Having to deal with red-eared slider shell rot is not pleasant, in fact, it can be worrying and even scary, especially if you haven’t had to deal with it in the past.
Unfortunately, shell rot is a common problem in red-eared sliders, but at the same time, it can be deadly, if you don’t treat it properly.
The good news is that there are some changes you can make to get your pet back to health quickly.
What Is Shell Rot
Shell rot in a red-eared slider turtle. Image by Kayla Nelson
Shell rot is very common in aquatic turtles and happens when the shell softens and crumbles. This is due to being around and in the water regularly. Red-eared sliders like a lot of water in their tanks. Therefore, they are more susceptible than some of the other turtle species.
Shell rot is not always easy to notice in the early stages, as it often doesn’t look like anything serious.
Shell rot will start with some discolorations, but it can become serious fast. The discolored spots start loosening, giving way, and ruining your pet’s defense.
The discolorations may include white spots, green spots, or mold-like markings. The spots can be found on the upper and lower shells.
In addition to this, red-eared sliders have sharp edges to their shells. When these break, they can cause pain and discomfort for your pet, while causing bleeding and eventually infection.
Types of Shell Rot
There are two types of shell rot that your red-eared slider can get: dry and wet rot.
Dry rot will show as light colors, such as white and tan color. Dry shell rot will cause cracking, brittleness, and crumbing of the shell. This makes the shell very fragile, which can lead to breaking. Once the shell breaks too much, it can be very hard to repair.
If you suspect your red-eared slider has dry rot, seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible.
The second type of shell rot your red-eared slider is susceptible to is wet shell rot. This is more serious than dry rot and often comes with foul odors, infections, and life-threatening results.
This is often displayed with white or yellow coloration that oozes with a discharge. This shell rot is easy to identify.
Shell rot is easy to identify if you know what to look for and can happen to your pet at any age, though younger red-eared sliders shells are softer than the adult, which means they are more likely to get shell rot.
The symptoms of shell rot in captive red-eared sliders are more subtle than if you see a wild turtle with shell rot. This is because they are better cared for and are hydrated.
When shell rot is first manifesting you will see some red fluid under the plates of the shell. The shell may have a slimy layer and have some softening, flaking, or lifting. You will find the shell can be easily damaged and will give off a foul odor.
It’s important to handle your pet with care to ensure you don’t damage the shell any further.
During this stage your pet may still appear healthy and active, it will eat well and have clear eyes. Small areas will be affected showing dry and shallow lesions.
As the shell rot progresses it causes small fits under the shell surface, which makes it look as though something has been eating the shell away. The shell will start showing an uneven appearance.
When the shell rot becomes serious, the plates of the shell can fall off, which will expose the bone and nerves below.
In the majority of cases, shell rot is caused by fungal or bacterial growth on or near the shell, this is often due to the aquatic lifestyle of your pet.
One of the leading causes of shell rot is ignoring any wounds your pet may experience. A small open cut can quickly lead to infection. An aquatic environment is breeding grounds for bacteria and they can quickly get into cuts.
If you see a shell break, ensure it is treated immediately.
Poor Quality Water
Dirty water is one of the other common causes of shell rot in red-eared sliders. Dirty water is home to poop, dead bugs, and debris, which makes the water unsafe for your pet.
If you have more than one red-eared slider in the tank, they could be fighting, which can cause wounds and shell rot.
Turtles’ fighting can cause shell damage and damage to other body parts, these cuts can turn into shell rot if ignored.
The minute you see your red-eared slider has shell rot, you want to put a treatment plan in place, even if you do want to visit the vet for further diagnosis and treatment.
Ensure when treating shell rot, you wear rubber gloves and use a sensitive soap in warm water.
Using a soft-bristled toothbrush, gently scrub the whole shell, as infection and bacteria can spread. Ensure you scrub every millimeter of shell, scrub areas that are clear of infection or rot. Use a circular motion to reduce abrasion.
After carefully scrubbing the entire shell, top, and bottom, with a soft bristle brush, sensitive soap, and warm water, you will want to rinse your pet thoroughly.
Keep your red-eared slider out of water for at least 20 minutes to allow the Betadine or treatment you have been given to work.
Unfortunately, this will not repair itself quickly. You may need to carry out the treatment for a few days or weeks until it is fully healed.
Another way to help your red-eared slider with shell rot is to use a heat lamp and keep them out of water for a few hours a day while changing their diet.
You must ensure that your pet is getting ample protein, which means increasing bugs for a few weeks. Protein will assist in the healing process.
If you see the shell rot is getting worse or not healing, even with all your efforts, then you will want to visit the vet, who will probably prescribe topical antibiotics.
Prevention is always better than cure and working to reduce the risk of shell rot can help your pet stay happy and healthy.
If you have had a cleaning schedule and your pet got shell rot, then increase the amount of cleaning you are doing. A clean enclosure will not harbor as much bacteria and can reduce the risk of shell rot moving forward.
Humidity and Temperature
Monitor your temperature and humidity levels at all times. If you don’t have enough humidity, then your red-eared sliders shell may crack.
On the other hand, if the environment is too humid, your pet’s shell can soften, which causes plate peeling and the risk of dangerous pathogens getting under the shell.
Use a digital hygrometer with a waterproof probe to accurately monitor your humidity levels.
It’s important to provide your red-eared slider with a place where they can get out of the water and bask
Remove Sharp Objects
Remove any sharp objects from the tank that could potentially damage your pet’s shell, causing infection.
Owning a red-eared slider means you are going to have to deal with shell rot at some stage.
Keeping the tank clean, offering clean and fresh water daily, and ensuring you keep your humidity and temperature levels accurate can all play a role in reducing the risk of your pet getting shell rot.
Get to know your pet, so you can quickly identify any discoloration or markings which are not normal.