Turtle Shell Care

TheCritterCove is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. See more here.

turtle shell care

The shell of a turtle is one of the most interesting and striking features of this animal and proper care is essential to maintaining the health of your pet.

When someone is thinking about a turtle the first thing that will cross their mind is their shell, which makes them so unique and interesting as a reptile.

So if you have a pet turtle that’s in captivity, it’s important to help them out to take care of its shell and provide them with things to keep the shell healthy.

The shell of the turtle is fused to its ribcage, which means that it will stay with him the rest of his life thus making it important to take care of its shell.

The turtle shell protects it from predators, makes the turtle more streamlined for swimming, and gives the ability to absorb heat and UVB through its shell.

The first thing we want to touch upon is something that makes a lot of newly turtle beginners freak out, and that is turtle shedding.

Shedding is something that all turtles do when they get passed the hatchling phase, usually every month or two, and it’s completely normal. The old scutes will peel off in layers and the new scutes will come in to replace them.

You can tell a turtle is shedding when the turtle’s shell looks shinier than usual or if you see them rubbing against certain things inside of their tank.

What Is A Turtle Shell?

The shell of a turtle is composed of bones that have been fused, including several ribs, the spine, and the breastbone. The carapace is the turtle’s back, and the plastron is its belly.

Blood vessels and nerves run through the shell, which protects the turtle’s vital organs.

The shell is encased in a thick layer of skin and tough layers of keratin, the same protein that forms hair and fingernails for humans.

The turtle’s scutes, which are made up of these outer layers of keratin, can provide protection from injuries by hiding its underside. A turtle does not completely shed its shell as it grows; therefore, it cannot be taken out of its shell.

RELATED READ: Can A Turtle Live Without A Shell?

Caring For A Turtle Shell

Caring For A Turtle Shell

Fortunately, there are several simple steps you can take to ensure that your turtle’s shell is in good condition.

It is also possible to provide excellent turtle shell care and good general turtle care to minimize the risk of shell problems:

1. Provide A Healthy Diet

Depending on your turtle’s species, he may be carnivorous, herbivorous, or omnivorous. A healthy diet is essential for a turtle’s shell growth. A diet rich in vitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, and other minerals will help to keep your turtle’s shell hard and strong.

Trying to replicate the turtle’s natural diet should be on your top of the list. This means offering a variety of foods, including live food, frozen food, and high-quality pellets.

Excess of nutrients and proteins should be avoided because this may speed up your turtle’s growth and cause shell pyramiding and other health issues.

RELATED READ: Best Turtle Foods

2. Provide Adequate Lighting

Lighting is so important to a turtle’s shell that most beginners overlook this. Without the proper UVB and UVA lighting, your turtle’s shell will not grow correctly and could even lead to deformities.

Make sure you are providing your turtle with the correct type of lighting and that it is in close proximity to the basking area so your turtle can get the most UVB and UVA exposure.

The UVB light is helpful for the turtle to process calcium and other vitamins, while UVA is important for the turtle’s vision and overall health.

Things to look out for:

  • Be careful where you place your lighting because if it’s between glass or some kind of mesh it will block the amounts of UV rays that the turtle can receive.
  • Another thing to take note of is that if the turtle shell is dirty or covered in algae it cannot receive the same amount of UV rays because it will block it.
  • Changes your lights every 6-8 months to make sure your turtle is getting the best light exposure possible. These lights will look like they are still working but after some time they won’t produce the amount of UVB needed.

RELATED READ: The Best Basking Lights For Turtles

2. Provide a Proper Habitat

A proper habitat is key to keeping your turtle’s shell healthy. A habitat that is too wet or too dry can cause shell problems.

Make sure to keep a close eye on the water temperature and humidity in your turtle’s tank. Also, make sure to clean the tank regularly to avoid any build-up of bacteria.

Water quality should not be overlooked since turtles need to be in certain ph levels.

If the correct pH is not maintained, there may be long-term problems. You can get by lowering the pH levels to approximately 6.2 in order to prevent shell infections in North American turtle species, but if you have a softshell, I wouldn’t go any lower than 6.5 for fear of burning it.

The water should be monitored regularly and kept under control as bad things can happen as a result of poor water quality.

RELATED READ: Can A Turtle Shell Repair Itself?

3. Avoid Overcrowding The Habitat

While it’s fun to have a bunch of turtles in one habitat, overcrowding can lead to shell problems. This is because turtles will compete for space and food, leading to stress.

The added stress can cause a turtle to stop eating, which will lead to a weak immune system and eventually shell problems.

Adding too many decorations into the turtle habitat can also lead to problems. Too many places for your turtle to hide can actually get him to get stuck, leading to further stress.

Keep the habitat simple with plenty of space for your turtle to swim and roam around.

4. Keep The Tank Clean

As mentioned before, it’s important to keep the tank clean to avoid any build-up of bacteria. This will help to keep your turtle healthy and his shell looking good.

Clean the tank every week with a mild soap and water solution. Be sure to scrub all of the surfaces, including the basking area, to remove any dirt or bacteria.

After you’ve scrubbed the tank, rinse it thoroughly with clean water.

RELATED READ: How to Keep Turtle Tank Clean?

6. Safely Handle Your Turtle

Always exercise caution when your turtle is out of its tank, keeping it safe from rambunctious dogs, hazardous situations, or mishandling. Even a minor fall or drop might inflict damage on a turtle, so handle them with care to protect their shells.

When transporting your turtle, use a secure container that is escape-proof and has plenty of ventilation.

7. Inspect Your Turtle’s Shell

The sooner you detect any issues with your turtle’s shell, the easier it will be to repair them and keep your pet healthy.

Every week, examine your turtle’s shell closely for any strange developments and get expert care from a veterinarian.

8. Provide A Dry Area

The most common leading cause for turtle shell rot is not providing your turtle with a place that is dry to bask.

Your turtle needs a place to completely dry off and this is usually accomplished by basking on a warm rock or log.

Without a dry basking area, your turtle will be unable to properly dry off its shell which can lead to shell rot.

The basking item in question also needs to be safe for the turtle. Try and provide a safe way for him to get in an out of the basking area without damaging his plastron.

RELATED READ: How Strong Is A Turtle Shell?

Common Issues That Comes With Turtle Shells

Here is a list of common issues that you might come across when taking care of a turtle and its shell:

  • Pits, divots, or soft spots in the shell
  • Uneven flaking of the scutes
  • Discoloration of the shell
  • Sores or deformities
  • Visible breaks or splits in the shell
  • Changes in the shape of the shell
  • A bad smell coming from the shell

Should You Clean Your Turtle’s Shell?

Should You Clean Your Turtle's Shell

Some people might tell you that you should never clean your turtle’s shell because it will remove the natural oils and make it dry and brittle.

While it is true that you should not clean the shell too often, it is still important to do a thorough cleaning every few months to remove any dirt or bacteria that might be present.

RELATED READ: How To Clean A Turtle Shell


Caring for a turtle shell can be a lot of work, but it’s important to do in order to keep your pet healthy and his shell looking great.

By following the tips above, you can avoid common shell problems and ensure that your turtle has a long and happy life.