How To Take Care Of A Softshell Turtle? [Beginner’s Guide]

How To Take Care Of A Softshell Turtle

Softshell turtles are not easy to handle. Most turtle owners claim that you need experience and proper knowledge to raise a softshell turtle. Do not worry if you are a beginner and want to pet a softshell turtle. In this article, I will discuss how to take care of a softshell turtle properly.

To raise a softshell turtle, you need to ensure 4 basic cares. Such as:

  1. Well decorated enclosure
  2. Habitat environment
  3. Balanced diet
  4. Medical care

If you are thinking about buying a softshell turtle, or you already have one, this article is for you. Read to the end to get a complete guide on how to take care of a softshell turtle.

What’s Your Pet’s Species?

Softshell turtles have almost 25 species, but not all of them can be raised in a captive environment. In one of my previous articles, I have mentioned that 3 softshell turtle species make excellent pets. Such as:

  1. Florida softshell turtle
  2. Spiny softshell turtle
  3. Smooth softshell turtle

Once you know which softshell turtle you have, you can offer better care to it. However, check this link to find out more details on the types of softshell turtles that you can keep as pets.

How To Take Care Of A Softshell Turtle

I have mentioned earlier that 4 basic cares are mandatory for softshell turtles. Such as:

  • Well decorated enclosure
  • Proper habitat environment
  • A balanced diet
  • Regular medical care

In the upcoming sections, I will provide individual care guides for each softshell turtle species.

Caring Guide For Florida Softshell Turtles

florida softshell turtle care

The Florida softshell turtles are native to the Southeastern part of the USA. These turtles usually grow bigger than other softshell turtles. A male Florida softshell turtle can get 6 to 12 inches big, while the female ones grow about 8 to 25 inches. Check the growth factors of Florida softshell turtles by clicking here.

Tank Size:

As Florida softshell turtles are bigger in size, they require more space. It means you have to provide these turtles with a bigger tank.

For an adult male Florida softshell turtle, a minimum of 75 to 100 gallon tanks will be perfect. But a female Florida softshell turtle needs more space. Experts suggest not to raise the Female Florida softshell turtles in a conventional glass aquarium.

If you want to pet the female turtle in a tank, buy an aquarium more than 100 or 125 gallons. The best option is to build a 400 gallon stock pool.

However, Florida softshell turtles are big and they need more space to move and swim. That is why you should not house more than one turtle in a 75 or 100 gallon enclosure. Even if you do, increase the tank size.

Basking Dock:

Like other turtle species, the Florida softshell turtles also bask. Basking boosts the turtles’ digestive system and keeps them healthy. If there is no basking station in the enclosure, the pet turtle may suffer from skin or shell diseases.

While buying or building a basking dock, consider the size of the enclosure and the turtle. Make sure the station can hold the weight of the Florida softshell turtle. You can check the best basking docks for softshell turtles from here.

Light Sources:

Basically, 2 types of lights are necessary for a Florida softshell turtle’s enclosure. Such as a heating lamp and a UV lamp.

The heating lamp provides heat to the whole tank and keeps the environment warm. This bulb is a must for you if you live in a region where winter is severe. Some people use average watt bulbs to heat the tank, which is okay but not healthy. There are proper heating lamps available in the market.

UV bulbs are a must if you are raising the Florida softshell turtles in an indoor enclosure. The turtles require UV exposure to absorb vitamin D and calcium, which help them develop strong bones. In the wild, the Florida softshell turtles get the UV rays by basking directly under the sun. But in captivity, you have to install the UV light above the basking dock.

Read this article to get the full basking light guide for a Florida softshell turtle.

Water Filter:

It is important to provide the Florida softshell turtles with clean water. As an aquatic and freshwater species, these turtles can not stand dirty water. If the tank water is unhygienic, it will spread bacteria and fungus. So, eventually, the pet turtle will suffer from shell rot, skin disease, eye infection, or some other condition.

To keep the tank water clean, you have to set up a water filtration system. Water filters will do this work for you. Here are the 7 best water filters for a Florida softshell turtle’s tank that actually work.

Water Heater:

The Florida softshell turtles are ectothermic. It means they depend on external heat to warm up their bodies. So, if the water temperature is below their range, they will feel cold.

Softshell turtles spend most of their time swimming underwater. So, cold water will affect the turtles’ health condition. For example, the pet will suffer from cold, respiratory diseases, etc.

The best way to keep the Florida softshell turtle’s tank warm is to install a water heater. A tank heater easily makes the water temperature for the Florida softshell turtles. Read this article to get the 4 best water heaters for a Florida softshell turtle’s tank.

Enclosure Environment:

In an indoor enclosure, you have to try your best to replicate the wild environment. The Florida softshell turtles prefer deep water. So, make sure the depth of the water is perfect for the pets.

However, a soft sandy or muddy bottom will provide the perfect pond vibe. You can plant small edible herbs inside the tank. Place small smooth rocks around the plants so that the Florida softshell turtles can not uproot them.

Tank Mate:

Florida softshell turtles are aggressive in nature. They will attack humans or any opponent if they feel panicked, stressed, or a bit insecure. Check this article if you do not know the wild behavior of a Florida softshell turtle. That is why experts suggest not to put any fishes or turtles with a Florida softshell turtle.

The best tank mate for a Florida softshell turtle will be another Florida softshell turtle. Make sure the provided space is enough for the two and both are compatible with each other. However, some turtle owners have raised cooters, painted turtles, map turtles, and mud turtles with a Florida softshell turtle without any hassle.

Caring Guide For Spiny Softshell Turtles

spiny softshell turtle care

Spiny softshell turtles are native to Nothern America. This species has 7 subspecies. Such as:

  1. Eastern spiny softshell turtle
  2. Western spiny softshell turtle
  3. Gulf Coast spiny softshell turtle
  4. Guadalupe spiny softshell turtle
  5. Pallid spiny softshell turtle
  6. Texas spiny softshell turtle
  7. Black spiny softshell turtle

The care of every subspecies is almost the same. The male spiny softshell turtle gets 5 to 9.5 inches big. On the other hand, the female spiny softshell turtle grows between 6.5 to 18 inches. Check the size chart of different softshell turtles by clicking here.

Tank Size:

Though the spiny softshell turtles are smaller than the Florida softshell turtles, they also need big enclosures. Providing the males with a 75 to 100 gallon tank will do just fine. But when it comes to the female spiny softshell turtles, you must increase the tank size.

Depth is also important for the softshell turtles. According to the experts, the water depth should be 4 feet or more.

Experienced turtle owners recommend providing 400 gallon stock ponds to the spiny softshell turtles. If you can afford a 600 gallon outdoor pond, this will be the best for the pets. In that case, you can raise more than 2 spiny softshell turtles with other fast moving fishes and turtles.

Basking Dock:

If you observe a spiny softshell turtle, you will notice they hardly come to the land or basking area. This sometimes makes the owners think that the turtles do not need a basking station. Is that so? Absolutely, not.

Like all other turtles, the spiny softshell turtles also need a basking dock. Take a look at the importance of basking in a spiny softshell turtle’s life:

  • Spiny softshell turtles spend their days swimming in the water. So, they need a land area to dry and warm their bodies.
  • Without any basking area, the spiny softshell turtles have to stay in the water for a long time. That can lead to cold, respiratory diseases, shell, or skin rot.
  • The spiny softshell turtles bask under the UV light in this area, which keeps the pets healthy.
  • Basking boosts the metabolism of the spiny softshell turtles.

So, without thinking twice, get a basking dock for your spiny softshell turtle. You can review some of the best basking stations for spiny softshell turtles from this article.

Light Sources:

In the previous section, I have discussed the importance of heating lamps in a softshell turtle’s enclosure. The lamps make sure that the spiny softshell turtles do not feel cold.

Set up the bulb on one side of the tank in such a manner that most portions of the habitat get warm. Leave one side uncovered. The pets can swim to that portion in case they feel cold.

Another important light for the enclosure is a UV light. The UVB exposures produce vitamin D3 in the Spiny softshell turtle’s body. It eventually absorbs the calcium and phosphorus from the food and makes the bone strong.

Again, the UVA rays are also significant for the Spiny softshell turtles. The researchers have shown that this particular exposure can affect a turtle’s mental health. The presence of UVA rays makes the Spiny softshell turtles more active and happy.

You will find different types of UV rays in the market. Do not go for the cheap ones. Instead, buy an expensive and long lasting lighting source for your softshell turtle’s enclosure. Check this article to get the best bulbs for Spiny softshell turtle tanks.

Water Filter:

You already know that water quality matters the most for the Spiny softshell turtles. It is your responsibility to ensure hygienic water. Filthy water is the perfect living place for bacteria and fungi. So, dirty water means skin rot, mouth rot, shell rot, eye infection, etc.

Sometimes, your water pH level may be too high or low for the Spiny softshell turtle. Installing a water filter will solve all these problems. Digital water filters are very efficient. The device maintains a pH level around 6.00, which is suitable for the Spiny softshell turtles.

Water in some areas may contain high amounts of chlorine. It can cause eye or skin irritation to the Spiny softshell turtle. The problem can be solved with a dechlorination chemical. You can buy it from an authorized pet store.

Check the best water filters for Spiny softshell turtles by clicking here.

Water Heater:

As Spiny softshell turtles can not generate heat, you have to make sure the water is warm enough for them. What will happen if the water temperature is below the range? The turtle will feel cold and suffer from respiratory diseases.

If the temperature drops below 50 or 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the Spiny softshell turtle will prepare for hibernation. You know that turtles can not endure cold. To cope with the environment, they slow their activities and go for a long sleep.

You will notice that your Spiny softshell turtle is losing its appetite and doing nothing. Sometimes people ask me why a softshell turtle stops eating. Well, this can be a possible reason. To know other reasons, check this article.

The best way to deal with this situation is to install a water heater in the tank. You can check the best tank heaters for Spiny softshell turtles from this article. You can buy either an expensive or average tank heater for the pet.

The average tank heaters are not that great. Users have many complaints against them. For example, sometimes, the water gets too hot for the turtles. Or, the water is not getting warm at all.

On the other hand, the expensive ones offer better service. These devices can track the temperature of the water. If the temperature drops or gets too hot, the heater fixes it immediately. No matter which one you are using, set up a thermometer in the tank for safety.

Enclosure Environment:

Spiny softshell turtles prefer sandy or muddy bottom. So, put a thick layer of a substrate at the bottom of the tank. To make the habitat look more elegant, plant low vegetation. You can place different sized rocks in the enclosure, which will work as visual barriers.

Tank Mate:

Spiny softshell turtles act most aggressive towards their own species. The adult ones try to dominate the females and young turtles. If you put two adult males in the same enclosure, there surely will be a fight.

Housing a male and female spiny softshell turtle will be okay. But make sure there is enough swimming and basking space for both the turtles. Also, you have to provide the turtles with enough food.

You can also put some fast moving big fishes, mud turtles, cooters, painted turtles, map turtles with the baby spiny softshell turtle. Or if you have a stock tank, you can house other species with softshell turtles. Find out the perfect tank mates for a Spiny softshell turtle from this article.

Caring Guide For Smooth Softshell Turtle

smooth softshell turtle care

The smooth softshell turtle is another North American turtle. The male smooth softshell turtle grows 5 to 11 inches. And the female ones can get 6.5 to 14 inches big. So, compared to the Florida softshell turtles and the Spiny softshell turtles, they are smaller. You can check this article to know which factors affect a Smooth softshell turtle’s growth.

Tank Size:

As the smooth softshell turtles are small in size, a minimum 75 gallon tank will work for the male ones. For a female smooth softshell turtle, you have to afford a minimum of 100 gallon tank.

Like other turtles, the smooth softshell turtles also prefer space. So, the more space you can provide them with the better it is for the pets.

Basking Dock:

I think I do not have to describe the importance of a basking dock anymore. Let’s discuss which things you should consider while choosing a basking station for the Smooth softshell turtle:

  1. The dock is strong enough to carry the weight of the Smooth softshell turtle.
  2. It does not cover most portions of the tank.
  3. There must be a rampage so that the turtles can get on the dock easily.

You can either buy a basking dock or make one for the smooth softshell turtles. Check out the following suitable materials for building a dock:

  • Driftwood
  • Plastic
  • Foam
  • Metal sheet
  • Smooth rock

If you want to buy a commercial basking dock, check this link. You will get the best basking docks for the smooth softshell turtles.

Lighting Source:

Like all other softshell turtle species, these turtles also need UV and heating lights. Without UVB rays, the baby softshell turtle’s body will not be developed properly and it will suffer from various diseases. In the worst case, the hatchling can die.

The heating lamp is similarly important for the smooth softshell turtles. Without warmth, the pets will feel cold and may not come out of the water at all. This can cause different bacterial diseases.

So, setting up a heating lamp and a UV bulb is a must. Some owners go for full spectrum bulbs that provide both services. You can check each category of lights for smooth softshell turtles by clicking here.

Water Filter:

Water quality should be one of your top priorities. If the water quality is not good, the smooth softshell turtle will suffer from allergies, infections, or other diseases. Installing a water filtration system will definitely help you keep the tank water clean and safe. A quality filter can also control the pH level of water.

You have to clean the tank water more than thrice a month even if you install a water filter. Use the python system to discharge water from the tank.

Click here to get the list of the 7 best filters for smooth softshell turtle tanks.

Water Heater:

You already know why we set up the water heater inside a softshell turtle’s tank. But how will you calculate the power you need? According to the experts, a 75 gallon tank requires a 300 watt water heater. The device power will increase depending on the size of the tank.

You can use multiple water heaters or a single high power heater. But if you ask me, I will suggest using multiple tank heaters for the big enclosures. This works as a backup in case any device stops running.

Click here to get the 4 best water heaters for the smooth softshell turtle.

Enclosure Environment:

Smooth softshell turtles need adequate space for swimming and moving underwater. Planting small vegetations in the tank is always good. Also, place several visual barriers or hiding places for the smooth softshell turtles. Add a thick layer of a substrate at the bottom of the tank.

Tank Mate:

Smooth softshell turtles are also aggressive in nature. But with adequate space, several hiding places, large basking areas, and enough food, you can raise these turtles with another mate.

You can put fish like pacu, pike, snakehead, African fish, etc with a baby smooth softshell turtle. Also, other turtle species, for example, mud turtle, map turtle, painted turtle, red eared slider, musk turtles are also compatible with the smooth softshell turtles.

The softshell turtles usually do not attack the hard shelled turtles. These turtles have a tendency to dominate the younger turtles of their own species. So, never house two smooth softshell turtles of different age groups.

Housing male and female smooth softshell turtles is a better idea. Sometimes, the male one may try to dominate the female one. But most times, the female smooth softshell turtle acts passively.

Perfect Habitat Environment For Softshell Turtles

By now, you know how to ensure the best enclosure for a softshell turtle. But here is the thing, if you can not replicate the wild environment, the turtles will feel uncomfortable living in the tank. So, how to create the perfect habitat environment for softshell turtles?

First of all, add a layer of high quality sand substrate at the bottom of the tank. This will help the softshell turtles burrow into the mud. You can buy other substrates if you want. Just make sure the elements are not harmful to the pets.

Secondly, it is important to provide the turtles with suitable tank temperatures. Here is a chart that indicates the preferable tank temperatures of a softshell turtle:

Basking TemperatureWater TemperatureAir Temperature
80 to 90 degrees Farenheit70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit

Finally, you have to decorate the tank. Try to replicate the wild environment as much as you can. For example, plant small herbs. Place smooth different sized rocks around the substrate. Also, add a few hiding places for the pet turtle.

A Balanced Diet For Softshell Turtles

The diet of all softshell turtle species is more or less the same. The species is primarily carnivorous, which means, these turtles prefer eating protein based foods or animal-based items throughout their life. Though you can add a little amount of vegetables to the meals of a softshell turtle.

Here is a list of food that you can offer to a softshell turtle:

  • Grasshopper
  • Bug
  • Crustaceans
  • Ghost shrimp
  • Small fish
  • Pellets
  • Insects
  • Cricket
  • Crayfish
  • Mealworm
  • Waxworm
  • Earthworm
  • Bloodworm
  • Redworm
  • Snail
  • Cooked meat
  • Cuttlebones
  • Insect larvae
  • Lettuce
  • Algae
  • Cloves
  • Cabbage
  • Azolla
  • Frogbit
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Water hyacinths
  • Alfalfa
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Carrions
  • Dragonflies
  • Mussels
  • Damselflies
  • Beetles
  • Mayflies
  • Caddies flies

Foods You Must Avoid Feeding Your Softshell Turtle

The softshell turtles are carnivorous, this does not mean you can feed the turtles anything you want. There are certain types of foods that you must avoid. Such as:

  • Raw meat
  • Hamburger
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Processed food
  • Junk food
  • Preserved food
  • Candy
  • Sweets
  • Marshmallows
  • Chocolates

You can get more information on what softshell turtles eat as a pet by clicking here.

How Much And How Often Should You Feed Your Softshell Turtle?

Each and every softshell turtle owner should have a clear knowledge about how much and how often to feed the pet. Otherwise, the pet turtle may suffer from overfeeding or malnutrition conditions.

Well, for the quantity, you can rely on 2 effective methods. Such as:

  1. The 15 minute rule
  2. The head method

The 15 minute rule:

You know softshell turtles are voracious species. They have a wild instinct when it comes to food. They will keep eating even after they are full, which can cause different medical conditions for the turtle. Such as rapid growth, obesity, etc.

So, what is the solution here? Experienced owners suggest leaving more than enough food inside the tank for 15 minutes. The quantity a smooth softshell turtle finishes within the time frame is enough to keep it healthy.

The head method:

If you can also determine the food quantity by this method. Take a bowl the size of the softshell turtle’s head and fill that up. Or imagine how much food would fit into the softshell turtle’s head if it were empty. That is the quantity you should feed the pet.

The 15 minutes rule works better than the head method. So, I personally recommend that one.

How Often To Feed The Softshell Turtles

The feeding schedule may vary depending on the age or size of the softshell turtles. The hatchlings require more nutrients and minerals than the adult ones because they are just developing their body. On the other hand, the softshell turtles may lose appetite with time.

If you have a hatchling, you need to feed it daily for the first 6 months. Add fish, cooked meats, shrimps, and other animal proteins, but no vegetables. Also, feed the hatchlings cuttlebones to fulfill the calcium or vitamin requirements.

For the young softshell turtles, the feeding schedule is a bit different. You have to feed them every other day for 1 or 2 years. The meals must contain animal proteins. Adding a small amount of vegetables is a smart idea. Sprinkle vitamin D and calcium supplements on the meals.

The adult softshell turtles have the least appetite. Feeding them thrice a week will be enough. The adult softshell turtles may prefer eating vegetables. But make sure the meals are well balanced and the pet is getting everything it needs.

Here are some important things you must remember. Softshell turtles are aquatic species and prefer eating while staying in the water. So, if you provide the food anywhere else, they might refuse to eat.

Also, the softshell turtles stay most hungry early in the morning and late evening. These are the perfect times for feeding the pets. If you try feeding any other time, the turtles might not eat.

For more softshell turtle’s feeding related tips, check this article.

Regular Medical Care

You can not expect your softshell turtle to stay healthy all the time. The pet can fall sick due to the environment or any other reasons. No matter why your pet softshell turtle is ill, you have to ensure the best medical care possible.

Here are some of the reasons that can make a softshell turtle ill:

  • Genetical complexes
  • Unhealthy environment
  • Unbalanced diet
  • Organ failure
  • Accident

Take a quick look at the following chart. It contains most of the diseases of a softshell turtle. symptoms, and probable treatments:

Softshell Turtle Common DiseasesWhat Causes The Diseases?Symptoms Of The DiseasesProbable Treatment
Hypovitaminosis or vitamin A deficiencyLack of vitamin A in regular dietSwollen eyelids

Appetite loss

Weight loss

Runny nose

Skin infections

Abnormal embryo development on eyes
Vitamin A shots Vitamin A enriched diets
Respiratory infectionLack of vitamin A

Cold water

Unhealthy enclosure




Less activity

Difficulty in breathing

Runny nose




Appetite loss

The pet spends more time on the warm basking area
Maintain the suitable tank temperature.

Provide the softshell turtle with a balanced diet.

Make sure the heating lamp, UV bulb, and water heater are working perfectly.

Visit a vet if you see no progress.
Ear abscessEar infection If the respiratory disease goes untreated

Vitamin A deficiency
Visible lump on ears

The lump is filled with pus and dead cell
Anti-biotics Contact a vet for a painless treatment.
Shell rotCut on the shell

Bacterial or fungal attack
White patches on the shell

Mucous discharge from the shell

Shell tissue will be exposed
Isolate the softshell turtle.

Keep it in a dry place.

Scrape off the dead cells.

Use disinfectant on the rot or wound.

Take the pet to the vet for better treatment.
Unhealthy sheddingFast growth

Fungal infection

High ammonia content in the water

You will notice small white flakes on the shell of the softshell turtle.Make sure the softshell turtle is getting a balanced diet.

Do not overfed the pet.

Follow the feeding schedule I have mentioned above.

You can consult an expert to determine the exact reason for shedding.
Metabolic bone diseaseLack of calcium

Lack of vitamin D

Imbalance of calcium and phosphorus

Poor quality UV bulb
Bones of the softshell turtles will not develop properly.

The pet will have trouble walking.    
Provide the softshell turtle with a balanced diet.

Sprinkle vitamin D and calcium supplements on each meal.

Set up a high quality UV bulb in the enclosure.
Organ failureOverfeeding of proteinThe pet will behave abnormally.

Appetite loss

Weight loss
You need to seek professional help in this case.
Eye infectionUnhygienic water

Lack of vitamin A

Bacterial or virus attack
Shut eyes

Swollen eyes

Puffy eyes

Red eyes

Appetite loss

Weight loss

Mucous discharge from eyes
Check the water quality

Make sure the water filter is working fine

Provide the pet with a balanced diet

Vitamin A shots Antibiotics

There are some other common diseases that can happen to a softshell turtle. For example,

  1. Paralysis
  2. Mouth rot
  3. Overgrown beak or nails
  4. Internal parasites
  5. Blood parasites
  6. Eye rot

In case of any disease, you should take the pet to a vet. This will ensure proper medical care. However, a regular check up is also necessary for the softshell turtles. This will help you keep the pet healthy.


As a beginner, these are the things you need to know. To ensure the best care, you have to be extra careful. I hope this article will help you keep your softshell turtle happy and healthy.

Muntaseer Rahman

I have been keeping turtles as a pet for many years now. I’ve fallen in love with these cute pets from the moment I saw them. That’s why I am writing articles to share my turtle keeping knowledge with you.

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