Treating Skin Problems in Turtles

 

1.    How do I know if my turtle has a skin problem?

Scabs, excess shedding, pale or dark patches on the skin or shell, red and inflamed eyes, soft shells, and swollen limbs can all be signs indicating a potential skin problem.

 

2.    What causes skin problems?

Poor diet or poor water quality will often lead to skin problems in turtles. Cuts and scratches can also become infected leading to skin problems. Turtles with skin problems may also have other internal problems such as liver or kidney disorders.

 

3.    Will skin problems fix themselves?

No. Skin problems generally indicate something is wrong with your turtle or your tank water. Tests including water quality tests, bacteria tests, blood tests, and x-rays may need to be done to determine what the cause is, how serious it is, and how to treat it.

 

4.    How are the causes of skin problems diagnosed?

Water quality tests are needed to rule out problems with your water. Always test for ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, and pH. An abnormal result on any of these tests can indicate a problem, and a change in frequency of water changes or feeding needs to be considered.

Blood tests can be done to find out if your turtle’s liver or kidneys are healthy. Culture and sensitivity tests from wounds may determine what type of bacteria or fungi are involved. In some cases biopsies may be necessary.

 

5.    What are the treatment options?

The underlying cause such as diet or poor water quality needs to be improved (see ‘Caring for your Turtle’ sheets), and treatment is determined by what caused the problem. Treatment can include antibiotics, vitamin supplements, adjusting diet, changing the management of the tank or a combination of these options. Some turtles may be very unwell and need to stay in the hospital for more intensive treatment, including fluid therapy.

 

6.     What basic treatment regime is used at home?

Turtles generally need to have their skin lesions treated topically as well as have the other problems addressed.

The following regime is performed twice daily, sometimes in combination with antibiotics.

- Clean affected skin/shell with dilute Chlorhexadine 2% or Betadine solution.

- Leave your turtle in a safe, dry place for 20-30 minutes while the skin dries. This is known as ‘dry-docking’

- Put a small amount of Silvazine ointment over the affected skin/shell and dry-dock your turtle for another 20-30 minutes.

- Your turtle will need to be dry-docked for a total of 2-6 hours each day in a safe, supervised, dry area until the skin problem is no longer apparent.

 

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