Why Are There White Spots On My Turtle’s Shell? Guide On Fixing Them

Jan 7, 2021

Why Are There White Spots On Turtle Shell?

Naturally, a turtle’s shell is dark green, brown, or black. So, if it’s looking white, something’s definitely not right. But don’t panic yet. Let’s see why there are white spots on turtle shells?

Why Are There White Spots On My Turtle’s Shell?

White spots on turtle shells can either occur due to medical reasons or the external environment. Usually, it happens because of shell rots, build-up from hard water, and a side effect of fungal infection. Likewise, the lack of enough light is also known to cause white spots in turtles. 

Now, let’s explore all the reasons mentioned above. 

Shell Rot In Turtles 

Turtle shell
Turtle shell

Shell rot is one of the most common and dangerous reasons behind white spots on turtle shells. If not treated on time, the shell rot could prove fatal. However, with early intervention, it’s completely treatable. It usually occurs when a wound or cut is left unattended. 

How Does Shell Rot In Turtles Look Like?

Shell rot in turtles is usually characterized by bright white spots appearing all over the shell. Usually, the white spots on turtle shells are followed by leaking fluid. You can see bits and pieces of shell falling off. Even more so, you can see the bits of flesh where the scute has fallen off. 

The wounds would also smell pretty bad. You can easily tell white spots stemming from shell rot just by looking at the severity of the condition. 

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What Causes Shell Rot In Turtles?

Shell rot is a pretty grave medical issue in turtles. It can be caused due to various reasons like sustained injuries, cracks on the shell, and a dirty environment. If the turtle is experiencing only a mild case of shell rot, the reptile will not look sick and remain entirely active. 

Let’s look at the reasons in-depth: 

Injuries

Turtle shells are hardy and robust for most parts, but they are susceptible to pretty serious injuries. Most of the time, the reason behind it could be due to a showdown with another turtle. These fights are usually common among males. Such fights may result in injuries, which, if unnoticed, can cause serious trouble down the line. 

Cracks In Turtle Shells 

A turtle’s shell can crack due to various reasons. For starters, this can happen because of suboptimal temperature and humidity conditions in the enclosure. 

If you have a turtle species native to the humid environment, it may suffer shell or skin damage when the substrate is too dry. 

However, a rather arid environment species will suffer from softening of the outer shell when the substrate is too moist—creating a suitable entrance for infective agents to enter. 

Other than that, the cracks in the shell can appear from poor nutrition, improper heating, and sharp objects in the enclosure. 

Once again, if the cracks aren’t treated on time, this can lead to shell rot. 

Poor Tank Environment 

A turtle’s tank can get dirty effortlessly because they love to eat and defecate in the water. Thus, you will have to perform frequent water changes and ensure a robust filtration system. 

Species that have softer shells, like a red-eared slider, are especially prone to shell rots due to a dirty environment. 

Alongside dirty water, soiled or moldy bedding can also trigger a bacterial or fungal shell rot. Thus, don’t forget to clean that as well. 

Can Shell Rot Kill Turtles?

In cases where shell rot breaches the shell, bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause septicemia. And in turn, it can kill your turtle within a few days. 

If immediate medical treatment is not offered, turtle shell rot can lead to pathogens like bacteria or fungus attacking the living tissue below the shell’s outer layer.

If untreated, the abscesses can worsen and persist over many years—resulting in significant tissue damage. 

In turn, the shell rot can lead to a severe condition called septicemic cutaneous ulcerative disease. This disease is characterized by the rapid growth of bacteria in the bloodstream. If the bacteria within the reptile’s bloodstream attack the vital organs, it can be life-threatening. 

How To Treat Turtle Shell Rot At Home?

If it’s only a simple, mild case of shell rot, you can easily treat it at home. 

First, you must determine what’s causing the shell rot and address the issue. For instance, it could be caused due to the presence of sharp objects in the tank, poor water conditions, or aggressive tank mates. Next, remove the infected turtle from the tank and keep it dry and away from the water until the shell is completely healed. The only time he can get wet is when you’re cleaning the shell. 

When bathing him, use a hypoallergenic soap and soft-bristled toothbrush to scrape off any signs of algae, dirt, or damaged pieces of the outermost layer of shell plates. 

Once you have removed the first layer of dirt, you can easily scrape out the pits. However, if they don’t come out easily, don’t force it, and let them be. For the dried white spots, you can use a plastic card. 

After the turtle is dry, you can use a general antiseptic to disinfect the shell. You can go with a chlorhexidine solution in place of hydrogen peroxide since the latter is known to healthy epithelial cells while slowing the healing process. 

And now that the turtle shell is disinfected, apply a healing cream like silver sulfadiazine. However, it is a prescription cream, and it’s best if you consult your vet before purchasing it. 

Last, allow your turtle to bask for at least 25 minutes after the bath session. 

You can complete this process for a week to eliminate the white spots on the turtle shell. 

When To Take Turtle With Shell Rot To The Vet?

If your turtle doesn’t display signs of improvement even after a week or two of treatment at home, take him to the vet without further delay. Failure to offer timely medical care can lead to a tremendously painful and fatal condition called SCUD. 

If you see pus coming out of the wounds or visible red areas under the shell, seek a vet’s help. At this point, it means that the infection has become a little too serious to be treated at home. 

Your vet will probably recommend a few antibiotic injections and anesthesia. 

Hard Water 

This may sound unusual, but hard water could be one of the most common reasons behind white spots on a turtle shell. Here, the shell is usually evenly coated in white. Otherwise, a portion of the shell—the bottom half—could be covered in white patches as well. 

These spots are common in the raised ridges or ends of the turtle shell. These bright white spots are easy to clean off with the help of gentle scrubbing or rubbing. 

The best way to know if the spots are caused by hard water is to apply a bit of vinegar on the spot and see if it fizzes. If it does, you can be pretty sure the white spots are formed by calcium carbonate present in hard water. 

However, if you see any irritation or moisture near the spots, don’t try the vinegar method as it’ll be painful for your turtle. Also, make sure that the vinegar doesn’t reach the eyes. 

If the white spots are caused by hard water, your turtle will also experience a fair amount of shedding. Sometimes, you can even see the see-through parts of the scutes as they become more transparent with peeling. 

All this talk about hard water, but what exactly does it mean?

What Is Hard Water?

In simple terms, hard water refers to water with a high concentration of minerals in it, such as calcium and magnesium. With hard water, then the water dissipates, it leaves behind traces of minerals. 

You can usually notice such mineral traces on shower faucets, sinks, bathtubs, and even glasses and cups. 

Most of the water running through taps in the United States is hard water because of ancient seabeds with a high concentration of limestone covered region in the past. 

How To Fix White Spots In Turtle’s Shell from Hard Water?

This one is relatively easy and can be completed in a few simple steps. To get rid of the spots, you will need distilled water or water treated with a water conditioner or softener. 

Whichever water you use, make sure that you don’t replace the hard water entirely because that will give your turtle an environmental shock. 

Instead, start by doing a 25% water change at first so that your turtle will have plenty of time to acclimatize. Once you replace the hard water, you’ll see an immediate improvement in reducing white spots in a turtle shell. 

If you want to speed up the process, you can use apple cider vinegar solution on the shell to get rid of the spots.

For this, add a few drops of apple cider vinegar in water and give it a good stir. Next, using a soft toothbrush, clean the shell, and you should be able to get rid of the spots easily. 

In the process, if you see any lesions, rashes, or injuries in the shell, stop immediately. 

Fungal Infection In Turtles 

A fungal infection in turtles looks like green raised spots accompanied by gray and white fuzzy patches on the shell. Usually, it is caused by poorly maintained tank parameters. When spotted and treated on time, a fungal infection can be treated effectively to prevent further outbreaks. 

Usually, the white patches are due to skin shedding, but if the shell is coated equally, this is most likely a case of fungal infection. 

But there are few other ways of spotting it as well. For instance, you can usually tell by looking at the rate of infection. If the spots seem to get bigger by the day, it is due to an infection. 

How Do Turtles Get Fungal Infection?

Fungal infections are quite common occurrences and not dangerous if treated early. But first, you need to know the major reasons behind this. It’s usually caused because of poor water quality and lack of proper basking area. 

The water in a turtle’s tank is prone to getting dirty quickly because they love to both eat and defecate in the water. 

Thus, both uneaten food and the waste they produce will fall into the tank’s bottom, which makes the perfect setting for bacteria growth. This promotes fungal infection. 

A turtle’s tank should always be cleaned often and meticulously. 

If the water in your turtle’s tank is warmer, that could also encourage fungal growth. 

Likewise, another common reason behind fungal infections is a turtle not getting enough basking opportunities. 

This could be because the basking spot isn’t big enough or is placed in a poorly lit area. 

Also, if your turtle’s only source for basking is lamps, make sure that it is powerful enough to fulfill the basking requisites. 

How To Treat Fungal Infections In Turtles?

Fungal infections are easily treatable, but most importantly, entirely preventable. However, it will take a bit more work than replacing hard water—a bit more elbow grease. The remedies can range from giving the turtle a salt bath to cleaning the tank and enclosure. 

Salt Bath For Turtles

Salt baths are easy and a quick fix to stop fungus growth that grows the best in warm, wet enclosures. For this, you will need some bath salt and a clean sponge. 

For terrapins like red-eared turtles, the water’s temperature should not exceed 75 to 85 F. It’s best always to use a thermometer to be sure. 

You will need about a quarter cup of bathing salt for 5 gallons of water. Once you fill the spacious container with water and salt, gently remove your turtle from the tank, place him in the bathing container. 

Let him sit there for about 40-45 minutes. This way, the salt will effectively eliminate the virus while also disinfecting punctures along the way.

After your turtle’s done bathing, don’t pat him dry with a towel. Instead, let the body soak in the solution thoroughly. 

You can do this routine every day for about 2 weeks to prevent future infections. 

Turtle Cleansing With Soap And Iodine 

Before you clean your turtle using soap and iodine, make sure to inspect for any sign of injury. If there are fresh wounds and cuts, you’ll be doing your turtle more harm than good. 

If the turtle doesn’t sport any injuries, place him in a wide container or a bath rub and start cleaning the shell. Since turtles are prone to carrying salmonella, it’s best that you don’t clean them in a sink. 

You’ll need a Betadine solution, hypoallergenic soap, and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Note that the soap must be fragrance-free. 

Using the toothbrush and the soap, gently start cleaning the shell. 

Make sure that the fungus is thoroughly wet but do not use too much soap. 

Once you’re done cleaning the shell, slowly rinse the turtle using clean potable water and allow him to dry under the lamp. This time, you can slowly pat dry him. 

After he is completely dry, apply a diluted solution all over the shell using a cotton pad or bud. I’d recommend Betadine since it works great with all reptiles.

To make the Betadine mixture, use 10 parts water and 1 part Betadine. After applying the diluted iodine solution, once again, gently wipe it all off. 

Lastly, apply Betadine lotion and let the turtle air dry. 

Cleaning The Tank

As we have already established that a dirty tank with poor parameters causes fungal infections, it’s important that you clean the tank regularly. You will have to perform partial and complete water changes frequently, depending on the tank’s condition. 

Insufficient UV Light 

Last but not least, Insufficient UV light is an unsusceptible culprit behind white spots on turtle shells. In this case, you won’t see random white spots appearing but a general fading of the shell’s otherwise dark color. 

Although instances like these are reported seldom, we can’t rule out the possibility entirely. 

If you notice that your turtle’s shell’s color has become dull overall and is losing the pigment, it could be because the turtle isn’t getting enough UV-B light. 

Now, this could be because the light you’re using is not powerful enough, or the basking spot isn’t too great. 

Make sure to get a decent UV-B light to correct and get rid of the problem. 

Here’s one that I use:

Conclusion On Why Are There White Spots On Turtle Shell

White spots on turtle shells are relatively common occurrences that plague a turtle’s health. This could be caused due to various medical and environmental reasons. Similarly, the appearance of spots and their severity also depends mainly on the reasons behind it. 

For instance, the white spots caused due to hard water are not grave. You can easily clean the shell using diluted apple cider vinegar. And switching to distilled or conditioned water will prevent white spots in the future. 

On the other hand, white spots on the shell due to infections and shell rots can become quite serious if they don’t receive medical attention on time. Especially with shell rot, if the turtle isn’t treated on time, he may suffer from a life-threatening condition called septicemia. 

And lastly, the lack of proper lighting is also known to fade the shell’s color, giving it a lighter and duller appearance.

Relevant Readings:

How to Tell if a Turtle is Pregnant? Guide For Turtle Breeding.

Do Baby Turtles Sleep A Lot? Is It Time To Wake Him Up?

How Long Can Baby Turtles Go Without Eating – Tips On Feeding A Baby Turtle

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.