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Turtles/Sulcata shell problem

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Question
Hello, I have had a sulcata for about 8 years. He lives in my backyard in Texas. In the winter I made a (dog house) like home with a heat lamp in it. I feed him lettuce and bananas. He eats cactus,  grass, the dogs food, and other things in the backyard. His or her shell has been peeling and shedding off the top squares and I'm worried. I think it might be the heat light in the winter is too close to his shell. I was wondering what could be causing this to happen?

Thanks so much!

Answer
Hi Thomas,

Could you possibly post some pictures of the shell problem?  It could be some old shell rot peeling off, or something else, but normally the scutes don't peel off, so something is going on.  How far is the heat lamp from his shell when he's in the dog house?

I would suggest that you make some significant dietary changes.  Sulcatas are herbivores, and primarily grass eaters.  He shouldn't be eating fruit, and particularly not bananas, and especially not as part of his regular diet.  Lettuce is OK on occasion, but it's not very nutritious and shouldn't be fed regularly.  Grass and weeds are great, but dog food is very bad for tortoises and should NEVER be fed.  His diet should be about 70% grass and hay, and the rest leafy greens and weeds.  Good greens are turnip and mustard greens, kale, collards, dandelion, etc.  Avoid veggies and fruit, and NO dog food, grains, potatoes, etc.  Feeding these things can lead to shell deformities, bladder stones, and so forth.  It's also possible that his diet is the cause of the shell problems, especially if he's pyramided (bumpy shell; a sulcata's shell should be smooth), but hard to say.  If you can post some pictures, I can get a better idea of what could be going on.  

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Jeannie

Expertise

Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.

Experience

I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

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My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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