Turtle inside shell

Turtle Head Stuck in Shell – What To Do?

Many people don’t realize that a turtle’s shell is part of their body. Yes, they can pull their limbs and head into their shell for protection, but the spine and ribs of the turtle are fused to the shell. It is similar to an insect’s exoskeleton.

For most turtles and tortoises, tucking away in their shells is a sign of fear or illness. However, shell injuries or malformations can cause that protective behavior to become permanent. Occasionally, the turtle’s head will get stuck in the shell. If this happens to your turtle or tortoise, it is important to follow these steps to safely fix the head stuck in the shell.

Materials Needed

  • Gloves
  • Soaking bowl
  • Cold-pressed coconut oil
  • Travel container

What To Do When a Turtle’s Head is Stuck in its Shell

When a turtle head is stuck in a shell, it is important to operate gently but quickly to fix the problem. The last resort is to find an experienced reptile veterinarian to help out your pet turtle.

Step 1: Wait and Observe

If your turtle was accidentally startled, it is possible that they are scared and purposely keeping their head in the shell. When they pull into their shell protectively, they can remain in that position for hours before choosing to come back out. Give your turtle some space and quiet time before moving forward with helping them get their head out.

Step 2: Prepare Your Hands

Before you try to fix a turtle or tortoise that’s stuck in its shell, you should wash your hands to prevent spreading any germs to your reptile. If your turtle is a biter (most are), wear leather gloves to protect your hands.

Step 3: Tickle the Rear Legs

In a best-case scenario, tickling a turtle’s rear legs and tail will stimulate it to move away from you and pop its head out of its shell. Alternatively, the turtle could tuck its legs into the shell, helping to push the head out of the shell.

Step 4A: Pry Shell Apart

If it looks like your turtle’s stuck head is due to the carapace (top shell) and plastron (bottom shell) being stuck together, you can try to gently pull the shell apart. Apply as little pressure as possible and only use your fingers to try to separate the top and bottom shell.

Step 4B: Manipulate the Head

If your turtle is trying to push their head out of its shell but it looks like it can’t fit, you can help your turtle turn its head. Reach a couple of fingers into the shell on each side of the turtle’s head. Carefully and gently tilt the head to one side. Oftentimes, this allows the turtle to push their head out of the shell. Depending on how tight the squeeze is, you can apply a small amount of cold-pressed coconut oil to the shell to lubricate the area.

Step 5: Visit a Veterinarian

Ideally, you will see a specialized reptile veterinarian to help your turtle or tortoise stuck in a shell. If you were not able to release the stuck turtle head at home, a vet will be able to assist your pet. Additionally, if this is a recurring issue, a vet can advise you on treatment options.

Step 6: Recovery

A turtle head stuck in a shell is a stressful situation for the animal. Once their head has been safely removed, it is important to give the turtle or tortoise time to recover. Give the turtle quiet time and do not bother it for a few hours. Soak the turtle in a warm bath for 10-20 minutes to help rehydrate the animal. Don’t worry if your turtle does not eat for a few hours or a day after the ordeal. These animals may need extra time to recover from the stress.

Step 7: Prevention

Providing your turtle or tortoise the best possible enclosure and care will help prevent illness or shell abnormalities that can lead to a head stuck in a shell. Your turtle should have a heat lamp and a UVB lamp. Their diet and supplements should be high-quality and specific to their species. Tortoises also need regular soaking baths to prevent dehydration and kidney issues (which can cause swelling in the neck and lead to a head stuck in the shell).

Related Articles:

Turtle Won’t Come Out of Shell – What To Do?

Why is My Turtle Suddenly Scared of Me?