It’s natural for any potential tortoise owner to consider the impact of ownership on their home. Tortoises are said to be ideal for people who cannot accommodate a needy pet; but are they known to smell? Do they naturally produce any odors or are they a harbinger of foul smells through other means? This is what you will want to know.
So, do tortoises smell? Tortoises do not inherently smell bad. While they do have a natural odor (like any living being) it is not considered offensive and owners often report getting used to it in time. However, an unclean habitat and/or illness/infection can cause odors if not adequately addressed.
Some people have a keen sense of smell and may detect a musty odor from a perfectly healthy tortoise even if others can’t.
Just because some people don’t like the natural smell of a tortoise, it doesn’t mean that tortoises are smelly. Its also usually not a cause for concern.
Some owners will decide to simply get used to it, which does occur in time.
For others, it may prove to be too much and they may consider moving their tortoise to another area of their home, up the cleaning regimen or maybe even give their tortoise away altogether.
Never the less, there are essential things to consider when you take in a tortoise.
They are not generally odorous creatures and you can keep smells to a minimum with appropriate care and upkeep.
The factors that can cause issues with odors will be expanded on in the sections to follow.
Be sure to keep reading to the end so you know exactly how to best look after this reptile and to keep potential smells at bay.
What Do Tortoises Smell Like?
Every living being has its own scent, but most tortoise owners will tell you that they smell like whatever substrate you put in their cage if you use hay that’s how your tortoise is likely to smell.
Ultimately, it’s hard to provide a direct answer as to what tortoises smell like.
But their environment plays a significant role in the odor they emit.
As mentioned above, tortoises do not inherently smell bad.
People wrongly assume that tortoises have a musty smell similar to turtles, but that is not the case.
Tortoises are land-based animals, unlike turtles that live in and close to the water, so if your tortoise smells damp, this is usually a bad sign and something to definitely to look into.
What Causes Tortoises To Smell Bad?
We know that tortoises are not naturally smelly, but there are times when they can smell bad, and there is always a reason.
Let’s discuss some of these reasons in further detail:
Tortoises have a habit of dragging some food to a quiet corner of their enclosure to eat in solitude; when they do this, they can forget about the food they left behind.
Forgotten food can quickly rot and cause the enclosure to smell bad.
If food is kept hidden under a rock, it’s likely to deteriorate even faster in the warmth of the cage.
Dirty Food And Water Dishes
If your tortoises’ water dish harbors any scum on the bottom or the sides, that dirt will build up over time and give off a rank smell.
Even the most avaricious feeder can leave small amounts of food behind in his bowl, the residue can build up and stink up the whole cage.
Both food and water dishes require a thorough clean at least once a week.
Tortoise urine doesn’t have a particularly strong odor, but if it is left to linger, over time, urine could begin to stink, and the same can be said about poo left in the cage.
Bacteria can multiply quite rapidly in a warm environment like a cage, and it can lead to shell rot.
Be mindful that the substrate can become damp and smelly after your tortoise’s bath, so make sure that you dry your tort thoroughly before placing him back in his enclosure.
What To Do If Your Tortoise Smells Bad
If you have cleaned your torts tank, making sure to remove all food scraps, poo, and dirty substrate, but your pet continues to stink, this is an indication that your little guy has an infection.
Tortoises are prone to rubbing injuries, so first and foremost, be sure to look out for red, irritated marks around the tail, neck, and check around each limb.
If these injuries go untreated, they can become infected.
If you notice a foul stench coming from any one of these irritated areas, then you must bring your tortoise to the vet immediately.
If you see bleeding or oozing, but there isn’t a smell, you must still go to the vet.
Check the shell for any damage or breaks, as this can make way for harmful bacteria to enter.
Infections can be hard to detect if they’re under the shell if you can’t see anything, but your tortoise still smells bad, let the vet take a look.
How To Keep A Tortoise Enclosure Clean
Keeping a tortoise enclosure clean requires work and upkeep. Generally, the more you can spot clean the easier it is to keep odor under control.
Therefore, you should look to undertake daily removal of any droppings or food scraps from inside the enclosure. Be sure to refresh your torts food and water bowls regularly.
Change the bedding every couple of weeks and use a safe wipe to disinfect and clean down the enclosure.
Never use detergent or soap to clean a tortoise enclosure, as even the smallest trace can harm your reptile.
You can purchase a special cleaner online at Amazon for a great price, and it will not harm your tortoise.
Always move your tortoise to a safe and clean container when washing out their habitat.
Remember to wash your hands well when handling your tortoise and when cleaning up after them.
Tortoises are generally not smelly reptiles; this should come as good news for anyone looking for a pet that doesn’t stink out of their home.
When tortoises smell bad, there is almost always a cause and reason for it, such as an infected wound on their skin, or from living in an unsanitary habitat.
If your pet’s cage is clean and you’re diligent about bathing your tort, bad smells are more than likely a result of an infection.
If you pick up on any bad smells coming from your pet’s skin or any redness on the area, take your pet to vet immediately.
Not everyone will appreciate the natural scent of a healthy tortoise, even if their living conditions are clean, and his body is washed and dried thoroughly.
This is just something that you may have to learn to get used to. There’s little you can really do here other than potentially give them away.
Rest assured though; their natural scent is not offensive and it is something you will learn to recognize and even get used to in time.
As long as you clean your pet’s cage regularly and wash the dishes, you have nothing to worry about, failing that you can always bring any concerns you have to your vet.
It’s reassuring to know that tortoises are not smelly, but there are always exceptions, and such is life.
If yours happens to smell foul, at least you know what to look out for, and you can know what to do when the time comes.
While tortoises do carry their own smell, they should not smell ‘fishy’. Often, a ‘fishy’ smell is a sign of a parasitic infection and usually comes from the urine. For this reason, it is best to get your tortoise checked and examined by a reptile vet. They will be able to provide appropriate medication and discuss with you the most appropriate course of action.
You can give a tortoise a bath. In fact, it is perfectly safe and beneficial to do so. A tortoise bath is actually more of a soak in a suitable amount of water. You can also scrub your tortoise with a clean toothbrush if they are particularly dirty. Just make sure the water is tepid and the water is not too deep. Leaving your tortoise to soak for 15-20 minutes is enough for them to rehydrate themselves.
It is recommended to bathe/soak a tortoise once per week. This will ensure they remain hydrated. However, you may need to bathe a tortoise more frequently if they become especially dirty within this time.
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.