My Tortoise’s Shell Is Soft (Causes, Treatments, FAQs)

If you’ve noticed that your tortoise’s shell seems softer than usual, there’s no need to panic, it might be suffering from shell rot. This condition is common in pet tortoises and is usually caused by bacteria or fungi.

While it can be serious, shell rot is usually treatable with a course of antibiotics. In this post, I’ll discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment of shell rot in tortoises.

The shell is the tortoise’s exoskeleton, which is an integral part of the tortoise anatomy and serves several key functions. The shell also contains nerves that help the tortoise feel touch and pressure. Without a shell, a tortoise would not be able to survive.

What is Shell Rot in Tortoises?

What is Shell Rot in Tortoises

Shell rot is a condition that can affect turtles, tortoises, or any other shelled reptile. Symptoms of tortoise’s shell rot include softening and discoloration of the shell.

The condition is caused by an infection of the carapace (upper shell), or the plastron (lower shell), and can lead to ulcerative shell disease. The infection is usually caused by bacteria, but it can also be caused by fungi or other organisms that invade the shell and cause it to deteriorate. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for a successful outcome.

Causes of the Soft Shell in Tortoises

There are a few different types of shell rot that can affect tortoises, each with its own set of symptoms. The most common type of shell rot is bacterial soft-shell, which is caused by a build-up of bacteria on the shell.

Here are a few common causes of the soft shell in tortoises:

Unhygienic Enclosure

Unhygienic enclosures can lead to an accumulation of bacteria and fungus inside the tortoise’s enclosure which will eventually weaken its immune system and cause its skin to degenerate.

Dry Environment

A dry environment also exacerbates this problem as it reduces the amount of water available for the tortoise to drink or bathe in, leading to dehydration and fungal overgrowth.

Shell Damage

Shell damage is another common cause of a weakened softshell on a tortoise’s body. Shell damage may be caused by other animals such as dogs or cats who might try to attack or scavenge from your turtle; it may also be caused by sharp objects such as rocks that are used around the garden for landscaping purposes.


Tortoises suffering from malnutrition often have poor diets which result in weak shells due to reduced calcium levels within their tissues.

Shell Rot Symptoms

There are several symptoms of shell rot in tortoises which include:

  • Softening and discoloration of the shell
  • Loss of shell pigmentation
  • Exposed underlying tissue
  • A foul smell coming from the shell
  • Areas of the shell that are flaking or peeling off
  • In more severe cases, the shell may become deformed or cracked

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to take your pet to a vet as soon as possible. Shell rot can be very serious and even fatal if left untreated.

Treating Shell Rot in Tortoises

Treating Shell Rot in Tortoises

If your tortoise has mild symptoms of shell rot, you can treat them by following these guidelines:

Clean the Infected Area

If you have a tortoise with shell rot, it’s important to take action quickly to clean the infected area and prevent the infection from spreading. To do this, you’ll need to clean the area with a chlorhexidine solution preferably twice a day. Also, make sure the tortoise has access to fresh air. With early and proper treatment, most tortoises will recover from shell rot within a few weeks.

Keep the Shell Dry Until Fully Recovered

Wet shells allow bacteria inside the animal to grow more easily. Try keeping your tortoise indoors during rain or heavy humidity periods. Make sure to avoid tortoise access to a pool or water dish until their shell fully heals to normal.

Apply Antibiotic Cream

Silver sulfadiazine cream will help prevent bacterial growth while treating the infection. You should apply this antibiotic cream a few times a day until symptoms disappear.

Visit an Experienced Vet

Most cases of Shell Rot can be treated with antibiotics. However, if you feel the condition is severe and notice any changes in your tortoise’s behavior or health, it’s important to take him to an experienced exotic vet as soon as possible.

A qualified vet will know how best to treat your tortoise based on his individual case history. Depending on the severity of the case, treatment options may include antibiotics, surgery, or both.

FAQs for the Soft Shell in Tortoises

How do I know if my tortoise shell is healthy?

The easiest way to tell if a tortoise shell is healthy is by looking at the color. A healthy shell should be a deep, rich brown. If the shell is lighter in color, it may be a sign of malnutrition. Another way to tell if a tortoise shell is healthy is by feeling the texture. A healthy shell should be smooth, with no cracks or pits. If the shell is soft or flaky, it may be a sign of illness.

How do I get rid of shell rot on my tortoise?

To get rid of shell rot, you will need to clean the affected area with a chlorhexidine solution. You may also need to apply an antifungal or antibacterial cream to the area.

A vet will be able to prescribe the best treatment based on the severity of the shell rot. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove infected tissue.

How long does a tortoise shell take to heal?

The length of time it takes for a tortoise shell to heal depends on the severity of the injury. A minor soft tissue injury may only take 2-3 weeks to heal, while a more serious injury like a shell crack could take 4 to 18 months. In some cases, the shell may not heal properly and the tortoise may develop infections or other complications.