Soft Tissue Injuries

Cleaning Wounds

  1. Remove as much dirt as possible by spraying it with warm water. Use Betadine®, Betadine Scrub ®,  baby shampoo or similar cleaners onto the wet tortoise and scrub gently, but keep away from the eyes (one benefit of baby shampoo is that it is safer near the eyes.) Use an old, soft-bristled toothbrush on soft tissues and a stiffer brush (like a fingernail brush) on the shell.
  2. Rinse with warm, clean water. Re-scrub as needed.
  3. If the limbs are tightly retracted, scrub what you can, then soak the tortoise in a pool of Betadine and water at a ratio of 1:10 to 1:20 (or a “tea color”) for a few minutes.
  4. Dry the tortoise.
  5. Use a swab or sponge, apply Betadine to the affected area and all around it. Use full strength for possible fungal infections or “dirty wounds”, and diluted 1:10 with water for general purpose. Scrub for about a minute, then let dry.
  6. Do not use Betadine-like products more than a few days.

Wrapping Injuries

This technique minimizes skin/shell damage and still offers protection.

  1. Start by cleaning the injured area the best you can. (See the “Cleaning Wounds” section above)
  2. Place clean gauze over the wound or apply splints as needed
  3. Use “paper first-aid tape” first to protect the tortoise’s skin.
  4. If needed, use a stronger tape (like waterproof first-aid tape, or electrical tape) on top of the paper tape for strength and protection.
  5. Always make sure that the tape is not too tight, especially if it goes around a limb.

Alternatively, you can use gauze wrap or self-cohesive wrap instead of tape. Self-cohesive wrap is a little stretchy but does not stick to skin, just to itself. An inexpensive version is called 3MVetWrap 2 ( or farm supply stores.)


Transport ASAP if the burn interferes with breathing, affects the face, covers an entire limb or more than one limb, affects the cloaca, goes through the skin, or if the tortoise is very young.

  1. Cool the burn area with cool, not cold water.
  2. Treat the injury as a “minor wound”, but do not bandage unless the skin is damaged.
  3. Treat for shock, then employ the appropriate “nursing care” as described in our Tortoise Library article.

Eye Injuries

  1. For most eye injuries that need treatment the tortoise should be seen by a vet.
  2. Minor injuries can usually be treated with a rinse of sterile water/eye wash and a drop of ophthalmological antibiotic ointment.
  3. Sunken-looking or dull eyes may be a sign of dehydration.

Prolapse (Organ protruding from the cloaca) 

  1. If the organ retracts on its own, everything is probably OK. Monitor the animal.
  2. If it does not self-retract soon, clean it with sterile water, treat as a wound, treat for shock, and transport ASAP.


An abscess usually appears as a hard, raised wound-like lump. It can include problems such as bacterial infections or tumors, most often following an injury. Should be removed surgically by a vet.
who will also determine and treat the underlying cause.

Dysecdysis (unshed scales)

Appears as a thickened or rough patch of skin, often on the head of the tortoise. Often due to dehydration. Tortoise should be treated to correct dehydration, and soaked. The dry patch should be moistened and lotion or ointment applied until it loosens and sloughs off. If it does not, or if the skin under it is damaged, see a vet.


Edited 8-15-2012 (C) Mark Adkins