or the wet variety that starts with gooey, greenish discharge – both pretty scary, but there is some good news.

While seeing your scaly buddy’s shell falling apart is certainly horrifying, it is easy to treat if you catch it early and quite preventable with a few good turtle husbandry habits.

Today we’re going to tell you more about shell rot, so that you’ll know the symptoms and causes, as well as the most common treatment strategies. We’ll also sweeten the pot by throwing in an ounce or so of prevention tactics and cover some of the most frequently asked questions before we go.

Shell rot is scary – no doubt about it – but it is also common and something that you can deal with, so let’s explore this topic in-depth so that you’ll know what to do if you see the signs on your own slider!

What is shell rot?

Red Eared Slider with Shell Rot and other health issues
Red Eared Slider with Shell Rot and other health issues – source

Shell rot is a condition where a turtle\s shell integrity is damaged, so that it becomes softer or even begins to crumble away. As you might guess, this is definitely bad news – that’s the turtle’s first line of defense – and it’s actually quite a common condition.

What generally occurs is that the shell may become damaged, via scraping something inside their environment, or through attacks by predators, and then microorganisms in the water are able to breach and to infect the shell.

The official terminology for shell rot is an acronym – it’s SCUD – which is short for Septicemic Cutaneous Ulcerative Disease. It is quite preventable and treatment is most effective when it’s caught early, so let’s take a peek at the symptoms so that you’ll know what to watch for with your own turtles.

What are the symptoms of shell rot?

In the beginning, shell rot can be tricky to spot, but if you handle your turtles from time to time there are certainly some things that you’ll notice. One of the first signs is that the shell may feel a bit gooey or slimy, but there are some other telltale signs you can look for such as:

Discoloration of the shell – Usually this will manifest as white blotches or spots on the shell, but look for any sort of discoloration on the shell. You can check these areas to see if they feel soft or slimy, but if you are seeing white patches then this is quite likely the beginning of shell rot.

Slimy Discharge – Yellow or greenish discharge coming from the shell may be a sign of infection and shell rot, so be sure to get a vet involved if you don’t have experience with treating such symptoms (or even if you do, really – it’s always best to err on the safe side!).

Dimpling in the shell – Dimples and depressions may be a sign that the integrity of the shell has become compromised, so it’s important if you notice these to investigate the issue further or to simply bring your turtle in for a vet checkup. Catching things early is the key to the fastest and safest recovery, so if you aren’t sure, always get the vet involved.

Cracks in the shell – Cracks in your turtle’s shell should always be a concern, as they definitely shouldn’t be there and worse, they allow bacteria and fungus a chance to bypass the shell’s protective layers and to take hold. So, if you see cracks in your turtle’s shell, it needs to be dealt with NOW.

Soft spots in the shell – Shell rot isn’t always visible on the surface and so a little prodding on your turtle’s shell with a finger can help you to find if there are soft spots present. These can indicate that something is going on beneath the outer shell so be sure that this is something that you actively check for.

Flakey scutes –  Scutes are the plates that make up a turtle or tortoises’ shell and when shell rot kicks in, sometimes they can get a little dusty or flaky to the touch. If you notice this, it could be a sign of shell rot or it might just be an abrasion that needs to be cleaned. If you suspect it’s the latter, you or the vet can clean it, but you should also check the tank to see if the abrasion may have come from a decoration that you might want to remove.

Loose scutes or scutes falling off – If the scutes feel loosened or worse, some have fallen off to show the tissue underneath, then you need to get a vet involved right away. Despite what cartoons taught us, a turtle’s shell is not like a mobile home – it’s part of the turtle’s body that they would die without – so if the scutes are falling off or loose then veterinary attention is needed immediately.

Causes of shell rot

The good thing about a common ailment is that you can be informed and ready to do a little preventative maintenance. Protecting your red-eared slider from shell rot can be as easy as regularly inspecting its shell and taking proactive control of their environment.

We’ll take a look at the causes of shell rot and you’ll see what we mean! After that, we’ll tell you what you can do proactively to correct all of these issues so that the chances of your red-eared slider contracting shell rot can be greatly minimized.

Dirty water or tank

While we don’t think of ponds as being the cleanest places, we need to consider the size of them. With a large pond, for instance, it’s not such a big deal when a turtle uses the water as their toilet.

For instance, there are animals that will ingest the waste, as well as aquatic plants that make use of it, and the volume of the water vs the amount of waste is significant. In a smaller environment such as a tank, however, bits of food and waste have a lot less water to dilute them.

If not properly cleaned, the food bits and waste can turn your turtle’s tank into the equivalent of a large petri-dish for fungus, bacteria, and other microorganisms and if they compromise your turtle’s shell, then shell rot may well ensue!

Environment is poorly-tailored to turtle’s needs

Cleanliness is very important, but you also need granular control of your turtle’s environment to help keep shell rot away. For instance, if your environment is too hot and dry, then your turtle’s metabolism will slow down and there is also a risk of dehydration and this can lead to cracks in their shells.

If the environment is too humid, then you might end up attracting fungus, and this can also be an issue. You should also consider what kind of decorations you have in your tank and whether or not they are completely safe.

 Substrate is another environmental factor and some turtle owner’s prefer to simply do without it. The turtle’s are perfectly happy without it and not having rocks or sand in the tank means less maintenance for you and less places for microorganisms to hide.

The problem, you see, is that these substrates end up collecting bits of food and waste over time, and this in turn will attract bacteria and other microorganisms that want to take advantage of this convenient and renewing food source.

Mind you, if you really like the substrate, that’s okay – you’ll just need to clean it regularly and we’ll tell you what we recommend a little later in the article!

Physical damage

Speaking of decorations like substrate, any items with sharp edges can cut your turtle’s skin or abrade their shells, and even if there is only a small culture of microorganisms in the water (and there will be!) then they could get inside your turtle’s shell and put them at risk for shell rot.

Some items, like hinged-lid aquarium treasure chests or even spiky rocks may look fantastic, but you need to consider that the turtle will need to swim around them. With that in mind, take a good look at the decorations you’ve picked and try to take out any that might be hard to easily swim around or past.

Finally, if you will be housing more than one turtle, that could be a problem when mating season rolls around. During this time, males become especially competitive and aggressive, and damage to the turtle’s skin and shell can very easily happen.

If you have males and females, even the mating itself creates a chance at compromising the shell’s integrity. That’s because all that ‘spring fever’ action requires shells touching and rubbing together, which can abrade the topmost protective layers and create an opening for microorganisms.

Don’t worry – there are certainly things you can do to help and with that in mind, we’ll move on to preventative measures you can use to help keep your slider happy, healthy, and free of shell-rot!

Preventing Red Eared Slider Shell Rot

Now that you know the usual causes of shell rot, it’s time to get proactive, and below you’ll find those causes and the best remediation you can take to keep shell rot at bay. Let’s take a look!

Properly maintaining your slider’s tank

Keeping the water and everything above and below it clean in that enclosure is going to give your turtle their best defense against shell rot. Aside from regularly cleaning the insides and changing the water, we recommend that you use a water filter that is twice the strength of the volume of water in the tank.

So, if you have a 100 gallon tank, then pick a filter designed for 200 gallons and that will help to ensure that it’s kept properly clean.

While this sounds like overkill, the reason for this is that turtles are really messy and when a filter advertises that it’s for 100 gallons, they’re expecting the amount of waste you would get from FISH.

So, by doubling the volume you’ll ensure that the extra waste and mess a turtle can produce is going to be covered.

Taking control of your turtle’s environment

You want to make sure that the water and the basking area temperature are carefully controlled. This will make sure that your turtle feels comfortable and also that it doesn’t get too hot or dry. For sliders, the ideal water temperature is going to be 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

The basking area, by contrast, should be between 85 and 90 degrees. You can invest in thermometer stickers to watch the temperature but you should also get a digital thermometer that you can use for the occasional independent testing – just to be on the safe side!

Minimizing the chances of physical damage

To minimize chances of physical damage, evaluate any decorations that you have in the tank and anything with sharp edges or that could fall on the turtle should be removed. Aside from this, if you have multiple turtles, it’s recommended that you install some hiding places in the tank.

You might want to invest in a spare tank as well – just in case you need to separate a particularly aggressive turtle from the others. While it will cost a little, this can also come in handy when you have to clean the tank, or if you want to isolate hatchlings later if you will be breeding your sliders.

How is shell rot treated?

Your vet is going to provide you with antibiotics as well as a recovery regimen, but we can give you a little idea of what to expect. For instance, if shell rot is caught early, then you may be instructed to clean the shell regularly with a chlorhexidine solution and a soft-bristle brush.

Often you will be told to keep the turtle dry or in a very controlled environment during healing and this is another area where that spare tank can really come in handy.

It allows you to ensure that there is always one spotless tank and if your turtle needs to stay dry, you can also give them supervised baths in water that you know to be pristine. Aside from this, if you have multiple turtles, you’re also going to need to quarantine the affected ones.

While it’s not true in all cases, some forms of shell rot are contagious, and even without this factor a turtle with a compromised shell is at risk of being badly harmed by the other turtles there.

With careful care, a clean environment, and isolation from the other turtles, those antibiotics can do their work and your turtle should heal.

If the shell rot is advanced enough, then your turtle may need to stay with the vet to recover through more aggressive treatments, but in most cases you’ll notice the symptoms of shell rot fairly quickly and this can be avoided!


We’re just about done for the day, but before we go, here are a few frequently asked questions with some answers that you might find useful. After these, we’ll go ahead and wrap things up properly!

Can any home methods help with shell rot?

If caught very early, shell rot can be treated with warm water, a soft-bristle toothbrush, and a little mild soap. This will let you gently scrub at your turtle’s shell to remove any algae, dirt, or discharge and with a thorough rinse afterward your turtle will be much cleaner and have better chances to heal.

Just keep in mind that it’s always best to visit a vet right away unless you know for a fact that it’s minor and this is something that you’ve dealt with before!

Can a turtle shell heal itself?

Turtles can heal shell fractures naturally, although it is a time consuming process that might take up to 30 months! Over time, the spaces in-between the cracks will ossify, thanks to the coelomic membrane that separates your turtle’s shell from its organs.

This is just for everyday damage, however, and conditions such as shell rot will warrant antibiotics and extra steps in order to help your turtle to heal properly.

Is shell rot fungal or bacterial?

Actually, it’s both! Shell rot is known to be caused by certain types of fungus and bacteria, so it’s important to keep your turtle’s environment carefully controlled and ensure that everything inside is clean.

Final thoughts

Today we’ve talked about red eared slider shell rot so that you have a better idea of what it is, what causes it, and what you can do to help. The most important concern is hygiene – keep that enclosure clean on the surface areas and the water needs to be properly filtered and switched out regularly.

Avoid decorations that can scrape or fall on your turtle and have hiding places and a spare tank handy if you have multiple turtles – you may need it come spring!

Be sure to regularly check your turtle’s shell for discoloration, soft spots, and dimples and if you see any signs of shell rot, get the vet involved right away! Don’t worry – now that you know what to look for, keeping shell rot at bay is a piece of cake – it’s all about creating good turtle husbandry habits!

Thanks so much for visiting today and we hope to see you again soon!

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