Turtle Soft Shell Treatment 101

What is a soft turtle shell, and how do you treat it?

Are certain species of turtles more susceptible to developing soft shells?

What causes a turtle’s shell to grow soft? Is this a dangerous condition?

Once pet turtles are suffering from a soft shell, is it possible to reverse the condition?

All turtle owners should know their pets’ risk factors developing a soft shell and how to spot the early signs. 

We will discuss what it means to have soft-shelled turtles, common causes, treatment methods, and illnesses associated with this condition, and the possibility of reversing the disease once it has started.

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Turtle Soft Shell Treatment

A turtle developing a soft shell is a debilitating side effect of several medication conditions, including shell rot, metabolic bone disease (MBD), lack of appropriate UV light, or a deficiency of vitamin D3. It is possible to reverse soft shell syndrome if appropriately treated and caught at an early stage.

Some aquatic turtle species are naturally soft-shelled. 

This should not be confused with soft shell syndrome. 

The Chinese soft-shelled turtle is an example of aquatic turtle species with a naturally soft shell. 

This shell type allows the turtles to move quickly and more naturally in open water and mucky lake bottoms.

If you do not own a turtle belonging to a species like the Chinese soft-shelled turtle and your pet is experiencing soft shell syndrome, you will need to find the cause of the condition. 

Several common diseases may cause a turtle’s shell to turn soft. 

It is essential to understand the differences between this disease and know the warning signs to find your turtle’s proper treatment.

Shell Rot

Shell rot refers to the occurrence of an ulcer or infection anywhere on a turtle’s shell. 

This condition is often caused by a bacterial or fungal infection somewhere in the shell. 

Parasitic infections also cause shell rot and may lead to irregular regulation of cell tissue.

Parasites are organisms which live on or in a host organism. 

Even internal parasites such as gastrointestinal parasites are dangerous to a turtle’s shell’s health and can ultimately lead to soft shell syndrome. 

Gastrointestinal parasites such as roundworms are common; however, it is not always easy to detect them. 

If your pet is suffering from gastrointestinal parasites, it may need to be diagnosed by a specialist reptile vet.

Shell rot is a severe health condition. 

In some extreme cases, shell rot may cause entire scutes of the shell to fall off. 

If a scute, or bony external plate on the shell’s outer layer, falls off, the bone and nerves beneath the hard exterior will be exposed. 

As you’d probably guess, this would be very painful for your turtle. 

Pain management in reptiles is essential when looking out for their overall health.

Turtles have nerve endings in their shells and can feel when their exoskeleton is damaged in any way. 

A severe infection in which entire scutes are falling off of the shell is very advanced and possibly fatal.

This bony outer layer is meant to protect the turtle and, in a way, acts as a built-in suit of armor. 

If the bony layer is damaged, the animal is at risk of damage to its body’s internal parts, which are not meant to be exposed.

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

Metabolic bone disease is a common condition in tortoises and turtles and is a leading cause of soft shell syndrome. 

This condition occurs when a turtle has a poor diet, insufficient lighting, or a combination of both.

Poor dietary factors contributing to metabolic bone disease are high amounts of phosphorus and low amounts of calcium. 

Poor calcium to phosphorus ratio will prevent a turtle’s body from absorbing calcium into its system. 

This lack of calcium absorption causes the body to extract calcium from the body’s bones, specifically from the shell.

Most turtle keepers are aware of metabolic bone disease and do their best to prevent their animals from developing this condition. 

However, this is not always the case. 

Some new turtle keepers who are aware of the condition may not know the actual causes or warning signs of metabolic bone disease.

The ratio of protein is also an essential dietary factor to keep in mind. 

Adult turtles do not require as much protein as juveniles. 

If the ratio of protein to calcium is disproportionate, the turtle’s shell is at risk of pyramiding. 

Pyramiding is also a warning sign of low calcium levels and metabolic bone disease. 

This condition is avoided by maintaining a healthy protein ratio to calcium in your adult reptile’s diet.

UV Deficiency

UVB and UVA rays are vital to the health of many reptiles, including turtles and tortoises. 

A lack of appropriate UV lighting is hazardous and sometimes fatal. 

The wavelengths of light in UVB rays allow the animal’s body to regulate the synthesis of vitamin D3.

Without some form of UVB lighting, the turtle will undoubtedly develop metabolic bone disease. If the situation is not corrected, the turtle is at risk of death. 

It is imperative to have the proper lighting materials set up for your pet turtle before bringing it home.

Having a heat lamp in your turtle’s enclosure is necessary to regulate the temperature. 

Some heat lamps use light bulbs which also give off UV rays.

If you live in a warm environment and have the capacity to provide your pet reptile with some sort of outdoor enclosure, exposure to natural sunlight is an excellent way for it to obtain these necessary UV rays.

Lack of Vitamin D3

Lack of vitamin D3 is also a risk factor for a soft shell. 

As stated in the previous section, if a turtle is not provided with proper UV lighting, its body will not have the ability to synthesize vitamin D3, and will ultimately develop metabolic bone disease.

Many of the causes of soft shell syndrome link back to the common condition of metabolic bone disease. 

If your turtle’s diet is lacking in calcium or vitamin D3, or if it is not given adequate UV lighting, its body will take the nutrients it lacks from the shell.

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Identifying The Cause Of Turtle Soft Shell

If you are noticing your turtle’s shell is becoming soft in certain areas, you need to identify the cause of this sudden change. 

Animal health is the responsibility of those of us lucky enough to be owners. 

Since our animals cannot communicate their illnesses, it is essential for us to be mindful of their health and to identify the cause of any health conditions as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If you notice a change in the bony layer of your turtle’s shell, the best way to find the cause is to take your pet to the vet. 

In some cases, blood tests may be performed to identify the exact cause if it is not evident from the owner’s information.

These blood tests will identify if the turtle is suffering from certain parasites. 

If there is a development of metabolic bone disease, these tests also determine the factors causing this condition, such as lack of calcium or low vitamin D3 levels.

Once the cause is identified, it is crucial to begin treatment right away. 

If metabolic bone disease or shell rot go unnoticed and develop into advanced stages, it could be too late to reverse the effects.

Treatment For Turtle Shell Rot

In some cases of soft shell syndrome, shell rot is the root cause of the problem. 

Shell rot may result from bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections, which lead to soft spots or open wounds on the turtle’s shell.

The most common cause of shell rot is a bacterial infection on the turtle’s shell. 

These infections are often the result of an unhygienic enclosure and dirty water. 

Since turtles are not naturally self-cleaning animals, it is of the utmost importance for owners to clean their enclosures regularly and to keep the water fresh for aquatic turtles.

An excellent treatment for shell rot is Turtle Fix by API

Turtle Fix is an antibacterial turtle remedy which will treat bacterial infections and helps repair damaged tissue and wounds.

While this remedy is used to treat shell rot, it is also used to treat bacterial infections, causing negative effects on skin and limbs. 

According to the bottle, this remedy is used to treat the skin’s redness, open wounds, and damaged tissue. 

This remedy will help remove the skin and shell’s inflammatory factors and will control cells to reduce the growth factors of the infection.

A soft-shelled turtle peptide treatment will also help treat shell rot and increase the cell growth rate in soft-shelled turtle tissue. 

Peptide-treated cells will have an increased cell growth rate, which will help to speed along the soft-shelled turtle tissue’s healing process.

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Treatment For Metabolic Bone Disease In Turtles

Metabolic bone disease is often the result of poor diet or lack of UV light exposure. 

This is a very serious illness common in many reptiles, debilitating and ultimately fatal if left untreated.

If metabolic bone disease is caught in the early stages, an increase of calcium and vitamin D3 in a turtle’s diet will likely alleviate the problem. 

Add a dietary supplement such as a phosphorus-free calcium powder.

Rep-Cal sells a phosphorus-free calcium powder with vitamin D3 on Amazon. 

The ultra-fine powder will ensure your reptilian friend is getting sufficient calcium as well as vitamin D3.

Besides adding a nutritional supplement to the food you feed your pet, you will want to analyze the foods you have been providing for them. 

Do they lack essential vitamins and nutrients? 

Some foods seem healthy but contain compounds which inhibit the absorption of calcium, such as oxalates. 

Other foods, such as iceberg lettuce, simply provide little to no nutritional value and should be avoided.

Ensuring your pet is being exposed to adequate UV rays levels is also a great way to treat the early stages of metabolic bone disease. 

If you do not own one already, make sure to install a special light bulb created for reptiles which emit UVB rays.

We like the Reptisun UVB light bulbs from Zoo Med. 

This two-pack will get you started with light-emitting UV rays right away and will ensure you have a backup bulb on hand. 

If you are unsure what is causing metabolic bone disease in your pet, it doesn’t hurt implementing both the extra UV lighting and calcium and vitamin D3 powder.

Final Thoughts

If your turtle begins to develop soft spots on its shell, it is pertinent you seek medical attention immediately. 

A soft shell is a warning sign of several serious medical conditions, including shell rot and metabolic bone disease. 

These conditions negatively affect skin and bones, and serious cases will need to be treated by a specialist reptile vet.

Metabolic bone disease is a very serious condition and is almost certainly fatal if left untreated. 

Be mindful of this condition’s warning signs and do your best to prevent it at all costs. 

Not all cases of this condition are fatal; however, irregular shell growths and bone deformities may result.

Unless you own a turtle with a naturally soft shell, never let a soft spot or signs of soft shell development go unnoticed or untreated. 

Paying attention to your turtle’s shell may just save its life.

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