Why Is My Softshell Turtle Not Eating?

Why Is My Softshell Turtle Not Eating

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

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Have you ever faced a situation when your pet turtle stops eating? Yes, this can happen, not only in winter but in any season. Last year my softshell turtle stopped eating at all, and I was worried sick. After consulting with the vet, I got all the possible reasons that could make my softshell turtle stop eating.

Here are some of the probable reasons why a softshell turtle stops eating:

  • Hibernation
  • Sickness
  • Improper habitat
  • Poor diet menu

Well, I will discuss all these points in the following article. I will also add the tricks to feed your pet softshell turtle if it is refusing to eat. So, do not forget to read this article to the end.

Why Is The Softshell Turtle Not Eating?

Many softshell turtle owners often face this issue. But what makes the pet refuse food? Have you ever thought about it?

There can be several reasons why your softshell turtle is not eating. Such as:

  1. Congested tank space
  2. Improper water temperature
  3. Absence of UV light in the tank
  4. Filthy water
  5. No basking dock in the habitat
  6. Poor meal choice
  7. Unhealthy feeding schedule
  8. Hibernation
  9. Physical sickness
  10. Mental stress

Congested Tank Space

Space is a big deal for the softshell turtles. It is because these turtles are big and need more space to swim and move. If the habitat is congested, this will limit the softshell turtle’s movements. As a result, pets may start living an unhealthy life and stop eating food.

Improper Water Temperature

Like most other turtles, the softshell turtles can not endure extreme temperatures. Too cold or too hot temperatures make the turtle uncomfortable. The suitable tank temperature for the softshell turtles is 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the tank temperature drops or rises above the range, the pet turtle will feel sick. As a result, they can refuse to eat anything.

Absence Of UV Light In The Tank

You may be thinking what is the relation between the UV light and the turtle’s appetite. Well, the softshell turtles can not absorb vitamin D and calcium without the UV exposures. Also, the UVA rays keep the turtles active and mentally strong.

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If the tank lacks proper UV light, it can affect the softshell turtle’s physique and mental health. This can be the reason why your softshell turtle is not eating.

Filthy Water

The softshell turtles are aquatic species. They spend most of their time swimming underwater. So, water quality matters a lot to them.

If the tank is filthy, the turtles will face problems staying underwater. Also, dirty water can spread bacteria and viruses, which will lead to shell, skin, or eye problems. Eventually, the turtle will stop eating food.

No Basking Dock In The Habitat

I know softshell turtles barely come to the land areas. But it does not mean you will not provide them any basking dock. Like most other turtles, basking is important for them too.

If there is no land area in the habitat, the pet will not come out of water. This can cause shell rot, which will cause appetite loss. Also, without proper basking, the metabolism of the softshell turtle will drop. This can be why your turtle has stopped eating.

Check this article if you have any doubts about the importance of a basking dock for the softshell turtles.

Poor Meal Choice

If you feed the softshell turtle the same type of food every day, it will lose its appetite. Like us humans, these turtles have preference and taste. You need to observe which items the turtle is loving the most.

Also, the experts advise bringing changes in the menu once or twice a month. The variety of items will increase the softshell turtle’s appetite. Click here to learn which food items are safe for the softshell turtles.

Unhealthy Feeding Schedule

Softshell turtles have wild instincts when it comes to food. They will eat as much as you give them, even after they are full. Sometimes, they beg for food though they are not hungry. If you let them eat a large quantity of food, they will be full all the time. As a result, they can refuse to eat later.

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However, softshell turtles prefer to eat early in the morning and in the afternoon. If you try feeding them in any other hours, they might not eat. Also, like all aquatic turtles, softshell turtles eat in the water. So, if you provide the food in the dock, the turtles will refuse to eat.

Find out how much and how often to feed your softshell turtles from this article.


This is one of the most common reasons why softshell turtles stop eating in the winter. You know the softshell turtles are ectothermic. It means they can not regulate their body temperature and depend on the environment.

So, in the winter when the temperature drops, the softshell turtles hibernate to cope with the shivering cold. In that state, the turtles drop their body metabolism, heart rate, oxygen consumption, and daily activities.

The softshell turtles do not need to eat anything during the hibernation period. Even the turtles stop eating food one month before hibernation. This is because they need to clear their tract. Any undigested food can cause severe medical conditions, even death, during the hibernation period.

Physical Sickness

Losing appetite can be a sign that your pet softshell turtle is suffering from any disease. The turtle can stop eating when it feels physically uncomfortable. Here are some of the diseases that can make the turtle refuse food:

  1. Shell rot
  2. Skin disease
  3. Respiratory disease
  4. Kidney failure
  5. Liver problems
  6. Metabolic bone diseases
  7. Vitamin A deficiency
  8. Cold

If you think the turtle has stopped eating due to sickness, take it to the vet for proper treatment.

Mental Stress

This is true that the softshell turtles can also suffer from stress and anxiety. Here are some of the situations that can stress the turtle:

  • If the pet move into a new environment
  • When the habitat is too small compared to the softshell turtle’s size
  • If other turtles start dominates it
  • If the tank is in a crowded place

When a softshell turtle gets scared or anxious, it refuses to eat anything. But this is a temporary phase and soon the pet starts eating.

How To Feed Your Softshell Turtle If It Refuses To Eat?

Usually, a softshell turtle can go more than weeks without food if it gets water. In the winter, when the turtles hibernate, they can survive more than 6 months without eating.

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Softshell turtles refusing food are not always healthy. You need to detect the problem and act according to that. Here are some tips that you can follow to make your softshell turtle eat again:

  1. Provide the softshell turtles enough space for swimming and moving. A hatchling needs 20 gallons and a medium sized softshell turtle requires a minimum of 40-gallon tank. If the size gets bigger, switch to the bigger tanks. The softshell turtles are bulky in size. If you can not afford space, you should not buy softshell turtles.
  2. Maintain the tank temperature between 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature may vary a little depending on the area you live in. Installing a tank heater is the best option. You can regulate the temperatures according to your need. The digital heaters can track the heat and do not let it cross the turtle’s comfort range.
  3. Lack of UV or heating light can cause MBD and other bone diseases. Set up a proper UV light in the tank.
  4. Basking boosts the metabolism of the softshell turtles. If the tank lacks land area, the softshell turtle can lose appetite. Buy or build a basking station in the enclosure.
  5. Filthy water, an imbalanced pH level can cause skin or shell diseases to the pet. Install a high-quality filter in the habitat.
  6. A softshell turtle prefers eating in the water area. So, provide the food in such a manner that the pet can access it staying in the water. You can use an automatic turtle feeder if you want.
  7. The softshell turtle can refuse to eat if it is preparing for hibernation. Do not force-feed the pet. Visit a vet to make sure the softshell turtle is healthy to hibernate.
  8. When a turtle falls sick, it shows many symptoms and signs. Offer the pet proper treatment if it has stopped eating due to sickness.
  9. Do not stress the softshell turtle. Place the tank in a quiet place.
  10. Try feeding the softshell turtle a variety of foods. Offer the pet occasional treats to bring change in its taste.


A softshell turtle can refuse to eat for many probable reasons. Determine the cause first and then take immediate steps.

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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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