Tortoises can get cracked shells due to a bad fall, conflict with other animals, attacks by predators, and certain illnesses/diseases. A tortoise will need immediate care and treatment to recover.
For minor cracks, a tortoise may heal in a couple of weeks. For deeper cracks, it can take several months for a tortoise to recover, even with proper care.
If the tortoise doesn’t receive veterinary attention, organ damage can occur.
Shell injuries are common among pet tortoises, so knowing how to fix a cracked shell is a skill that all owners need.
If your tortoise has a shell injury, these steps will promote 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 underneath. This creates an opening for infection to seep 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 solution (2%).
Do this a few times every 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 will help prevent shell rot and blood infections.
2/ Keep Everything Dry
During the healing period, keep your tortoise and its enclosure dry.
This doesn’t mean that you should remove all humidity, as tortoises still need it to stay healthy. Instead, you should clean up any water and ensure your 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, such as 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 they’re more vulnerable to bacteria and pathogens.
To ensure that your 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 your tortoise from infections, such as shell rot.
The resin should be given time to dry and harden before reintroducing the tortoise to its enclosure.
Tortoise shells have a slow growth rate, taking weeks or even months to recover.
Much depends on where the shell is damaged. The soft tissue underneath the tortoise’s shell can take 2-3 weeks to recover, while the carapace can take 4-18 months to repair itself.
A tortoise’s shell may crack for the following reasons:
Most captive tortoises are kept with other pets, including dogs with their powerful bite strength.
If your dog finds your tortoise in the backyard, it might confuse it with 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 damage the shell, scratching, bruising, or even cracking it.
A young tortoise will have an even weaker shell, and tortoises recovering from illnesses may also be vulnerable.
Two Tortoises Fighting
Tortoises can be aggressive, becoming embroiled in fights to establish dominance.
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 your 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 your 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, it’s a condition that occurs from bacteria found inside a tortoise’s body or environment, like contaminated water. The bacteria will infect the blood vessels inside the tortoise’s 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 even death.
Shell rot can lead to cracks in the shell, but it can also result from existing cracks. For example, if your tortoise falls, bacteria may enter through the cracks and begin to grow inside the shell.
The risk of shell rot is further increased if your tortoise lives in an unclean environment.
Deficiencies in Vitamin D3 can lead to soft shell because this vitamin aids calcium absorption. Soft shell is more prevalent in young tortoises because their shells grow faster and have greater calcium needs.
Shell pyramiding happens when scutes appear on a tortoise’s shell.
This condition is due to:
Pyramiding causes abnormalities of 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 limited mobility. They may require easier access to food and water, and they’ll need regular veterinary check-ups.
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 cannot treat these secondary injuries quickly.
Tortoise shells are made of keratin and bone, which are organic matter that can heal over time.
Certain injuries are minor and can heal on their own 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 there are minor cracks in the shell, 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 together.
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 before healing.