A tortoise’s skin can appear dry, whitish, or patchy. So, many owners think their tortoises have a skin infection if the shedding is centralized around the neck or legs.
Tortoises naturally shed their skin, scales, and scutes throughout their lifetime. Shedding allows them to cast off old, worn skin and grow new, healthy skin in its place.
This fresh layer of skin rejuvenates the body and protects them from infections and diseases. Tortoises don’t shed their skin in one uniform sleeve, so it flakes off in patches.
It can take days or weeks for a tortoise to shed fully but never peel off the extra skin by hand.
Why is My Tortoise Shedding Skin?
Tortoises shed to replace dead or old layers of skin or scales, which allows them to regenerate and grow.
Also, tortoises will experience flaking when healing from injuries, which often happens if they’re recovering from fungal skin infections.
Tortoise Skin Shedding Process
Tortoises can’t lose all their skin at once because their hard shell makes it impossible, so skin shedding happens in stages. If you observe the following, the tortoise is shedding:
Skin Appears Duller
When a tortoise starts to grow new skin, the top layer will die, which 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, it’s not of concern.
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 part of your tortoise’s body stretches and moves the most, making it easier for the old skin to be dislodged.
The tortoise will fully shed its old skin by rubbing against objects, soaking in water, or waiting until the skin comes off.
The skin underneath is fresh and healthy and could starkly contrast with other areas that haven’t yet been shed. It can take several days or weeks to complete this stage.
Is it Safe To Peel Off Flaking Skin from A Tortoise?
Avoid peeling flaky skin from a tortoise’s body. Even if you want to assist, pulling at the skin before it’s ready can lead to sore skin, bleeding, and bacterial infection.
The skin may not be dead, so it’s not ready to detach from the tortoise. You can harm the new skin underneath, just like pulling off a scab too soon.
This can be painful and unsightly, resulting in slower healing and recovery.
If you notice a tortoise’s skin is beginning to peel off, allow skin-shedding to happen naturally. Any pieces of dead skin on the body will eventually come away without human intervention.
Do Tortoises Shed Their Shell?
Tortoises shed the outer layer of keratin that protects the shell. A more accurate question would be, “do tortoises shed scutes?” which is yes.
Much like shedding skin, tortoises must rejuvenate their scutes with a new, healthy layer. Otherwise, the scutes would constantly show 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 shed their scutes naturally. As the tortoise grows, the scutes on its carapace will start to fall off.
New growth will create a strong shell to protect the tortoise’s internal organs. You’ll know this is happening when the following happens:
- Scutes become more translucent.
- New layers develop underneath the old shell.
- Shell increases gradually in size.
- Shell becomes stronger.
How To Help A Tortoise Shed
There are ways to help the shedding process without harming the tortoise.
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 help the tortoise absorb water and stay hydrated, making the new skin underneath healthier. If the fresh skin is in good condition, it’ll push away the old skin.
Keeping the humidity in a tortoise’s enclosure high can expedite 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 maintain the right balance throughout the day. Alternatively, you can use a humidifier.
Clean The Tank
Your tortoise will find it harder to shed clean flakes if it lives in a dirty enclosure. So, change the substrate, wash its hides, and provide fresh water.
This will minimize the risk of infection as your tortoise regenerates its skin and give them clean soil and objects to rub against to 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 check for these signs:
Fungal or bacterial infections may cause your tortoise to develop unhealthy skin or scutes, which will die and flake off in patches.
This can leave behind inflamed and discolored marks or cause bleeding. You should be concerned if the skin takes on a strange texture, appears irritated, or creates an unpleasant smell.
According to Medical Mycology Case Reports, tortoises are prone to infections, and wounds increase the risk. A skin infection can lead to an open wound, which then becomes infected.
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 fall off quickly, especially if the tortoise has shed recently, you should seek a vet’s opinion.
Shell rot is an ulcerative bone disease due to bacteria infecting the blood vessels inside the 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 weakens a tortoise’s carapace and plastron, making the shell vulnerable to cracks and fractures. When left untreated, MBD can cause the scutes to peel off until none are left.
Pyramiding is a disorder that is characterized by the raising of scutes on a tortoise’s shell.
While excess protein is believed to be the main cause of pyramiding, other factors, like deficiencies in calcium and vitamin B3, can contribute.
Pyramiding causes the scutes to be pushed upward, which weakens the shell structure, thereby making the shell susceptible to breaking and peeling off.
It’s normal for a tortoise to shed its skin, which will be a stress-free process that takes place in stages and doesn’t harm the new skin growing underneath.