Shell rot in red-eared slider turtles can be deadly if you don’t treat it on time. It is also referred to as Septicemic Cutaneous Ulcerative Disease (SCUD). However, don’t mistake SCUD for scute shedding. They are two different turtle conditions. As the name suggests, shell rot involves the rotting of the individual pieces that make up the shell of the red-eared slider turtle.
Shell rot can be wet or dry, with bacteria and fungi promoting the wet shell rot. However, dry shell rot is common in older turtles. Dry shell rot makes the red-eared turtle’s shells brittle, while wet shell rot makes the shell fragile and discolored. In addition, wet rot accelerates red-eared slider infections much more than dry shell rot.
Early treatment is essential to repair or recover your red-eared slider shell. I’ve discussed in this article how to identify shell rot in the red-eared slider turtle, its signs and symptoms, and how to prevent the infection. Don’t worry if the shell rot has spread from the carapace to the plastron. You will learn when to take the red-eared slider to the veterinarian.
What is shell rot in red-eared slider turtles?
Shell rot in red-eared turtles occurs because your turtle spends too much time in infected or toxic water. Young red-eared slider turtles with soft shells are even more susceptible to the condition than old mature turtles.
Bacteria, fungi, and mould can soften, eat away, and crumble your red-eared slider’s shell. The rot can spread underneath the shell and reach your red-eared slider’s tissues, bones, and nerves. At that advanced stage, shell rot can be painful for the turtle, even fatal.
I’ve explained the signs and symptoms of red-eared slider shell rot below. However, you will know your red-eared slider turtle has shell rot by observing the shell color.
Although the shell rot is almost unnoticeable at the start of the infection, look if you can see any white, yellow, or green color changes.
Most importantly, observe the crevices between the individual pieces that make up the red-eared slider shell. Are they soft or brittle? Do you notice any mold-like structures on your turtle’s shell?
Signs and symptoms
Here are the signs and symptoms of red-eared slider shell rot:
White discoloration on your red-eared slider turtle might be due to the aquarium water hardness. However, a yellow or green discoloration could be shell rot. The discoloration may start at the top or bottom of the shell and spread along the crevices.
Soft, lifting, or flaking plates
As I discussed earlier, shell rot occurs when red-eared sliders spend most of their time in the water. Coupled with poor aquarium water management, the bacteria and fungi will soften and weaken the red-eared slider shells.
The scutes or individual shell plates may then lift and form flakes. The flakes associated with shell rot will look like mold, and the area may be soft.
Open tissues and bones
Another sign of shell rot in the red-eared slider turtle is open tissues and bones. Once bacteria and fungi damage the scutes, rotting continues underneath the turtle’s flesh.
Some of the scutes may fall off, leaving open tissues and bones. It is painful and increases your red-eared slider’s risk of infections. Therefore, it can be fatal to your red-eared slider turtle.
The infections, open tissues, and bones are advanced symptoms of shell rot in the red-eared slider. In addition, you may notice a reddish turtle fluid seeping out of the damaged shell at this stage.
Your turtle’s shell could also turn slimy. Read the prevention section below for tips on fixing the discharge.
A foul smell from your red-eared slider is an immediate sign of shell rot. Adequate care for your red-eared slider will ensure the infection does not escalate to an unpleasant odor. The foul smell is usually accompanied by the rotting discharge from the turtle’s shell.
The pain associated with advanced shell rot in your red-eared slider can make the turtle lethargic. In other words, your turtle will start withdrawing from activities it used to enjoy.
For instance, the red-eared slider will stop swimming and diving. If your turtle’s enthusiasm and activity levels reduce, examine its shell to find out if it is shell rot.
Can turtles recover from shell rot?
Although red-eared sliders can recover from shell rot, it can be a long healing journey. However, that also depends on the intensity of the shell rot.
For instance, your turtle is more likely to recover quickly if you notice and treat the shell rot early. On the contrary, advanced shell rot will cause much pain, suffering, and even death to your red-eared slider.
Therefore, red-eared slider shell rot requires aggressive treatment and aquarium management. The turtle may take several weeks to recover completely because it stays in the water. Continue reading for ways to treat and eliminate shell rot in your red-eared sliders.
How to treat and get rid of shell rot in red-eared sliders
Bacteria, fungi, and mold can soften, eat away, and rot your red-eared slider’s shell. Early treatment is essential if you want to fix the damage.
Follow these tips to treat and get rid of shell rot in your red-eared sliders:
Topical antibiotics and injections
The best topical antibiotic I have used repeatedly to treat my turtle’s shell rot is silver sulfadiazine cream. Expert turtle keepers also recommend 2% mupirocin ointment. Wash your turtle gently with clean water before applying any antibiotic to the affected area.
You can also treat turtle shell rot using ceftazidime injection. However, don’t inject your turtle at home without veterinary advice. These antibiotics are effective against opportunistic bacterial infections contributing to red-eared slider shell rot.
Busk the red-eared slider on a shallow bowl
Do not put the red-eared slider back in the water after you’ve applied the antibiotic. Instead, add the aquarium water to a shallow bowl and dip the turtle. Ensure your turtle’s shell is not submerged.
Put the turtle and the bowl in a dry environment for 30 to 40 minutes before returning it to the aquarium. That will give the medicine enough time to work.
Give your turtle 20 minutes of UV light.
I strongly recommend putting together all these treatment options for your turtle’s shell rot. Apart from topical antibiotics, injections, and keeping the turtle dry, give it 20 minutes of UV light daily. That could be the UV light from the sun or an artificial UV lamp.
The ultraviolet light helps red-eared turtles to produce and use Vitamin D3 and calcium effectively. Calcium is an essential nutrient for your turtles’ shell development and muscular function. Thus, UV will help treat and get rid of shell rot in red-eared sliders.
Here are some ways to prevent red-eared slider shell rot:
- First, clean your turtle’s tank: A dirty turtle tank is one of the leading causes of shell rot. Clean the tank at least once a week to remove accumulated bacteria, fungi, and other deadly toxins like ammonia and nitrites.
- Weekly water change: Siphon 50% of the aquarium water every week and replace it with fresh water. Clean the bottom substrates and remove any food leftovers during the weekly water changes.
- Good nutrition: While treatment is key to recovering from shell rot, your red-eared sliders also need good nutrition. Feed your turtle foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and calcium. Also, give them earthworms, shrimps, and leafy greens like collard and kale.
- Use a turtle filter in your aquarium: Toxins such as ammonia and nitrates contribute to turtles’ discoloration and shell rot. Investing in a powerful turtle filter can clean the debris in your turtle tank, remove the toxins, and prevent red-eared slider shell rot.
When to see a veterinarian
Here are some instances when you should take the red-eared slider turtle to the veterinarian:
- When home remedies prove ineffective
- If the shell rot emits an unpleasant smell and discharge
- The shell scutes become soft, weak, and start to fall off
- When the red-eared slider turtle losses appetite and becomes lethargic
- Take the turtle to the vet if it has buoyancy problems. For instance, is it floating sideways?
- Most importantly, take your red-eared slider to the veterinarian once a year, whether it is healthy or not.
- Connor, M.J. (1992). The Red-eared Slider, Trachemys scripta elegans. California Turtle & Tortoise Club
- Kaplan, M. (1994). Red-Eared Sliders. Melissa Kaplan’s Herp Care Collection