How to Fix Shell Rot in Red Eared Sliders

Shell rot is an unfortunate problem that many turtles have to deal with. It’s not very uncommon, but it can be a potentially deadly issue if it’s not properly treated. However, there are quite a few lifestyle changes and quick fixes that can help to cure your turtle.

If you want to know how to fix shell rot in red-eared sliders, it’s quite simple. Using a few diet changes and direct cleaning, you can repair your turtle’s shell back to its original condition. All you’ll need is a few tools, and you’ll be all set to go.

The rest of this article will discuss some essential aspects of shell rot in red-eared sliders:

  • A description of shell rot and its symptoms
  • The problems that lead to shell rot in red-eared sliders
  • Diet changes that can help the healing process
  • How direct cleaning can cure shell rot
Red eared turtle in nature (Trachemys scripta elegans)

What is Shell Rot?

Shell rot is basically the softening and crumbling of a turtle’s shell. 

This problem is most common in aquatic turtles since they’re in and around water often. Since red eared sliders require a high amount of water in their tank at all times, they’re as susceptible to shell rot like any other aquatic turtle.

Shell rot starts as a few discolorations that don’t look like too much of a problem. However, it can become serious quickly. The spots start to loosen and give way a little bit, ruining your turtle’s defenses. 

It’s worth restating:

Shell rot in turtles is a serious problem, and if you notice the early signs of it in your red eared slider, you should correct the root cause as quickly as possible.

Another reason that shell rot is so bad is due to the sharp edges of the turtle’s shell. When these edges break, they can poke or hurt your red-eared slider, causing them to bleed and develop an infection.

One of the first indicators of shell rot is the color changes mentioned above, including white, green, and a mold-like appearance. These spots can show up anywhere on the turtle’s shell, including the top as well as the bottom. In any sense, they’re equally as dangerous to the turtle’s well-being.

There are two forms of shell rot: dry and wet. 

Dry rot

When shell rot comes in a dry form, it tends to show up in lighter colors, such as white and tan. This is the type of shell rot that leads to cracking, crumbling, and brittleness in the shell. The combined fragility can completely ruin the shell quickly.

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to repair the problem once it breaks too much.

Check with your veterinarian as soon as possible if you suspect this is the issue.

Wet rot

The other type of shell rot is wet rot. This is usually much more serious than dry rot since it’s often accompanied by infections, odors, and life-threatening results. It often appears with white or yellow color, both of which tend to ooze out a discharge. 

You’ll almost immediately be able to identify which form of shell rot your red-eared slider has if you look for the matching symptoms.

The last thing to note about shell rot is that it can happen at any age. Young turtles usually have softer shells than old turtles, making them more likely to experience wet shell rot. 

On the other hand, old turtles become slow, and their shells turn brittle eventually. This can lead to a dry version of shell rot. 

While age can make one form of rot more likely than the other, red-eared sliders of all ages can develop both forms of shell rot.

Again, with wet rot, a trip to the veterinarian is probably in order. I will cover what you need to do to treat shell rot below, but you shouldn’t take chances with your turtle’s health.

What Causes Shell Rot in Red Eared Sliders?

Shell rot is often caused by bacterial or fungal growth in and around a turtle’s shell. This happens due to their aquatic lifestyle. 

We all know that fungi and bacteria grow much better when water is involved, which is why these turtles are so susceptible to the health problem. However, you can avoid shell rot by taking a few precautionary steps.

For starters, you should never leave any wound left untreated. Small open cuts can lead to quick infections if you don’t deal with them. Since there are constantly small bacteria around their environment, cuts can become infected quickly. Shell breakage should be treated on the spot or as soon as you notice it.

Another issue, and perhaps the most common cause of shell rot in red eared sliders, is dirty water. A buildup of feces, dead bugs, and other debris starts to make the water unsafe for turtles to swim in. 

You should always have a proper water filter installed on the tank. However, there isn’t a filter in the world that can replace regular cleaning.

If you have other turtles in the same tank, you need to make sure that they’re not fighting. 

Keep a close eye on all of the tank’s inhabitants whenever you can. When turtles fight, they can break or otherwise damage shells and other body parts of one another. These harmful cuts are another cause of shell rot if left untreated.

Whether the shell rot comes from a broken shell, a fight between two turtles, or dirty water, it needs to be treated. Red-eared sliders can die within days of getting a serious case of shell rot. Treat them at home if possible, but sometimes you might need to bring them to a vet if it’s too far for you to handle. The next section includes a few tips to clean and cure shell rot at home.

How to Clean and Repair Shell Rot at Home

Here’s a step-by-step guide to cleaning and repairing shell rot:

  1. Wearing a pair of rubber gloves, use a sensitive soap mixed in a bowl with warm water. 
  2. Gently scrub the whole shell with a soft bristle toothbrush. The infection and bacteria can spread, so you want to make sure that you cover every area even if you don’t see anything wrong. Use circular motions to prevent abrasive harm.
  3. When you’re all finished with the scrub, rinse it off thoroughly with water. 
  4. You should then dry off the area with a few paper towels to prevent moisture from causing any other problems. 
  5. Betadine should then be applied to the shell, but be careful with it. This chemical is known to strip from clothing, fabric, and more. You can apply the solution with your rubber gloves. Betadine is purchased in the form of shell rot cleaner, but you can also use Povidone-Iodine to do this trick. Always follow the instructions on the label. 
  6. Let your turtle sit in a dry place without any access to water for about 20 minutes to allow the chemical to soak in.

This isn’t a one-day process. Unfortunately, you’ll likely have to continue it for several days or weeks, depending on the severity of the shell rot. 

However, it’s worth doing to keep your red-eared slider happy and healthy! 

Aside from cleaning, you can also help a turtle with shell rot by using a heat lamp, keeping them away from water for a couple of hours a day, and changing their diet.

As far as dietary changes are concerned, try to make sure that they’re getting enough protein in their diet. 

You might need to increase the bugs that they eat for a few weeks since protein is required throughout the healing process. They also need to be fed enough nutrients to fight any possible infections.

In some cases, a veterinarian might prescribe topical antibiotics. If you’re not noticing any improvements from the treatment mentioned above, seek a medical professional to see if your red-eared slider needs medicine.


To recap, here are the key points you should take away from this article:

  • Shell rot can lead to a crumbled, soft, or otherwise damaged shell.
  • It’s caused by dirty water, abrasions, bacterial and fungal infections, and more.
  • You can quickly clean shell rot with warm water and soap scrub combined with Betadine.
  • Increase protein and apply a topic antibiotic if prescribed by a medical professional.