Turtle shells come in many varying colors, patterns, and designs. But if you notice a sudden change in the shades of your turtle’s shell, you may be wondering if there’s a problem with your pet.
So why does my turtle have gold spots? Gold spots appear on a turtle’s shell when its scales are in the process of peeling off. It’s a normal occurrence and nothing to worry about.
Aside from gold spots, however, there are many other visual differences in your turtle’s shell that can indicate various health issues. By reading our detailed explanations below, you’ll be able to gain knowledge on these different turtle shell conditions and ensure that your turtle stays healthy.
Why Gold Spots Form
Gold spots are an indicator that a scale (usually referred to as a scute) on your turtle’s shell is beginning to shed, which is a normal occurrence. Your turtle’s appearance may become lighter and take on a golden color.
You notice these gold spots because of an air pocket that forms under the scute as it begins to detach. When water gets into this air pocket, light is refracted through the amber-colored scute, causing it to appear golden.
What Does a Normal Turtle Shell Look Like?
Turtle shells are made up of a carapace, which is the top or dorsal shell, as well as a plastron, which is the bottom or ventral shell. In a healthy turtle, both the carapace and plastron will always be hard and smooth. They are both connected on the sides of your turtle’s body, and they protect the majority of its body as well as its organs.
On top of the shell are scutes (scales) made of keratin. The oldest layer of scutes is on the outer portion of the shell. As your turtle grows, the scutes shed off and are replaced by newer, larger scutes.
What Factors Cause Shell Problems?
Most shell problems have to do with problems in your turtle’s environment. Typically if the water in your turtle’s aquarium is of low quality or isn’t kept at the right temperature (it can range from 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit). Your tank’s filter may not be working correctly, or maybe you haven’t been keeping up with maintenance as well as you should have been.
Another environmental factor that can cause problems with your turtle’s shell is an insufficient basking area or lack of UVB rays. Diet also plays a part, with lack of calcium or an excess of protein leading to issues with your pet’s shell.
Turtle Shell Conditions
There are quite a few abnormal shell conditions that turtles can experience. Some can be easily treated at home, while others will require you to take your pet turtle to the veterinarian for professional care.
Damaged or Cracked Shell
Damage to your turtle’s shell can be caused by a drop or fall, an attack from another animal, or another form of trauma. In any case, a damaged or cracked shell can be a complicated problem that needs to be treated right away.
If left untreated, a damaged shell can lead to many different problems for your turtle. These include physical disability, organ damage, shell rot, infection, and shock. If you notice bleeding and severe damage, take your pet to the veterinarian immediately.
First Aid for a Minor Shell Break
You’ll want to look carefully at the damage to the shell. If it’s bleeding, apply pressure with a clean towel until the bleeding stops. Next, place your turtle in a warm and dry area. A storage container with a clean towel should do the trick.
You’ll need to purchase a soft toothbrush and a cleanser meant for wounds, such as Betadine or Hibiclens. Make sure to buy one of these specifically, and not a generic antibacterial soap. Scrub the wound thoroughly with the toothbrush and cleanser. Follow the instructions on the bottle to see how long you should scrub.
After cleaning, place the turtle back into the storage container for about four hours. This gives the wounded shell a chance to dry and scab over.
Repeat the process each night until your turtle’s shell wound appears to be healed. Make sure to carefully examine the injury every day. If it begins to smell, that’s a sign of infection and it means that your pet needs professional medical treatment from a veterinarian.
Red or Pink Shell
If you notice that your turtle’s shell appears to be red or pink between the scutes, this is a sign of a serious health problem called septicemia or blood poisoning. The skin may take on a red or pink color as well. This can be a result of a previous illness or injury that wasn’t treated properly, and you cannot treat it yourself. Make sure to take your turtle to the vet if you notice any red or pink coloring.
A small amount of algae on your turtle’s shell is considered normal. It’s most commonly seen on wild turtles or turtles that live in outdoor ponds. Most turtles that live indoors will have very little or no algae on their shells.
How to Remove Algae From Your Turtle’s Shell
Algae is typically very easy to remove, and you can do it at home without needing to take your pet to the vet. Remove your turtle from its aquarium and clean both the tank and your turtle thoroughly. You can use a towel or a toothbrush to clean off your turtle before returning it to its habitat.
Discolored Spots on the Shell
If you see white or other strange-colored spots on your turtle’s shell, this can be a sign of either fungus, mineral deposits, or a bacterial infection. These are typically a result of inadequate basking or poor water quality in your turtle’s aquarium. Mineral deposits in particular usually arise if you use hard water because the excess minerals in the water build up on the scutes of your turtle’s shell.
How to Treat Discolored Spots
If you have multiple turtles living together, make sure to separate them when you notice shell discolorations because these conditions are often contagious. Some off the shelf treatments are available, but it’s pretty likely that you’ll need to get prescription medication for your turtle if this problem arises.
Fungal infections present with a white coating or patch on your turtle’s shell, but the color can vary from white to brown depending on the severity of the infection. Fungal infections occur when your turtle hasn’t been basking enough, or when the filter in your aquarium isn’t doing its job properly.
How to Treat a Fungal Infection
If you catch a fungal infection early and are able to fix your pet’s habitat, it’s relatively easy to treat. There is a product available called Repti Turtle Sulfa Dip, which contains sodium chloride, sulfisoxazole, and neomycin sulfate. This medication helps to control and prevent fungal infections as well as bacterial diseases. Of course, if it doesn’t seem to help, contact your vet.
Shell pyramiding is when the scutes on your turtle’s shell aren’t as smooth as they should be. Instead, they appear in more of a pyramid shape. Pyramiding can range in severity, but it’s most often a result of overfeeding. When you overfeed your pet turtle, it takes in an unhealthy amount of fat and protein that causes it to grow very rapidly and results in pyramiding.
How to Treat Pyramiding
Shell pyramiding is a situation that can be avoided by feeding your turtle a healthy diet. But once pyramiding has occurred, it can be fixed by simply correcting the diet. Pay special attention to any foods that contain large amounts of protein; they should be reduced, and you should avoid giving your turtle any treats. If you don’t correct this issue right away, it can become a permanent disability.
Gold spots are a normal occurrence in turtles that indicates that they are shedding their scutes. But there are quite a few abnormal shell variations that are more serious.
These include a damaged shell, a shell that is red or pink in color, an algae- or fungus-covered shell, discolored spots on the shell, and pyramiding. While many of these conditions can be treated at home, it’s always a good plan to contact your veterinarian for guidance.
Now that you know about these different health conditions that have to do with your turtle’s shell, you’ll be much better prepared to handle any problems your turtle encounters! Knowing how to handle various shell conditions will allow you to help your turtle live a long and healthy life.