Tortoises can get cracked shells due to a bad fall, conflict with other animals, attacks by predators, and certain illnesses and diseases. A tortoise will need immediate treatment and ongoing care to recover.
For minor cracks, a tortoise may heal within 2-4 weeks. Even with expert care, it can take months for a tortoise to recover from deeper cracks.
If the tortoise doesn’t receive veterinary attention, permanent organ damage is possible.
How To Help A Tortoise Shell Heal
Shell injuries are common among pet tortoises, so owners need to know how to fix a cracked shell. If a tortoise has a shell injury, these steps will expedite healing and recovery:
1/ Clean The Wounds
Most tortoise shells are cracked by heavy, sudden impact injuries, leading to broken shards of the shell piercing the soft layer of flesh beneath. This creates an opening for infection to get in and develop.
To prevent this from happening, clean the site of the wound. If there’s blood and debris on the tortoise’s shell, douse a clean piece of cloth with an antiseptic solution, such as chlorhexidine (2%).
Do this a few times each day for at least a week. If needed, continue this until you notice no more bleeding or debris on the tortoise’s shell.
Also, cleaning and disinfecting the wounds can prevent shell rot and blood infections.
2/ Keep Everything Dry
During the healing period, keep the tortoise and its enclosure dry.
This doesn’t mean you should remove all humidity, as tortoises still need water vapor in the air to stay healthy. Instead, clean up any water and ensure the tortoise doesn’t sit on any wet substrate.
Standing water and dampness are breeding grounds for pathogens that may cause infection.
3/ Administer Antibiotics
If the tortoise’s wounds are infected, you’ll need to administer antibiotics like Ceftazidime and Baytril.
Adhere to the dosing schedule and follow the after-care routine to clear up the infection.
4/ Mend Large Cracks
A minor crack will seal on its own and heal fully within weeks, while large cracks will take longer to recover. Large open wounds may refuse to heal and are more vulnerable to bacteria.
To ensure the tortoise heals, you’ll need a veterinarian to seal these large cracks with zip ties. If pieces are shattered, they may require binding with wires.
5/ Apply Resin to the Shell
A vet may apply resin to the carapace to prevent water from getting into the wounds. This can protect the tortoise from infections like shell rot.
The resin should be given time to dry and harden before reintroducing the tortoise to its enclosure.
How Long Does a Tortoise Shell Take to Heal?
Tortoise shells have a slow growth rate, taking weeks or months to recover.
Much depends on where the shell is damaged. The soft tissue underneath the shell can take 2-4 weeks to recover, while the carapace can take 4-18 months to repair itself.
Why Do Tortoise Shells Crack?
A tortoise’s shell may crack for the following reasons:
Most captive tortoises are kept with other pets, including dogs with a strong bite force.
If the dog finds a tortoise in the backyard, it might think it’s a toy. Even large pets intent on harmlessly playing with a tortoise may injure it, especially if play-fighting escalates to true aggression.
Tortoises are known for their hard shells, but they’re not impenetrable. A strong bite may cause damage, scratching, bruising, or even cracking the shell.
A juvenile will have an even weaker shell, and tortoises recovering from illnesses may be vulnerable.
Two Tortoises Fighting
Tortoises can be aggressive, becoming embroiled in fights to establish dominance.
This is common with male tortoises that are sexually mature. During these fights, tortoises can be so determined that they headbutt each other and knock each other on their back.
Most people are careful when handling tortoises, but accidents still occur. A fall from any height can be dangerous to a tortoise, but the higher the fall, the more serious the injury.
Sometimes, this happens because the tortoise wiggles around as you carry it. Other times, a child may drop the tortoise. If the tortoise lands on a hard surface, like concrete or marble, shell damage is likely.
Hit by Car
According to the Italian Journal of Zoology, human-induced injuries tend to be more severe in tortoises. Shell injuries and cracks in captivity often involve heavy machinery/equipment, such as cars and agricultural appliances.
If the tortoise leaves its enclosure and wanders off into the open road, it may be hit by a car.
While the injuries can be as minor as scratches, sometimes the collision leads to severe cracks. In the worst cases, it may shatter the shell.
Also known as ulcerative shell disease, shell rot occurs from bacteria in a tortoise’s body or environment, like contaminated water. The bacteria will infect the blood vessels inside the shell.
If shell rot isn’t diagnosed and treated early enough, it may cause the tortoise’s shell scutes to fall off, exposing the bones and nerves. It makes tortoises vulnerable to infections, injuries, and death.
Shell rot can lead to cracks in the shell but can also result from existing cracks. So, bacteria may enter through the cracks and grow inside the shell.
The risk of shell rot is further increased if the tortoise lives in an unclean environment.
Soft shell (metabolic bone disease) is a condition that deficiencies in calcium and an imbalanced calcium-to-phosphorous ratio bring on.
This disorder usually results in a weak tortoise shell, which is susceptible to cracks and impact injuries.
Deficiencies in Vitamin D3 due to a lack of sunlight or UV light exposure can lead to soft shell because it’s necessary for calcium absorption.
Soft shell is common among juveniles because their shells grow faster and have higher calcium needs.
Shell pyramiding happens when scutes appear on a tortoise’s shell. It happens due to the following:
- Excess protein in the diet
- Lack of calcium
- Inadequate water intake
- Lack of sunlight
Pyramiding causes abnormalities in the skeletal structure, so the shell is more prone to cracking.
Can a Tortoise Survive with a Cracked Shell?
Most pet tortoises with cracked shells recover, but some struggle with mobility. They may require easier access to food and water and ongoing vet visits.
However, the survival rate is lower if the cracked shell has damaged the internal organs, especially the lungs. The tortoise may not survive long if a vet can’t treat these secondary injuries quickly.
Can a Tortoise Shell Repair Itself?
Tortoise shells are made of keratin and bone, which are organic matter that can heal over time.
Certain injuries are minor and can heal in a few weeks. These might include scratches or thin cracks near the tail, which are usually caused by aggressive mating or fighting.
The healing process will be faster if the wounds are cleaned and disinfected. If the shell has minor cracks, a temporary plaster cast may be applied to protect the wound.
Cracks that are deep, wide, or bleeding heavily require more intensive veterinary care. A vet can apply a medical-grade epoxy resin to join the cracked pieces of the shell.
A tortoise can take several months to recover from a severe shell injury. Unfortunately, if the wound is deep enough to impact the organs, it may succumb to secondary complications.