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do tortoise shed their skin?

Is It Normal For A Tortoise To Shed Skin?

A tortoise’s skin may appear dry, ashy, or patchy. If it’s centralized around the tortoise’s neck or legs, you may think it has a skin infection or type of fungus.

Tortoises naturally shed their skin, scales, and scutes throughout their lifetime. This process allows them to cast off old skin and grow healthy, robust skin underneath.

This fresh layer rejuvenates the body and serves to protect them from diseases. Tortoises don’t shed their skin in one uniform sleeve, so it flakes off in patches.

The tortoise won’t require your intervention, and you should never peel off the extra skin by hand. Doing so may create open wounds.

It can take days or weeks for a tortoise to shed fully, but shouldn’t be a distressing process

Do Tortoises Shed Their Skin?

Like all reptiles, tortoises do shed their skin. They won’t do this in one uniform piece, like you might observe with snakes, but instead in flaky patches.

Tortoises cannot take off their shell since it’s a part of their skeletal structure, much like a rib cage. As such, shedding won’t happen inside the tortoise’s shell, just on the outside. Skin will fall away from their outer limbs, most obviously in regions like the neck, head, and legs.

Do Tortoises Shed Their Scales?

Depending on the species of tortoise, it may have prominent scales. These are usually found along the legs and might connect to spurs used to protect the tortoise. These scales are made of keratin, just like the scutes found on a tortoise’s main shell.

The tortoise will shed these scales along with the rest of its skin. It’s a natural process that allows the tortoise to grow and stay healthy.

Why is My Tortoise Shedding Skin?

Whether it is skin or scales, tortoises shed as a regenerative process that replaces dead or old layers with a new layer. Like with other reptiles, this allows them to benefit from healthy, undamaged skin but also accommodates their size as they grow.

Additionally, tortoises will experience flaking when they are healing from injuries. This usually happens if the tortoise is recovering from fungal infections that have eaten into its skin. Replacing the skin allows it to recover fully.

tortoises skin shedding process

Tortoise Skin Shedding Process

Tortoise skin shedding happens in stages. They can’t lose all their skin at once because their hard shell makes it impossible. To confirm that your tortoise is just shedding and not acting sickly, you should know what the process looks like:

Skin Appears More Dull

When a tortoise starts to grow new skin, the top layer will die off. This can give it an ashy or dull color, making your tortoise appear to have dry or unhealthy skin.

As long as this happens in patches and the layer beneath appears healthy, you don’t need to worry. If you’re wondering, “why does my tortoise have dry skin?” you’re most likely observing the natural phenomenon of skin-shedding in action.

Flaking Happens In Batches

You should first notice a tortoise shedding skin on the neck. This is the part of your tortoise’s body that stretches and moves the most, so it’s easier for the old skin to get dislodged here. The same will hold true around your tortoise’s joints.

New, Fresh Skin

The tortoise will fully shed its old skin by rubbing against objects, soaking in water, or waiting until the skin comes off on its own. You will find the skin underneath is fresh and healthy and may be a stark contrast to other areas that have not yet shed.

It can take several days or even weeks before this stage is complete across the entire tortoise. Nonetheless, it’s important to resist speeding this process along too quickly.

Is it Safe To Peel Off Flaking Skin From A Tortoise?

You should never peel any flaky skin from your tortoise’s body. Even if you want to help, pulling at this skin before it’s ready can lead to wounds or bleeding. The skin may not be fully dead and unready to detach from the tortoise. Like pulling off a scab too soon, you can rip up fresh skin from underneath.

At the least, this can be painful and unsightly, requiring your tortoise to heal this area at a slower pace. At the worst, the area may become infected with bacteria and lead to illness in your tortoise.

If you notice your tortoise’s skin is beginning to peel off, the best thing you can do is allow the skin-shedding process to happen naturally. Any pieces of dead skin hanging from your pet’s body will eventually fall off on their own without your intervention. Forcefully pulling out dead skin will do more harm than good.  

Do Tortoises Shed Their Shell?

Technically speaking, tortoises don’t shed their shells. Instead, they shed the outer layer of keratin that protects the shells. As such, a more accurate question would be, “do tortoises shed scutes?” and the answer is yes.

Much like shedding skin, tortoises need to rejuvenate their scutes with a fresh, healthy layer. Otherwise, the scutes would constantly brandish old wear and tear. The tortoise would also have difficulty growing to its full size with a healthy shell if the old scutes remained firmly, unchangingly in place.

Tortoises will shed their scutes in a natural process that does not require human intervention. As the tortoise grows, the scutes on its carapace will start to fall off. New growth will create a strong, sturdy, and firm shell to protect the tortoise’s internal organs. You will know this is happening when the:

  • Scutes become more translucent
  • New layer develops underneath the old shell
  • Shell increases gradually in size
  • Shell becomes stronger and firmer

How To Help A Tortoise Shed

It can be hard to watch your tortoise be irritated by its flaking skin or brandishing patches that don’t seem to come off. The good news is, there are ways to help the shedding process without hurting your tortoise.

Soak Your Tortoise Regularly

Soaking your tortoise will help the old skin come loose naturally. In particular, the outer layer of dead skin will soften, making it detach more quickly.

Soaking can also help your tortoise absorb water and stay hydrated, making the new skin underneath healthier. If the fresh skin is in good condition, it will push off the old skin more effectively.

Increase Humidity

Keeping the humidity in your tortoise’s enclosure high can help fast-track the shedding process. A moist environment creates the right conditions for the old skin to become softer so that it peels off easily.

Using a substrate with high moisture-retention properties (such as grass and mulch) can help you keep the right balance throughout the day. Alternatively, you can use a humidifier.

Clean The Tank

Your tortoise will find it more difficult to shed in clean flakes if it lives in a dirty enclosure. Be sure to change the substrate, wash its hides, and provide fresh water. This will not only minimize the risk of infection as your tortoise regenerates its skin. It will also give the tortoise fresh, clean soil and objects to rub against and naturally remove the flaking skin.

Why Is My Tortoise’s Skin Peeling Unnaturally?

While shedding is a natural process, there are times when illness or injury causes a tortoise to shed unnaturally. You should watch out for these signs. If they appear, your tortoise needs to see a vet.  

Infections

Fungal or bacterial infections may cause your tortoise to develop skin or scutes that are unhealthy. They will die and begin to flake off in patches. This can leave behind marks that are red, inflamed, discolored, or bleeding. If the skin takes on a strange texture, appears irritated, or creates an unpleasant smell, you should be concerned.

According to Medical Mycology Case Reports, tortoises are prone to infections, and the presence of wounds further increases the risk. A skin infection can easily create an open wound, which then becomes infected with more pathogens. This may cause your tortoise to act strangely or fall ill.

why is my tortoise's skin peeling?

Dysecdysis

Dysecdysis is the abnormal shedding of scutes that can expose the tortoise’s fragile organs, making it vulnerable to infections and injuries. If the scutes are falling off too quickly, especially if the tortoise has already shed recently, you should seek a vet’s opinion.

Shell Rot

Shell rot is a type of ulcerative bone disease that occurs when bacteria infect the blood vessels inside a tortoise’s shell. This condition causes the scutes of a tortoise’s shell to fall off, thereby exposing the internal organs. If not diagnosed and treated early, shell rot can spread throughout the carapace of your tortoise, causing significant damage to the shell.

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

According to The National Marine Life Center, metabolic bone disease is caused by an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus in the body. This usually results in the weakening of a tortoise’s carapace and plastron. That makes the shell vulnerable to cracks and fractures. When left untreated, MBD can cause the scutes to peel off until none are left.

Shell Pyramiding

Pyramiding is a disorder that is characterized by the raising of scutes on a tortoise’s shell. While excess protein in the diet is believed to be the main cause of pyramiding, other factors can contribute. For example, deficiencies in calcium and vitamin B3 are dangerous to tortoises.

Pyramiding causes the scutes to be pushed upwards. This weakens the shell structure, thereby making the shell susceptible to breaking and peeling off. This, however, is a less common occurrence compared to shell rot and metabolic bone disease.

It’s normal for a tortoise to shed its skin. This will be a stress-free process that takes place in stages and doesn’t harm the new skin growing underneath. If you notice the tortoise appears distressed or shows signs of infection, you should consult a vet. If the skin flakes off naturally and healthy skin lies underneath, then let your tortoise go through this process naturally.