Although your pet boxie is probably not in any danger of being hit by a car, you might find a wild one that wasn’t so lucky. Or your pet might have been attacked by a dog or other wild animal.
In cases like this, the shell could be seriously damaged. And since the shell is an important part of the turtle’s body, not just a covering, the damage could be fatal.
Except for very minor cracks without any bleeding, you’ll need help from an experienced reptile vet (or a wildlife rehabber) to repair a box turtle’s broken shell.
How Turtle Shells Get Damaged
The most likely cause for a wild turtle’s damaged shell is being hit by a car. Although box turtles can run faster than you might think, they’re no match for a speeding car. Drivers don’t always have time or room to swerve away. And sadly, some drivers actually swerve to deliberately hit turtles crossing the road.
Fire can also cause a lot of damage to a turtle’s shell.
Pet turtles can also suffer serious shell damage in unexpected ways:
- Your (or a neighborhood) dog may decide it makes a good chew toy. Deep puncture wounds from a dog’s teeth can be especially bad.
- Box turtles are excellent escape artists, and if yours escapes from a habitat you have set on a table, he could fall onto the floor and crack his shell.
- You could accidentally drop her as you’re moving her (of course you’re careful, but accidents do happen).
How to Repair a Damaged Shell
Treatment for a broken shell depends on how bad the wound is.
For minor cracks without any bleeding just cleaning it daily and maybe keeping it covered is often all it needs. Many people do this themselves and have a vet do a checkup later.
Others don’t bother with a vet at all for minor damage, and their pets recover just fine. But it’s really a good idea to have a vet look over your turtle just to be sure he doesn’t need additional treatment.
For serious damage, including puncture wounds from an animal bite or any wound that’s bleeding, get your boxie to a vet as soon as possible. These wounds can get infected and cause a dangerous condition called sepsis, or septicemia, in your pet. There could also be internal damage you can’t see.
A vet can clean the wounds, cover them and start a course of antibiotics to prevent infection. He or she can also examine your turtle for signs of paralysis or other problems.
Depending on the situation, your vet may also repair the shell damage. For smaller wounds, super glue may be enough to hold it together. Larger wounds may require basically rebuilding the shell using patches made from fiberglass and epoxy resin or similar materials. The shell itself can then heal under the patches.
Repair of serious shell damage is not something you should try yourself unless you have experience (but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t have experience?). For one thing, these wounds can be hard to clean without doing more damage.
For another, if your pet does have internal damage a vet can better evaluate if it’s even a good idea to try to save him. Sometimes euthanasia is the more humane option. As hard as that may be, you don’t want your pet to suffer needlessly, right?
And finally, when putting on the patches, you want to be sure of two things:
- You’re not getting epoxy or other patch material in the wounds.
- You’re not basically sealing off an infection under your patch.
Both of these things could prevent healing, which is the opposite of your goal.
For a more detailed explanation of how damaged shells can be repaired, see Turtle and Tortoise Shell Repair by Melissa Kaplan (1995).
The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association has more advice and links for finding a wildlife rehabilitator.