Do Tortoises and Turtles Smell?

As a new tortoise or turtle pet owner, part of your fears are the adjustments you may need to make when you bring your pet home. While space may not be an issue, the smell of your pet may make you anxious and impact your decision to locate its enclosure. Therefore, whether your tortoise or turtle smells, we understand it is a matter of concern that requires attention.

Tortoises and turtles do not have a strong smell, except for their natural odor. However, your pet will smell if you keep them in a dirty enclosure or in case they have an infection. Therefore, you can prevent turtles and tortoises from smelling by maintaining good hygiene.

If you want to know whether tortoises and turtles smell, this is the ultimate guide for you. We will help you know whether tortoises and turtles smell, what makes tortoises and turtles smell, and how to prevent your pets from smelling. Read through the article to find out all the answers you need.

Do Tortoises and Turtles Smell

Do Tortoises Smell?

With the misconceptions running around the internet about tortoises, it is crucial to have the correct information to know what to expect as a tortoise owner. A big concern for new tortoise owners is whether their pet will smell or not and how to deal with this smell.

Generally, tortoises do not smell but have a natural odor, which can be described as musty. This natural odor is mild, and you may not smell it unless you get close to your pet. However, if you keep your tortoise in a dirty enclosure, it will stink from the decomposing substrates. Bacteria and other microorganisms will also start breeding and cause infection to your pet, making it stink due to the infection or disease.

Before blaming your tortoise for the bad smell, you should check for uncollected poop in the enclosure, hidden food, and dirty water and food containers. Tortoise poop has a mild smell. However, you should remove it immediately since it will attract flies and bugs if left for long. Bacteria will also start to breed, resulting in a foul smell.

Sometimes, a tortoise will drag its food from the feeding area and eat while hiding at its convenience. If it fails to clear the food, it will decompose, resulting in a stinky enclosure. Also, while your tortoise might eat and clear food from its food container, you should clean the dishes to remove the residues as these too can smell over time. To keep the food dishes clean, clean them thoroughly a few days of the week. You should also clean the water dish to remove smelly scum at least once a week.

Unlike turtles which require physical cleaning to keep the bad smell at bay, keeping your tortoise enclosure clean is the only requirement to make your pet smell good. You should remove food substrate, feaces, and clean the food and water dishes regularly, and the smell will go away.

Daily removal of the droppings and food substrates will go a long way to keeping the enclosure smelling nice. While cleaning the enclosure, food, and water dishes, you should avoid using detergents as they can harm your reptile. Instead, use a safe disinfectant and move your pet away during cleaning.

If, after cleaning the enclosure, your tortoise still stinks, it could be a sign of infection. To detect this, you can check your pet’s limbs, tail, and neck areas that meet with the shell for any scratches or injury. You should also check the shell for any holes, cracks, and soft spots. If these wounds are smelling, it is a sign of infection, and you should immediately take your pet to the vet for treatment.

Do Turtles Smell?

Turtles are high maintenance pets, especially when it comes to their hygiene. For this reason, knowing if they smell before purchasing them is important to know whether you can manage them and determine their tank location. 

Turtles do not have any strong smell except their natural reptile smell. However, pet turtles will smell because their tank is dirty or they simply need to be cleaned. Thus, different turtles will smell differently depending on their environment and what is stuck on their body; hence, difficult to state the exact smell.

On the other hand, wild turtles emit a skunk smell whenever they feel threatened to scare away their predators.  For this reason, you should never adopt a wild turtle as a pet since; besides their foul smell, they can be dangerous to human beings. Since pet turtles do not produce this natural smell, you can control their smell through regular cleaning and tank maintenance.

Turtles will smell bad if you put them in a dirty enclosure. Given that turtles spend most of their lives in water, they demand clean water to smell fresh. Failure to clean their tank well will result in the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms, which stink.

Your turtle tanks will also smell if you leave leftover food after feeding them. Since turtles prefer to feed from their tank, you should manually remove leftovers if they do not finish their food. Leftover food, especially vegetables, will decompose and emit a foul odor. If your turtle gets into this water, it will equally stink.

Due to their big size, turtles produce a lot of waste. You should remove this waste immediately to prevent a bad smell. These pets also shed their skin in the process called molting. This skin can clog the tank’s filters if you do not remove them immediately, resulting in a foul smell.

Finally, turtles can smell bad due to disease, especially shell rot, which results from an infected scratch or injury.  If your turtle and its tank are clean, but still there is a foul smell in their enclosure, you should take your pet to the vet to check their health. If detected early, shell rot is treatable. However, if it penetrates deep into the shell, it may take a while to heal or even kill your pet.

How Can You Make Your Turtle Smell Nice?

Just like human beings, pets need a clean enclosure and body to smell good. Failure to do this will make their enclosure inhabitable and harbor disease.

If you want your turtle to smell nice, you should wash it and clean its tank at least once a week. To clean your turtle, you need a soft toothbrush and some water containers. The toothbrushes should be new to ensure they do not have bacteria lingering on them, and the containers should be big enough to hold your turtle. If you do not have containers, you can wash your pet in the sink. However, you should not wash your pet in your bathtub due to the bacteria and microorganisms it carries that could harm your health.

Start by washing your hand to remove dirt, detergent, or cream. You should then add water to the containers, ensuring the exact water temperature in the tank. When washing your turtle, you should use clean water only without detergent, as this could irritate your pet. You should then lift your pet by holding its sides and put it in the container containing their bathing water.

When cleaning your turtle, dip the toothbrush in a separate container rather than the one holding your turtle as this water is dirty. You should start scrubbing your pet from the edges followed by the top part of the shell in circular motions. Afterward, move under the edges and clean out the bacteria and algae. After finishing the top part, clean the bottom of your turtle gently using circular but soft motions.

You can then put your turtle under some light and inspect the areas you may have missed during cleaning and clean them. After cleaning, throw away the toothbrush and container as they host bacteria and algae; hence, not reusable. You can then proceed to clean the tank to ensure your pet is in a clean environment.

To clean the tank, start by flushing out about 70% of the water. While doing this, move the siphon to ensure you remove most of the algae from the tank. You can then clean the algae from the sides of the tank using a silicone ice scraper.  Afterward, refill the tank and put your pet back in its enclosure.

Well-Kept Tortoise and Turtles Don’t Smell

Naturally, tortoises and turtles do not smell bad except for their natural reptile odor. Therefore, their smell in captivity is dependent on how well you care for them and their enclosure. If your tortoise smells, check the enclosure for poop, food substrate, dirty water, and food dishes. For a turtle, you should check the tank for accumulated food residue and algae in their tank.

Cleaning your pet tortoise and turtle enclosure should remove most if not all the smell. If you own a turtle, you should also clean it every week using a toothbrush and clean water to deal with odors. However, if your pet’s enclosure is clean but still smelling foul, it could be a sign of disease, and you should take it to the vet. Early diagnosis of disease will enable earlier treatment and prevent a fatality.

Harvey Wells

I am an intense cool pets lover. I have tortoises, tarantulas and a few other exotic pets. And I would love to share what I have learned.

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