Turtle shells are comprised of a material called keratin, which is similar to human fingernails. As the turtle grows, the scutes or scales on the shell dry up and come off to allow room for larger new scutes to take their place. This process can make it look like your turtle has dry skin, but it’s just a normal part of your turtle’s growth and development. Some shell conditions can interrupt the normal shedding process, so it’s a good idea to watch your turtle for signs of shell disease.
During the molting or shedding process, your turtle’s shell might look dry or even cloudy as the old layer of skin begins to lift away in anticipation of peeling off. This is a perfectly natural process and you shouldn't interfere or try to strip the skin off yourself. The shell underneath is soft and sensitive, so it’s best to let the turtle take care of this transition on his own. Remember that turtles can transmit salmonella to humans, so it’s important to wash your hands with an antibacterial agent every time you handle your turtle or clean his tank.
If your turtle is semi-aquatic and doesn’t have enough access to a warm, dry basking area, he can become susceptible to shell fungus or a bacterial infection called shell rot. This may look like dry, ragged craters or holes on your turtle’s shell that resemble rotted wood. Take your turtle to a vet that specializes in reptiles for diagnosis and treatment before a serious infection or shell deformity has the chance to develop.
If your turtle looks like he has dry skin all the time, he may have a problem with abnormal shedding, called dysecdysis. This can lead to a variety of problems including infection or an unnaturally soft shell. It can also cause internal kidney damage. See a vet if you suspect this is the case.
Turtle Shell Care
The best way to care for your turtle’s shell is to provide him with a clean living environment. Clean your water and water filters regularly, particularly following a shed when there's extra material in the water. Also make sure you maintain a heated basking area for your turtle to warm himself. If it looks like your turtle has a cracked shell, or looks deformed in any way, take him to a vet for further examination.
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