Why Is My Turtle’s Shell Shiny?

We love our turtles because of their shells. Their shells do a lot to protect your turtle’s body. But what happens when there’s something wrong with your turtle’s shell? More specifically – 

Why is my turtle’s shell shiny? An overall shine on the shell means that your turtle is healthy and is being well taken care of. 

In this post we’ll discuss health problems relating to the shell and how to properly care for both your turtle and your turtle’s shell. 

Signs of a Healthy Shell

A turtle’s shell is so important to a turtle’s health. Their shell is a big indicator of good health and a healthy shell means they are free from diseases, over-nutrition, under-nutrition, and excess bacteria.

Therefore, when paying attention to your turtle’s health it’s very important to first look at the shell. But what does a healthy shell look like? 

A healthy shell should be flat, firm, and a good proportion to their body. The fact that it has an overall shine means that it’s well cleaned and healthy.

Just as your turtle’s shell can be a sign of your turtle being in good health, a turtle’s shell can also tell us if we are taking poor care of our turtles. Let’s discuss some ways our turtle’s shells can tell us there’s a problem. 

Shell Rot 

Ulcerative shell disease, or more commonly known as shell rot, is the term used to describe an infection on your turtle’s shell. Shell rot typically presents itself as soft white spots that appear on the shell (either top or bottom) and become more severe when the problem worsens or does not get treated. 

Shell rot is typically caused by an overgrowth of bacteria on your turtle’s shell. This overgrowth of bacteria is typically as a result of a dirty tank or environment, moldy bedding, etc. Therefore, it is extremely important that you take proper care of your turtle’s tank and make sure that everything is being cleaned regularly. 

Because shell rot stems from a bacterial infection, you will need to take your turtle to see a vet right away as they will need to be prescribed an antibiotic. You will also need to clean your turtle on a daily basis to prevent the bacteria from building back up. 

Shell rot can happen for a variety of reasons. 

Injury to the shell itself is usually the primary cause. This can happen from a shell injury sustained in their tank, an injury sustained when being handled, if they were dropped, or if they got into a fight with another turtle or another animal. Any injury can cause the turtle to become susceptible to a bacterial infection which can lead to shell rot. 

Incorrect heating or temperature can also cause an injury to the shell as this can cause their shell to crack. 

Another big way shell rot can happen is if there is no place for a turtle to completely dry off. They need a place where they can be fully out of the water so their shell can dry properly and not cause a bacterial infection. 


Pyramiding is the term used when your turtle grows too fast under a short amount of time and their shell pyramids. But why does pyramiding happen? 

Turtles like a wide variety of nutrients in their diet. They especially need a lot of protein. However, too much of anything is never a good thing. This is the same case with too much protein. If the turtle gets too much protein under a short period of time, their shell will grow faster than their body can keep up with it which leads to pyramiding. 

Pyramiding can also happen when they have too little calcium, too many oxalates (since this prevents the absorption of calcium), not enough vitamin D3, lack of proper sunlight, and a lack of exercise. 

Even though it is irreversible, pyramiding itself does not cause harm to turtles unless it is a severe case. However, the very fact that your turtle is pyramiding is a sign that something is amiss in their diet and that can be very problematic and lead to more health problems down the line. 

Making Your Turtle’s Shell Shiny

Sometimes owners may want to clean up their turtle’s shell and make it shiny. Shell maintenance is an important part of owning a turtle as sometimes debris can cover the shell and hide some health problems or having an excess amount of bacteria can lead to shell rot. However, it is very important that when you do clean your turtle’s shell you do so in a healthy, gentle way. 

You can clean your tortoises shell by gently scrubbing it with a toothbrush and warm water. Make sure not to scrub too hard or use water that is too hot! Your turtle actually has nerve-endings in their shell so if you scrub too hard you can cause your turtle pain or to become stressed out. 

Using Products 

Never put anything on your turtle’s shell that isn’t water.  Unless prescribed by a vet, any products can damage your turtle’s shell and cause health problems. 

A lot of owners are tempted to use baby shampoo or oils. While baby shampoo may be okay (with direction from a vet) we do urge against this as sometimes the shampoo has additives that you may not be aware of. 

Oils are another tool you should steer clear of when it comes to bathing your turtle. Oils are actually very harmful to turtles as it builds up on the shell and can clog pores which can lead to more serious health problems. 

When it comes to cleaning your turtle’s shell we recommend sticking with good old fashioned water and a tooth brush to lightly scrub off any dirt or debris from the shell. Again, make sure to scrub very gently as some areas of the shell or skin may be very sensitive. 

How to Increase Chances of Healthy Shell

As discussed, a big part of having a healthy shell is by making sure your turtle is getting the proper amount of vitamins and nutrients. Too much protein can cause pyramiding but too little can harm the shell (and turtle’s health) as well. 

Luckily there are some things you can do to improve the care of your turtle’s shell even more outside of diet and nutrition.  Since turtle shells can help us understand if a turtle has underlying health problems, make sure all of these things are in check to minimize an issue with your turtle’s health and the health of their shell.

Healthy Habitat 

A turtle needs the correct humidity and temperature to be healthy. It is also important to make sure there are no objects or decorations that can fall on your turtle’s shell or anywhere the turtle might get stuck and injure its shell while trying to get out. Clean water is equally important as dirty water can have a buildup in bacteria that can cause harm to the turtle’s shell. Make sure to clean out the water regularly as well as clean the tank of any uneaten food. 

Handle Them Properly

When you take your turtle out of its tank, be sure to keep them out of harm’s way. Make sure to keep them out of the way of other pets or any hazardous objects that could fall on them and damage their shell. Also make sure that they don’t fall off you or an object as this can crack or injure their shell.

Inspect Regularly 

We all know the importance of cleaning your turtle regularly. This is so that you can brush away any buildup of bacteria. It’s also important because this is a great time to inspect the shell for any lesions, injuries, or for any signs of diseases. Catching illness or disease early is imperative to your turtle’s health. Make sure you inspect their shell regularly for any signs of illness or any injuries. 


If your turtle has a shell that is firm, flat, and has an overall shine, that means they are healthy and there are no issues with diet, nutrition, or environment. If you notice your turtle has shell rot or other shell issues like pyramiding, it might be time to take a look at their diet again or even bring them to the vet if you do see that your turtle has shell rot.

There are a lot of steps you can take to ensure your turtle has a healthy shell. You should be bathing your turtle once a month and gently scrubbing off any bacteria, dirt, or debris in order to promote healthy shell growth.

Be sure not to use any products (unless specifically advised by a vet) while cleaning. Also double check that their environment is not causing any issues for their shell like hazardous items that could fall on them or injure their shell.

When you take them out make sure you handle them properly so no injury happens to them or their shell.  Lastly, when you bathe them make sure to inspect them thoroughly for any signs or issues with their shell. 





I’m Devin Nunn, an average joe that just so happens to have a deep love and passion for everything to do with reptiles. Because taking care of them for the vast majority of my life wasn’t fulfilling enough, I decided to begin educating others about them through my articles. read more...