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Healing Your Turtle's Broken Shell


Cracks or injuries to your turtle's shell are nothing to ignore. Even a small crack or tear can turn into a serious infection. Always check with your veterinarian on any injuries your turtle might sustain. Here is how a veterinarian may treat your turtle and get her back on her feet.

Traditional wound management in turtles, or chelonians, has generally consisted of surgical wound debridement by a veterinarian (removal of the dead tissue), followed by topical and systemic administration of antibiotics.

The wound would be further managed by wet to dry bandages covered by a self-adhesive dressing such as TegadermSealing a shell with any remaining infection will have disastrous consequences because of the lack of drainage (removal of discharges and necrotic tissue) and the difficulty in obtaining complete control over bacterial contamination. Due to the invariable presence of bacterial contamination, long-term open wound management (not using artificial shell material to cover the wound) is now the treatment of choice in handling these wounds. The process of shell healing may require 1-2 years.

The use of Silver Sulfadiazine Cream impregnated bandages has been found to be beneficial in wound care and helps in controlling wound odor and bacterial contamination at the surface of the wound.

Bandages of any type should be changes on a daily to every other day basis.

Aquatic turtles should be dry-docked for approximately 7 days. Prolonged dry-docking may cause stress and loss of normal physiological function. A watertight wound shield may be created through the use of a small plastic cup, cut in half latitudinally and fixed to the shell with a non-toxic underwater epoxy. Once the lid is secured for 24 hours, the turtle is allowed access to water. Most turtles will resume swimming and ambulation within 2 days. This type of wound shield can be modified to allow open treatment of shell wounds while still maintaining normal aquatic turtle behavior.


  • Adkesson, Michael DVM and Erika Travis, DVM, et al. “Vacuum-assisted Closure for Treatment of Deep Shell Abscess and Osteomyelitis in a Tortoise.” JAVMA, Vol. 231, No. 8, October 15, 2007. Pp. 1249-1254.
  • Mader, Douglas, DVM. Reptile Medicine and Surgery. Second Edition. Elsevier, Inc. 2006. Pp. 894-896.
  • Sypniewski LA, Hahn A, Murry JK, et al. “Novel Shell Wound Care in the Aquatic Turtle.” J Exotic Pet Med. 2016; 25(2):110-114.
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