How to Heal Shell Rot

Injured pet turtles are susceptible to shell rot when living in an unhealthy habitat or through inappropriate care and neglect. Dirty water, soiled land areas and general lack of hygiene encourage bacteria and fungus spores to develop, infecting your turtle's shell and soft tissue in the form of shell rot. The shell, also known as the carapace, is made up of fused plates called scutes that shed and peel away regularly. A turtle with a calcium and vitamin D3 deficiency is unable to shed properly and its scutes may become infected with shell rot. You can treat mild superficial shell rot at home, but see a veterinarian if your turtle has open sores or patches of deeply-rotted shell.

Inspect the shell's surface. Fluffy white deposits or a slightly flaky appearance are indicators of superficial shell rot that you can treat with Acriflavine, an antibacterial aquarium medication suitable for fish and aquatic turtles.

Place your turtle in a quarantine tank and empty your main aquarium to remove all traces of old water and potential disease.

Replace the aquarium water with fresh, dechlorinated water and remove the carbon layer from your tank filter. Carbon neutralises chemicals in aquarium water and interferes with the effectiveness of commercial disease treatments.

Read the manufacturer's instructions and administer the correct dosage of Acriflavine directly into your turtle's aquarium water. Take your turtle from the quarantine tank and put it back in its aquarium to begin treatment.

Replace the whole of the aquarium's water after a week, keeping your turtle in the quarantine tank while you carry out the maintenance. Add Acriflavine at the same dosage as the initial treatment, replace your turtle and leave the treatment to work for another week.

Change the water again, as before, but do not add Acriflavine this time. Allow your turtle to live in the untreated water for one week.

Carry out another 100 per cent water change, add a final dosage of Acriflavine and return your turtle to its aquarium. Change half the aquarium water once a week to maintain a healthy environment and always remove uneaten food immediately to prevent a build-up of organic waste. Replace your aquarium filter's carbon layer when treatment is complete.

See a vet if your aquatic turtle's health does not improve after a month of treatment with Acriflavine. If your turtle's condition worsens within the first few days of treatment, seek professional help straight away. Advanced shell rot infections can be fatal.

Clean the affected area with warm water and dry thoroughly using a clean cloth or disposable paper towels. Alternatively, leave your turtle to air-dry for 30 minutes in a warm enclosure but do not allow it to overheat. There is no need to increase your vivarium's normal temperature.

Apply a small amount of antibacterial reptile solution or cream to the shell rot using a disposable paper towel or a cotton bud. Use only topical treatments sold specifically for reptiles. Some professional herpetologists use human antibiotic or antibacterial medicines, but this is not recommended unless you are highly experienced and know the correct dosage to administer. Human medication is much stronger than an animal equivalent and you may do more harm than good administering an inappropriate treatment.

Clean your turtle's shell and reapply the reptile medication every day. It can take weeks or months for the carapace to completely heal, but you should see some signs of improvement within a week if the shell rot is mild.

Seek the advice of a veterinarian for professional treatment and prescription medication if your turtle's condition worsens or if the rot continues to spread during treatment.


You can also use an antibacterial reptile cream or solution to treat an aquatic turtle. Apply the medication and leave it to work for at least 10 minutes before allowing your turtle back into the water. Ensure your pet turtle lives in a meticulously clean environment and maintain strict levels of hygiene to eliminate bacteria and disease. Keep your vivarium at an appropriate temperature for your species of turtle and dust food with a calcium and vitamin supplement according to your particular reptile's requirements.


Do not confuse natural shedding with shell-rot. Aquatic soft-shelled turtles have a leather-like shell instead of scutes and this hard skin layer turns white and peels as it sheds. If you are in any doubt about an accurate diagnosis, seek the advice of a veterinarian.

Things You'll Need

  • Quarantine tank
  • Acriflavine solution
  • Warm water
  • Disposable paper towels or clean cloths
  • Reptile antiseptic cream or solution
  • Cotton buds
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About the Author

Alex Burgess has been a professional writer since 1990, specializing in travel, herpetology, lifestyle, fashion, health and fitness. Her work has appeared in various British newspapers, magazines and international online publications. Burgess studied design before working as a journalist in England.