Turtle Shedding (A Complete Guide)

Turtle shell shedding is a natural process that is endured by all species. The skin of a turtle appears as though it is composed of small scales, however, the skin is actually very leather-like. The shell is made up of bones with a thin layer of epithelium that forms the scutes.

To allow their shell to grow, most turtles will produce new scutes under the existing scutes and while all turtles shed their skin, sometimes the shedding of scutes can indicate possible disease.

Turtle Shedding (A Complete Guide)

Below we have provided you with the complete guide with everything that you need to know about turtle shedding.

Why Do Turtles Shed?

A turtle's shell is made up of approximately 60 different bones. Because of the tightness of a turtle's skin, they don't accommodate growth very well. The scute is the hard outer shell layer. When a turtle grows, this shell will produce new scutes that will allow the shell to expand.

A turtle shedding their scute is a normal occurrence as they grow. This process tends to occur annually and is necessary to prevent the shell from getting too thick making it harder for water turtles to swim. It can also be beneficial in maintaining the health of the shell to get rid of any algae.

Although shedding can be healthy, it can also indicate problems caused by disease, bacteria, parasites, and poor nutrition. It is important to differentiate between healthy shedding and abnormal shedding so that you can consult a veterinarian for a potential rectification of the issue. 

What Turtles Shed?

All turtles shed their scutes and especially their skin, however, some species are known to do it much more regularly than others. Aquatic turtles spend a large proportion of their lives in the water and because of this, they tend to shed their scutes more often because they are exposed to a greater risk of shell rot and infections caused by parasites.

As such, the shedding occurs as a natural defensive reaction. Box turtles are a terrestrial species and they shed their scutes as well. Despite this, they don't tend to shed their scutes as frequently as aquatic turtles.

Box turtles tend to shed their skin in patches rather than in one piece. A change in their skin color will inform you when they are about to begin shedding their skin.

How Often Do Turtles Shed?

For the majority of aquatic turtles, this shedding occurs annually as this will relieve the heavy weight of their shell while also keeping it free of algae. Younger turtles that are still growing tend to shed their skin and scutes pretty frequently.

The occurrence of this shedding a few times a year will provide them with more room to grow. For fully grown adult turtles, this process tends to happen less frequently occurring once or twice every two years. 

Signs That A Turtle Is Shedding

Several signs will indicate that your turtle is shedding its scutes. As mentioned, it can be a normal and healthy process, and understanding the following factors will help you to identify when this process is occurring.

The scute will often fall off whole and you should allow this to occur naturally while refraining from pulling the shell of itself. Scutes that do not fall off whole can be a sign of illness or potential disease. If the scutes appear translucent this is normal too, they shouldn't be thick.

Often turtles will try to eat these scutes once they have fallen off. Although this response is normal, you should remove the scutes from the tank when you notice that they have fallen off as this will help to prevent them from causing damage to the turtle's throat.

A scute that is ready to shed will be seemingly easy to peel, if the scute seems to be resisting movement from the shell, this is a sign that it isn't ready to come off and you should avoid attempting to remove it yourself.

When it is ready to shed it will do so itself. If you have noticed that the turtle's shell is blocked with algae, you can either wait for it to eventually shed itself, or you can attempt to remove it by cutting it off carefully. 

Remember, a turtle's scutes should not shed in pieces, they should be intact. If you have noticed that this is not the case and they are coming off in parts, this is a sign that your turtle could be suffering from possible illness or disease. 

What Causes Abnormal Shedding?

As mentioned, in some instances a turtle's shell or skin will shed abnormally. While it is often a healthy and natural process to occur there are some signs and conditions that can cause the shell to shed abnormally.

Abnormal shedding tends to occur much more frequently than healthy shedding and it can also expose your turtle to a higher risk of infection. Health problems such as liver, bone disease, or nutritional deficiencies can be identified through this abnormal shedding too.

Some of the following reasons can also be causes of abnormal shedding. Overfeeding your turtle is of course going to cause them to grow faster, particularly with juvenile turtles. Because of this, they are going to shed scutes more frequently as their shell attempts to keep up with this fast growth.

Not only is a turtle that is overfed going to grow more rapidly but this can lead to health issues too. To avoid this issue you should ensure that your turtles are fed a balanced and healthy diet.

Another common reason is high ammonia levels inside the tank. This is typically caused by a poor filtration system that causes the levels of ammonia to increase resulting in abnormally shedding scutes.

Illness and bacterial and fungal infections are also a significant cause of abnormal shedding. Another reason may be due to overheating. The closure itself may be too hot or their basking spots may be too hot and as a result, their scutes shed much more regularly than they should. 

Why Isn't My Turtle Shedding?

While some conditions can cause your turtle to shed its shell abnormally, some issues can prevent this shedding too and this may be caused by the environment or their diet. It is worth noting that in some cases, your turtle may be shedding but you may not notice it because your turtle is consuming the scutes soon after they shed. 

However, if you are concerned that your turtle is not shedding, there are several factors that can cause this. The first being that your turtle may be deficient in calcium or vitamin D.

Turtles need calcium in their diet but if they are receiving an inadequate amount, their shell and bones may experience challenges growing. To avoid this issue, you must ensure that your turtle is accessing this calcium and this can be done through nutritional supplements such as calcium blocks. 

They may also not be accessing a sufficient amount of UV light and this may be because the bulbs are old or they have degraded in quality. Exposure to UV light plays an essential role in the growth of a turtle.

Your setup must be composed of sufficient UV lighting and it is advised that you replace these bulbs every 6 months to prevent them from weakening and providing the inadequate lighting that the turtles need.

The temperature inside the tank isn't correct and this may be because it is too high or too low. When the temperature inside the tank and the basking spots are too high or too low your turtle may struggle to shed its scutes.

A water temperature of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and a basking temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit is likely to be appropriate for the majority of turtles. 

Another common reason why turtles don't shed is due to their age. Older turtles tend to reach a stage where they stop growing and stop shedding their scutes as a result of this. If they are no longer growing, they don't require the reproduction of these scutes to create more growing room in their shell. 

Treatment

The treatment required is going to depend on the severity of the abnormal shedding also referred to as ''dysecdysis''. If your turtle is experiencing a mild case of this shedding, you will need to ensure that the environment inside their tank is appropriate.

For example, the temperature inside the tank needs to be correct, not too hot and not too cold and the basking spots mustn't be too hot either. You will also need to ensure that your turtle is living on a healthy diet with the nutrients that they require.

Determining the quality of the water can also be effective in treating mild cases. Ensure that your tank is equipped with a water system that is going to filter the chemical and biological contaminants.

If your turtle is living in optimal conditions in an environment that caters to all of its needs, it may be a case that the abnormal shedding is more severe. If this is the case you will need to consult your vet to discuss the appropriate treatment.

You will find that your vet will direct you in the best direction for treating this issue by prescribing the most effective medication or diagnosing any additional issues or diseases that could be contributing to the problem. 

If your turtle's shell has built up a lot of fungi or algae it is possible to remove it yourself but ideally, you should consult an expert. To treat shell rot, you may gently clean the shell before treating the issue with antibiotics. Some turtles will require this treatment more regularly than others. If your turtle has an injured shell, you should expect it to take some time to heal. 

For those who are going to clean their turtle's shell themselves, you must ensure that it is done correctly. You will need to use a scrubber and apply slow and gentle motions to the turtle's shell. Then you can apply an antibacterial ointment or cream to the problem area.

Although this may be effective in milder cases, if you attempt to debride the shell multiple times yourself and there is still no improvement in the issue, you may want to visit your vet. 

Preventing

It is not always necessary to prevent turtle shedding and this is because it is an important and natural part of their growth. It can also be beneficial to their health. However, there are steps that you can implement to prevent any problems or premature shedding.

Ensure that their living environment is free of any sharp objects because this can accidentally tug at the scutes and pull them off before they are ready. The basking spots inside the tank need to offer the turtle a comfortable place to dry off.

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Your turtle needs to be exposed to UV lighting as this is beneficial to their health and vitamin D production. The temperature and quality of the water can also help to prevent any abnormal shedding.

If possible, try and replace a third of the water inside the tank every week and ensure that it is equipped with a good quality filtration system.

Turtles Shedding Skin

Shedding skin is a natural process that occurs just like when a turtle sheds its scutes. As such, it is a process that is experienced by all reptiles. Some signs will indicate when this process is about to occur.

If the skin is unhealthy you will likely notice that it appears red and swollen. Days before the turtles shed their skin you will notice that it seems to be disconnected from the body and it will begin to peel and fall off in pieces, unlike scutes which shed as one piece. 

Final Thoughts

It is natural for turtles to shed their scutes and often their skin too. Freshwater turtles in particular are known to shed their scutes because of their environment that they live in.

Shedding is an important part of a turtle's growth as it will allow their shell to expand as their bodies grow too, hence why juvenile turtles tend to shed much more regularly than older turtles which stop shedding as they age. If a turtle doesn’t shed it will be left attempting to maneuver a particularly heavy shell. 

Many signs will indicate when a turtle is shedding its scutes or their skin. If your turtle is shedding skin, you will likely notice a change in its skin color during the days before this. In milder cases, there are things that you can do to help your turtles as they shed this skin or scutes.

If they are experiencing abnormal shedding it is important to consult a vet for advice on how to treat the problem. 

Dorothy Razo
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