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Turtles/shell rot!


QUESTION: i have a 6" RES that has a small amount of shell rot. there is 80 gallons in the tank. he lives with another, smaller painted turtle. is it contagious? how do i treat it? what can it do to him?

ANSWER: Hi Lily,

Shell rot isn't contagious, but it's important to make sure your tank conditions are optimum to prevent it from reoccuring.  Your tank size is probably adequate, but at some point you should probably upgrade to 100 gallons to accomodate both turtles.  Make sure you have a really good external cannister filter--it should be able to handle a 200 gallon tank.  If your UVB bulb hasn't been replaced in a while, you should probably get a new one.  Also make sure both your turtles are basking for at least a few hours a day.

If the shell rot is only in a small area, and there's no obvious signs of serious infection (redness, oozing, odor, etc.), you can treat it at home by cleaning, disinfecting, and drydocking.  Below is an article that will take you through the process step-by-step.  It's very detailed, but if you have any questions, please ask.  You can probably get Nolvasan from your local vet. carries it, and some other online vet supply places should also have it.  Betadine will also work, but the Nolvasan is better if you can find it.  I would try to drydock for four hours a day, and overnight if your turtle doesn't seem too stressed by it.  Putting a folded towel in a box that's warm but not too hot, and letting him burrow into the towel may work for that.  Otherwise, make sure the tank is very clean.

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QUESTION: thank you, i want to put the turtles into separate tanks when i can. the big turtle as not handled a lot and wasn't taken care of before i got him so he is aggressive to the other turtle. i clean the tank out half way each week and scoop out the uneaten food. we are planning on getting a canister filter for my birthday next year. he basks most of the day, but the little turtle gets bullied off a lot, so i put him under a heat lamp for 2 hrs a day. otherwise, he basks plenty and i need to get my friend to build a screen cover to get a uvb strip. ps the tank i might be getting is  a bit smaller then the one i have now. ill put the big turtle in that one and after i get what i need, i might get a Mississippi map.

ANSWER: If the smaller turtle is being bullied, definitely set up separate tanks.  A bullied turtle won't bask properly, may not get enough to eat, and may become ill from stress.  This is another reason why having a large tank for multiple turtles is so important.  The more room, the less likely there will be problems.  

The UVB is vitally important.  You can use a strip bulb (Reptisun 10.0), or a combo bulb (Zoomed Powersun) that gives heat and UVB in one.  Keep in mind that tube bulbs need to be changed every six months, and combo bulbs yearly.  Without UVB, turtles can't metabolize calcium properly, and can develop shell and bone deformities.

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QUESTION: the day after i asked the question i found a ubv bulb. the shell rot was gone within a week. :) for some reason, when i took the res out to dry dock, the little turtle became way more bold and basks all the time now. and the res leaves him alone! i have no idea what happened to them but it is way fine with me. i am upgrading to the biggest store bought basking rock i can find for them. things seem to be getting much better. also, thier colors seem to be improving i think.

Hi Lily,

Shell rot takes a long time to heal, so it must have been something else.  Maybe a bit of fungus.  Anyway, I'm glad to hear things are going better.  If you do get a chance to upgrade to a bigger tank, it's a good idea, but it sounds like everything is OK.  Great to know!


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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.


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.

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

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