Do Turtles Smell? [6 Reasons + Prevention]

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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My mum didn’t let me adopt a turtle as a teenager because she thought turtles smell bad. I don’t blame her. Most people seem to share this “BELIEF”! Are they right? Do turtles really smell?

Turtles have a bearable natural body odor. However, the tank environment sometimes gets dirty and spreads a foul smell. Turtle poop, leftovers, bacterial and algae outbreaks, etc., make the aquarium dirty. Irregular tank cleaning and water changing routines lead to a stinky enclosure.

What if your turtle tank smells terrible? What should you do? Let’s find out.

Key Takeaways

  • Turtles have a damp body smell as they live in the water for hours. Their natural odor is not strong or unpleasant.
  • The filth in the water makes the turtle and its enclosure stink.
  • Replace 25% of dirty water with fresh water once a week.
  • Deep clean turtle tank once every month.

Does My Turtle Smell?

Let’s be honest. Every animal has a distinct body odor. This fact stands true, even for humans.

Then, how can you expect your turtles to be odorless?

Turtles do carry a different scent, which is natural only. The odor is not strong and blends in with the environmental smells.

So, why is the foul odor coming from the turtle tank?

Your turtle is definitely not the one to blame here. The filthy water and unclean habitat are responsible for spreading the foul odor. Keep reading for more details.

Turtle vs. Dog: An article suggests that while dogs might be more sensitive to smell due to the greater surface area of their noses, soft-shelled turtles might have an equally keen or even better sense of smell in certain contexts. (Source)

Why Does My Turtle Smell?

In urban areas, people mainly raise turtles indoors. So, you can imagine the trouble you will get into if your turtle smells terrible. Your entire family will turn on you and make you get rid of the pet.

Let’s hope that day never comes. Knowing what makes your turtle stink and working on resolving the issues can end the horror. Allow me to explain why your turtle smells first.

1. Turtle Pooping Here And There

Don’t make a yucky face! Yes, my turtle poop where it lives, that will be the water.

The claim is that turtles can not release waste unless they are in the water. You will witness the exact nature of tortoises, too. Water happens to encourage turtles and tortoises to urinate and poop.

Turtle’s feces float around in the water for a while. Then, the shit settles at the tank bottom unless you remove the excrement as soon as you spot it. There the poops will rot and spread the nasty smell.

2. Turtles Have Left Their Food Behind

Get ready to be more disgusted! Turtles eat where they poop. Yes, in the water.

Unfortunately, these innocent-looking reptiles are not so neat and ordered. What I meant is your turtles are messy eaters. They will devour whatever comes their way with zero manners. So, do not be surprised when you notice food scraps in the water.

See also  Can The Smell Of A Turtle Tank Make You Sick?

The leftovers get stuck in the pebbles or accumulate at the bottom. Eventually, these yummy foods will turn into a rotten meal. So, the food scraps might be causing the foul smell you notice in the tank.

3. Algae Growth & Plants

Algae attack is always predictable if you try to set up a natural ecosystem for the turtle. No owner is a fan of these green organisms. But it is quite impossible to eliminate algae from the habitat altogether.

Turtle ponds receiving direct sunlight experience rapid algae growth. These organisms have a damp scent, which can be unpleasant to some people.

Again, owners love adding natural plants to the turtle pond. The lack of care can kill these greens. As the leaves decompose, it spreads a bad smell.

snapping turtle in backyard
Owner: Josh Kelley

4. Bacterial Breeding Ground

I always say good bacteria are beneficial for turtles. But what about the harmful organisms?

The harmful bacteria can take shelter in your turtle tank due to the filthy environment. Well, these organisms love living off rotten meals and waste.

So, within a week or so, your turtle habitat will be covered with bacteria. No wonder the tank stinks and smells awful.

5. Is There A Sickness?

I will be honest. Sickness sometimes makes my turtles smell bad. Take the mouth or shell rot as examples.

The infection can spread to other body parts really quickly. Your pet’s skin and flesh start rotting in no time if treatment is unavailable. You can definitely imagine how bad the smell can be!

6. The Filter Is Broken

See, turtles will eat and shit in the same place. It is natural only. In the wild, the river flow takes away the dirt and leaves freshwater behind.

Well, in captivity, we owners are in charge of maintaining hygiene. Installing a filter is the easiest way to restore the cleanliness of a turtle enclosure.

Hey! The filters will do the job only when you have bought the right one. Never buy a 50-gallon filtration device for a 50-gallon tank.

You should get a filter with a 100 or 150-gallon filtration capacity. Otherwise, the water load may outrun the filter’s ability. In the end, you will have to deal with dirty water and foul odor.

turtle tank smell causes & solution: infographic

Want to get a printable version of this infographic? Click here!

How Do I Get Rid Of My Turtle’s Smell?

As mentioned, you do not want your turtle-keeping hobby to turn into a nightmare because of the smell. So, you should live by some hygiene code. Some rules are as follows,

1. Give Your Turtle A Proper Bath

Turtles spend hours in the water. No wonder their skins and shells get slippery. I once caught algae growth on my turtle’s shell. Do not ask me how bad it was smelling.

Dirt accumulation in the shell is no joke! In fact, it can become deadly. How? The layers will not allow the UV rays and sunlight to reach the shells. Therefore, your turtles will suffer from malnutrition and low immunity.

This is why you should give your turtles a proper bath every once in a while. Here is how to do it,

  • Take a plastic container and fill it with lukewarm water. Pour a few drops of conditioner to level the water composition. It is important not to bathe your turtles in the kitchen skin or washroom tub. Turtles carry salmonella, which is contagious even among humans.
  • Take a soft toothbrush and gently scrub the turtle’s skin and shell. Scrap away the dirt and algae build-ups from the pet’s body. Turtles do not need any soap or shampoo for a bath. The added chemicals can irritate their skin and eyes. However, you can try the commercial cleansers made for turtles.
  • Look for any injuries or scratches on the shell or turtle skin. If you find any wound, treat it with betadine solution and anti-bacterial creams. Do not let the injuries untreated.
  • Finally, rinse the turtles well and let them roam under the heat or sun for half an hour to an hour. Then, transfer them to their existing house. Now, your turtle smells as natural as possible.
Owner: Sarah Miller

2. Buy A Quality Filter

Not buying a quality filter for a turtle enclosure is foolish. You may be saving money for now. But be prepared to spend more to treat the pets. So, do not fall for this trap.

See also  Do Turtles Need Heat Lamp? Why?

Instead, buy a high-quality filter to maintain top-notch cleanliness in the habitat. Right now, multi-stage filtration devices are the most popular and effective.

In these filters, the mechanical bucket removes the dirt and filth first. Then, the water moves to the chemical stage. Here, the water restores the ideal composition, which is safe and suitable for turtles.

Finally, the charcoal and bio-balls kill the harmful bacteria in the bio-active zone. Besides, the balls promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. At the same time, the charcoal and stones eliminate any foul odor from the water.

So, the quality filters take in filthy water and circulate clean, fresh water. It means no more foul odors.

Are you struggling to choose the right filter for your turtle tank? Do not worry. You will find the top 5 Canister filters from here. Besides, this article will help you with a turtle indoor pond filtration system.

3. The Regular Cleanup

Wouldn’t it be good if the filter could take care of the turtle habitat? Unfortunately, even a powerful filter can not ensure top-notch cleanliness in the pet tank.

Of course, a filter is mandatory in both indoor and outdoor turtle enclosures. But you can not forget the regular cleanup sessions.

Yes, the turtle tanks require cleaning daily, weekly, and monthly. Daily, you should remove turtle poop and any leftovers immediately as you see them.

Each week, you must siphon 25% of existing water with fresh water. Finally, changing the tank water once every month will work. Also, thoroughly clean the turtle aquarium at least once a month.

Frequent water replacement or tank cleaning is unnecessary. It prevents good bacteria colonization and leads to cloudy water. Click here to find out more on turtle aquarium cloudy water and fixes.

Hey! Aren’t you forgetting something? Yes, the filter.

I try my best to clean the filter baskets once every month. Otherwise, the dirt clogs the perforation and hampers the filtration process. I highly recommend a monthly cleanup of the aquarium filters.

N.B. Do not use the commercial cleaner. Chemical residuals from these liquids can cause the turtles irritations. Besides, the cleaners have a strong fragrance, which is unpleasant for turtles. I use the green solutions for cleaning or buy a turtle aquarium cleaner from the pet store.

I have shared my turtle tank cleanup experiences, tips, and tricks here.

4. Should You Buy A Bigger Tank?

A congested aquarium gets messy quickly. No wonder professionals always suggest upgrading the tank size. Remember, the more the elements, the more space you need. Besides, you need to buy a more powerful filter to handle the added load.

As per the rule of thumbs, a turtle requires 10 gallons of water for every inch of its shell. So, a 40-gallon tank is suitable for a 4-inch aquatic turtle. If you plan to add live plants, shoot for a 50 – 60 gallon enclosure. Of course, you need to upgrade to a bigger aquarium when building a community habitat.

See also  How To Keep Turtle Tank From Smelling? [9 Causes & Solutions]

5. Switch Meals?

See, fresh vegetables and proteins decompose way more quickly than commercial ones. So, if your turtle meals include mostly natural elements, the leftovers will spread a musky odor.

But it should not stop you from feeding your turtle a fresh diet. Instead, remove the food scraps every day to avoid the smell.

6. Excess Sunlight

Algae are also somewhat responsible for making your turtle tank stinky. Overexposure to the sunlight promotes the algae growth. Limiting sunlight will definitely solve the algae outbreak. Besides, install a UV sterilizer to keep these green organisms checked.

Owner: Brandon Reed

Can turtles smell better than humans?

Turtles, particularly sea turtles, have a heightened sense of smell, sight, and hearing compared to humans. These reptiles have evolved with stronger muscles, better lungs, and enhanced sensory perceptions to adapt to their environment.

However, it’s important to note that the sense of smell varies among different species of animals. While some animals have a more acute sense of smell than humans, others might not.

The comparison between the olfactory abilities of turtles and humans would require more detailed scientific studies to draw definitive conclusions.

Snapping turtles utilize their sense of smell, vision, and touch to detect prey. They might also be able to sense vibrations in the water. Source

Can you wash your turtle?

Yes, you can wash your turtle, but there are some important guidelines to follow:

  1. Aquatic Turtles: Aquatic turtles spend the majority of their lives in the water. If their tanks are kept clean, they rarely need a special bath. However, there might be occasions when your turtle could benefit from a gentle cleaning.
  2. Avoid Soap: You should not use any type of soap when cleaning your turtle. The chemicals in the soap can cause inflammation on your turtle’s skin. Instead, use clean, dechlorinated water and gently brush the turtle’s shell if needed.
  3. Cleaning the Habitat: While the turtle itself might not need frequent baths, it’s crucial to keep their habitat clean. Regularly cleaning the turtle tank or tortoise habitat ensures a healthy environment for your pet.

Turtles, like other reptiles, can carry Salmonella bacteria. It’s essential to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a turtle or anything in their environment to prevent the spread of this bacteria.

Do turtles smell like fish?

Naturally, turtles do not have strong scents. They do have a smell, but it is quite faint. However, when kept in a dirty environment, such as an unclean tank, they can develop a more noticeable odor.

The smell might be reminiscent of fish, especially if the turtle’s tank is not cleaned regularly or if the water quality is poor. The fishy smell is typically a result of their tank environment rather than the turtles themselves

does turtle poop smell?

Turtle poop does have a distinct smell. The odor can be more pronounced if the turtle’s tank or habitat is not cleaned regularly. A dirty tank environment can amplify the smell of the turtle’s waste.

It’s essential to note that the smell of the poop is often a reflection of the cleanliness of the turtle’s environment. If the tank water is not changed frequently or if there is a buildup of waste, the smell can become more noticeable.

Before You Go…

Do you think tortoises, close relatives of turtles, also stink? If yes, how do you make them smell fresh? I have discussed it all in the attached article.

Do Tortoises Smell Bad? [Remove Stinky Odor]

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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