Help! My Turtle is Shedding!
Many aquatic turtles regularly shed the outer layer of their shells. The thin outer lamina of each scute (section) loosens and falls off. This is perfectly normal and should be allowed to progress naturally, with no intervention.
But what about skin?
While snakes and lizards shed their skin regularly, turtles have a slower growth rate and do not shed in the same manner. Some small amount of visible shedding is not alarming, but any skin shedding that is prolonged or extensive is not really normal. Many owners overfeed their turtles and overheat their enclosures, both of which can lead to shedding. Since the problem is common, many keepers mistakenly think that it is fine. Excessive shedding is not usually a serious problem, but still should not be considered "normal."
1. Overfeeding causes rapid growth, resulting is excessive skin shedding. Since overfeeding has been associated with kidney problems and other health issues in future years, it is best to avoid it.
2. Overheating, especially in the basking area, can damage the skin and cause shedding. Use a low-wattage bulb, and place it so that the temperature does not exceed 85F. in the warmest area for subtropical/temperate species (e.g. red-eared sliders and painted turtles) or 90F for tropical aquatics (e.g. Malayan box turtles.)
3. Over-supplementation with vitamin A can cause the skin to thicken and shed. Excessive vitamin A is toxic and can damage the liver. Most cases of severe hypervitaminosis A are caused by vitamin A injections, often as a result of a misdiagnosis. It is also possible, but less likely, to overdose with oral supplements. Do not use supplements more than once per week. Using aquatic plants and/or dark green and red lettuces in the diet will provide beta carotene which converts to vitamin A without the possibility of overdose.
4. Insufficient vitamin A (or beta carotene) in the diet can also damage the skin. In this case, the skin is usually thin and reddened. The eyes are also likely to be affected if a vitamin A deficiency is present. Feeding dark green and red lettuces, squash, carrots, occasional fish, occasional egg yolks, or commercial turtle foods should prevent hypovitaminosis A.
5. Fungal infections can cause skin shedding or mimic the appearance of shedding skin. Place the turtle in a mild saline solution. Salt will kill surface fungus, but deeper infections will need further care. Make sure the turtle spends time completely dry. The water should be kept clean. If a fungal infection does not respond to these improved habitat, seek veterinary help.
6. Extremely high ammonia levels in the water can damage the outer layer of skin and cause shedding. RES are tolerant of high ammonia levels while map turtles are not, so this problem is more likely to occur with Graptemys species. It's important to remember that high ammonia levels discovered *after* the shedding may be caused by the excessive amount of skin in the water, rather than the cause of the problem. For a filtration system that is easy to maintain and produces excellent quality water, visit this link: One effective setup for aquatic turtles in small tanks
7. Antibiotic treatment, especially injected Baytril, can cause skin shedding in the week following the treatment. This situation should right itself in a week or two without any intervention.
8. Some serious conditions such as myxedema or viral liver disease can present with skin shedding. These would require veterinary care.
Conclusion: Wild turtles do not tend to shed skin in any pronounced or prolonged way. This suggests that excessive shedding is often husbandry related. Also, many very experienced keepers have maintained animals in excellent health, with normal growth rates, that *never* shed skin in any noticeable way over a period of several decades. This would indicate that skin shedding is not an essential component of growth. Although skin shedding may not indicate serious illness, it is best to find and correct the husbandry problem. Check everything about your overall husbandry. Keep the vivarium clean and well lighted. Make sure you are providing a varied diet with lots of calcium, a good basking area, and correct temperatures for the species of turtle you have.
© 1999 Mary Hopson, Anchorage, AK
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