A cracked shell is a serious health problem for your turtle that requires immediate veterinary attention to repair. Even minor cracks may lead to long-term health problems or infection, which may lead to serious illness or death.
The Importance of Veterinary Care
Anytime your turtle experiences problems with his shell, veterinary care is necessary. Shell problems can affect your pet for his entire life, and severely compromise his quality of life, so you owe it to your pet to seek treatment. Not only will your vet be better prepared to repair the shell than you are, your vet can prescribe any necessary medications and monitor your pet as he heals to ensure everything proceeds smoothly. Additionally, your veterinarian can provide pain medications for your pet to help alleviate his suffering.
Basic Shell Repair
Repairing a cracked shell often requires your veterinarian to be creative, as no two cracked shells are exactly alike. However, the basic procedure will vary little from one injured turtle to the next.
Your veterinarian will begin by cleaning the shell and wound thoroughly to prevent infection and promote rapid healing. If the wound is especially serious, wires or plates may be necessary to enclose the area. In some cases, your vet may need to sand the edges of some of the bone fragments to allow them to fit back together.
Then, by using turtle-safe epoxies and epoxy-impregnated fiberglass cloth, your veterinarian will cover the area. Your vet will add several coats of the cloth to create a protective coating roughly equal to a cast for a broken arm or leg. Sometimes it may be necessary to sand the fiberglass between coats to keep the surface smooth.
Healing and Recovery
Always follow the recovery instructions provided by your vet. Most turtles will need their "cast" for one to two years to allow the bone to heal completely. While this is not a problem for adult turtles, it can be problematic for young, growing turtles. Usually, this can be addressed by periodically removing the cast and applying a new one or leaving a gap in a portion of the cast, to accommodate future growth. Your veterinarian will monitor your turtle's progress and ensure that he is healing properly.
Like repairing a broken shell, treating shell rot usually requires veterinary assistance. Shell rot is the result of bacteria or fungi colonizing wounds in a turtle's shell. Your veterinarian may take cultures from the area to identify the causal organism and prescribe appropriate antibiotics or anti-fungal medications. Additionally, as the problem often occurs due to poor husbandry, your vet likely will review your maintenance procedures and the details of your turtle's habitat and care, such as the temperatures in the cage and your cleaning schedule. Although shell rot often resolves with prompt treatment, it can lead to blood or bone infection if you do not address the problem.