Can a Turtle or Tortoise Survive with a Damaged Shell?

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Turtles and tortoises are popular among pet owners of all ages for a reason. They’re amazing to keep as pets! When you take care of them properly, these gentle animals can live with you for decades. Cuddle factor aside, any turtle or tortoise owner can tell you that their reptile friend is very interactive. Just as much as other pets, even.

But it’s also worth mentioning that these animals have different needs when compared to the more popular house pets like cats and dogs. For starters, you should know that turtles and tortoises have sensitive shells. If you drop them, the shell may crack. So, you need to handle them with extra care to prevent shell bruising or cracking.

Did you know that turtles and tortoises can feel with their shell? That’s because that hard surface is full of nerves. And if they can feel their shell being stroked or tapped, imagine what it must feel like when the shell cracks!

What Happens When the Shell Gets Damaged?

It’s important to know that shell damage is most probably painful for your pet. If your turtle or tortoise has a cracked shell or shows signs of shell rot, I suggest going to a vet immediately. Just make sure that you pick a vet who knows how to treat reptiles. Not all vets have experience with such animals.

You can think of a turtle’s shell as you would human skin. When you damage your skin and you start bleeding, you know that your body is now directly exposed to pathogens. This is why we disinfect wounds before we try to stop the bleeding.

Similarly, if your pet reptile has a crack in its shell, its body is also directly exposed to harmful bacteria. This could lead to an infection, which could put your pet’s life in danger.

You wouldn’t expose your bleeding wound to dirt or bacteria, would you? Then, why would you expose your pet turtle’s damaged shell to unsanitary conditions? Intense temperature fluctuations or harsh sunlight could also disrupt the healing process.

The good news is that once your turtle or tortoise’s wound heals, their condition will stabilize. In the meantime, it’s best to ensure that your pet receives adequate nutrition for wound healing, especially vitamin A and minerals.

Can my Turtle Survive With a Damaged Shell?

The short answer is yes. If your turtle or tortoise doesn’t develop an infection, they’ll be able to heal their wounds to some degree. Even with a broken or cracked shell, your pet could survive and live a relatively safe life. However, if a shell doesn’t heal properly, it could be more susceptible to similar damage in the future.

Once a part of the shell chips off, the turtle won’t be able to grow it back naturally. But not all is lost! Just like human bone, a turtle or tortoise shell can fuse back together.

With a bit of medical assistance, your reptile should heal a cracked shell in no time. This healing process can take anywhere from a few months and up to a year, depending on the extent of the damage.

While your turtle or tortoise can live with a damaged shell, you should act immediately to ensure your pet’s wellbeing. A good vet will advise you about suitable antibiotic treatments and the nutrition requirements to aid wound healing.

For a cracked shell, your vet will use plastic or metal brackets and zip-ties to force the shell back into shape. These devices will keep the shell in place for fusing.

What Can I do for my pet Turtle in the Meantime?

If you can’t find a vet right away, don’t freak out just yet! There are a few steps you can take to offer emergency aid to your pet. For now, focus on preventing any infection. In the worst-case scenario, if your turtle’s wound becomes infected, an antibiotic treatment should fix the problem. You can use the following tips and instructions while searching for a vet clinic:

  • Clean the damaged shell. Use a soft wet cloth to clean the cracks and remove any dirt or impurities with clean utensils. Give the carapace a gentle cleaning every day or whenever dirt finds its way into the wounded area. Don’t use soap!
  • Use a topical antibiotic to prevent infection. Silver sulfadiazine cream, for example, works very well against bacteria and yeast. Only apply the topical treatment on freshly-cleaned wounds. Apply the treatment daily after cleaning the shell.
  • Make sure your pet’s environment is sanitary! Cleaning and disinfecting the tank regularly is important when caring for a reptile. This is even more important for turtles or tortoises that are highly susceptible to infections! Also, keep your pet away from insects like flies or ants.
  • Keep your pet at a constant temperature of around 80 °F (27 °C). This helps boost immune function from the inside out. Make sure that your pet stays hydrated! Getting enough sunlight exposure is also important.
  • Ensure that your pet receives a nutritionally adequate and species-specific diet. Pet turtles and tortoises are often deficient in vitamin A because of unsuitable diets. Vitamin A is essential for tissue growth and repair, and it’s crucial for the proper functioning of the skin. Vitamin A deficiency in turtles and tortoises may also lead to secondary bacterial infections.
  • Food sources high in vitamin A that are good for both turtles and tortoises include carrots, broccoli, cantaloupe, dark leafy greens, parsley, sweet potatoes, and squash. Broccoli, parsley, and leafy greens are also high in minerals like calcium, which help with the calcium-to-phosphorous balance in the diet.
  • A good balance of minerals prevents the skeletal structure from weakening. If your turtle or tortoise has a deficient diet, a lack of minerals can predispose their carapace and plastron to cracks and fractures.

Wrap Up

Don’t use these instructions as a replacement for proper treatment at the vet clinic, though! You should take your pet to the vet as soon as you notice any sign of shell damage.

This information is only meant to help you prevent further health complications for your pet. Only a professional vet can administer the most efficient and thorough treatment.

Reptiles, Tortoises, Turtles

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