Turtle’s shells have been an endless source of fascination for many of us. This iconic organ is made of at least 50 to 60 bones from varied locations like the rear leg bones, rib bones, etc.
These sturdy shells have also protected turtles against predators and harsh conditions for centuries, but in case of an injury, can a turtle shell repair itself?
Can A Turtle Shell Repair Itself?
Shells are made with living, organic materials like keratin, membranes, and muscles. Thus, they have the perfect ability to heal themselves. Just like our broken arms and legs can heal independently, a turtle’s shell can also regenerate and remodel after a certain time.
However, a shell can only repair or grow back to a certain extent. For example, if a crack or a hole in the shell exposes the internal organs, it’ll just somewhat irregularly grow to fill it in. But it won’t ever look like the original shell.
But that’s the beauty of it!
Nearby where I live, I see many Eastern Box Turtles with all kinds of dents and scars on their shells. Every time, it makes me wonder what could be the story behind the injury. It’s amazing how a turtle shell heals itself in the wild without any medical intervention.
When the shell is injured, the body sends out unique signals for special cells to come to the injured area and form protective blood clots. However, the shell doesn’t repair or grow back correctly every time.
And that takes us to our next question.
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Can I Repair Turtle Shell At Home?
There are several DIY processes listed on the internet to repair the turtle shell by self. However, I would strongly advise against it. Only if there’s no veterinarian within reach, I’d suggest repairing the turtle shell at home. But take note that it comes with several risk factors. As soon as the vet is accessible, seek medical treatment.
Here are a few tips if you ever run into a situation where you need to treat your turtle shell yourself.
Clean The Wound
For the smaller, manageable wounds, gently wipe any dirt or blood on the turtle’s shell. You can use cleansers like chlorhexidine solution or a simple dilute iodine solution to clean the wound.
Do this a few times a day for about a week or so until the debris and dirt are gone. However, make sure you don’t scoop the wound to remove dirt.
Keep The Turtle Dry
The wound will aggravate in water. So, it’s essential to keep the turtle completely dry as you clean the injury. Even if you’re waiting for the vet, make sure to keep the turtle in a dry enclosure.
Your aquatic or semi-aquatic turtle may have difficulty adjusting to living without water for such a prolonged period, but it’s crucial that you don’t let him slip into the water.
Vets often prescribe antibiotics so that the infection or the injury doesn’t spread. The most commonly prescribed antibiotics are Baytril or Ceftazidime.
If you give your turtle any antibiotics, you must administer them for at least a week because infections are still present when the wound begins to close. As a result, viruses and germs can get trapped within and make your turtle sick.
Before giving your turtle the medicine, make sure to discuss it with the vet and seek his approval.
Fix Cracks With A Bridge
You can either use heavy-duty zip ties or plastic brackets to cover any crack. You can either glue each side of the bridge or attach a zip tie on either side of the crack using turtle-safe, fast-drying epoxy glue.
Alternatively, you can also use a turtle-safe fiberglass patch. This patch, too, has to be secured with a few coats of glue.
Once you fill the cracks, make sure to clean the wound very gently every day and keep the turtle in a safe place, so other things do not stick or attach to the glue.
Increase The Temperature
Warm temperatures will help to boost your turtle’s immune system and facilitate quicker and easier healing. It will also create an unfavorable environment for pathogens and germs.
I’d recommend clocking in the temperature somewhere between 80-85°F.
Fix An Appointment With Vet
Even if everything seems to be under your control, it’s crucial to go to the vet and get your pet assessed. He will run important medical tests, modify and adjust the brackets if needed, and look for any sign of infection.
When Should I Take My Turtle With Cracked Shell To The Vet?
If your turtle has a wounded shell with punctures, don’t wait it out. Take him to the vet and seek medical guidance. Sometimes, even the slightest bacteria can open the doors for the deadliest infections. Likewise, a puny fracture also carries the potential of inflicting internal injuries.
For severe cases like puncture wounds from a bite and unstopped bleeding, there’s not much you can do at home. You need to seek medical treatment asap.
How Is Injured Turtle Shell Treated Medically?
Once the wounds are cleaned, your vet will carefully assess for internal injuries and other complications. Next, antibiotics are applied to prevent infections before starting the treatment.
Based on the nature and size of the casualty, the vet will repair the shell accordingly. If the shell wounds are large, they will require full rebuilding using tiny pieces of epoxy resin, fiberglass, plastic bridges, zip ties, or other materials. And once there’s a patch above the shell, the tissues will slowly start healing and regenerating underneath.
Sometimes, the vet will also suggest euthanasia because if the shell damage is beyond repair. But such injuries seldom happen in a captive setting.
How Long Does It Take For The Turtle Shell To Repair?
The healing process in reptiles is incredibly slow compared to mammals’. That’s because, as cold-blooded animals, their wound repairing cycle largely depends on the environmental temperature.
Underlying soft tissue injuries usually heal in 3 to 4 weeks, whereas shell fractures and major injuries can take anywhere between 4 to 30 months to heal completely.
The cracks left between the fragments mend through the ossification of the coelomic membrane. Ossification refers to the hardening process of the muscular tissue into a bony substance.
Can Turtles Live Without Their Shells?
No. Turtles are born with the shell and cannot live without it. Turtles don’t molt – they can not slip in and out of the shell. It is fused to their bodies and connected to various other vital organs. Thus, they cannot live without their shells.
The shell is part of the turtle’s exoskeleton. It’s simply an organ to the skeletal system that sticks outside of the body.
Therefore, there are several nerve endings in and around the shell. And that’s why shells are pretty sensitive to pain even though they look rough and tough.
Conclusion: Can A Turtle Shell Repair Itself?
Yes, a turtle shell can repair itself because it is made up of living, natural parts like keratin, muscles, nerve endings, membranes, and so on.
Depending on the case’s severity, the healing process can take anywhere between a few weeks to 30 months. ‘
Although the shell is capable of healing itself, there are too many risk factors attached to it. So, make sure that you seek immediate medical treatment, where your vet will assess the situation and offer suitable treatment.
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