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Do Turtles Smell? [Expectations For New Pet Turtle Owners]

If you are contemplating getting a pet turtle, then you are going to want to know whether or not they smell. In fact, it could prove to be a sticking point as to whether you end up getting one or not, or even where you place their tank in your home. The truth is, bad smells make your living environment far less enjoyable, so you are going to want to make sure you have an understanding of what to expect ahead of time. I decided to so some research to address the concern that pet turtles may smell.

So, do turtles smell? Turtles do not carry any strong natural odors and are not supposed to smell on their own. However, pet turtles will sometimes smell because they need to be washed or their tanks need to be cleaned. While wild species of turtles can emit a defensive odor that smells like a skunk to scare away their predators, fortunately, pet turtle species do not emit this smell.

Not only can foul-smelling odors be very off-putting, but it can have big implications for where you would want to place their tank in your home.

Thankfully, with regular cleaning, care and tank maintenance, you should not have to worry about your pet turtle smelling out your home.

Let us now take a closer look at what pet turtles smell like along with some reasons in why they may begin to smell bad. We’ll also be covering how you can and should take care of them and their tank to keep odors to a minimum and your home smelling fresh so be sure to read to the end!

Do Turtles Smell Bad? (Natural Odors)

Turtles have very little smell, except for the general smell of a reptile which isn’t a strong odor.

If your pet turtle smells, there is a good chance it needs to be washed or his tank needs a good cleaning.

These are things that you will need to do on a weekly basis.

Pet turtles are considered to be high maintenance compared to other pets in this regard. It’s important that you keep your turtle and their environment clean so they are not able to smell and to prevent bacteria from growing.

One thing you will need to watch out for when buying a turtle is Salmonella. This bacteria can cause your turtle to smell.

This is the one big downside of owning a pet turtle – bacteria, specifically, salmonella is common in pet turtles and they can carry it on their skin and shells. Salmonella can be very dangerous, if contracted by humans.

Symptoms of Salmonella when contracted include: diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, and headaches. As you can imagine, a couple of these if displayed will also smell out your home unfavorably!

Studies have found that some pet turtles actually have Salmonella when you buy them. So, be careful where you buy your pets.

So, if your turtle smells when you buy them or if their tank soon smells after getting them, you’ll need to be sure to clean the tank and give your turtle a safe bath to ensure nobody in your family gets sick.

Staying Safe With Your Turtle

Stay safe with your pet turtle with these suggested tips:

  • Never allow your pet turtle to crawl around on your floors or furniture where they could spread infection
  • Keep their tanks or aquariums clean to prevent smell and bacterial infections
  • Be sure to wash your hands with lots of soap and warm water after you’ve cleaned your turtles’ tank or aquarium to reduce the risk of getting sick.

What Do Turtles Smell Like?

Your pet turtle should not smell.

Most turtle owners say their pet turtles do not smell unless they needed to clean out their tanks or aquariums.

Some wild turtles emit an odor they release when scared to ward off their predators. You should never adopt a wild turtle as your pet.

They don’t do well in captivity, and they could be dangerous to humans. Plus, some wild turtles bite.

If you find a wild turtle, leave it alone, it can take care of itself.

Do Turtles Smell As Pets?

Many turtles owners say pet turtles smell. But the problem could really be that your turtle tank isn’t big enough for your turtle.

Be sure you buy the proper size turtle tank. A too-small tank could turn your cute turtle into a smelly little pet.

Here are some tips for buying a tank and other things to make sure your turtle doesn’t smell.

  • Research how big your turtle will get as an adult. They start out small but grow quickly. If you have a small tank, your turtle can grow out of it quickly.
  • Bigger is usually better for your pet turtle. A glass 30-gallon tank is the smallest size to consider if our turtle is four to six inches in size. If your turtle is bigger, around six to eight inches, then buy a 55-gallon tank. And bigger turtles will need at least a 125-gallon tank.
  • Clean water will keep your turtle sweet-smelling. Buy a decent filtration system to filter the water.
  • Do not fill the tank with decorations. These harbor bacteria and algae. You also don’t need gravel at the bottom of the tank. This doesn’t benefit your pet turtle and it’s easier if it’s not there.
  • Your pet turtle will need a place to sun himself. You can add a rock or driftwood for this purpose. Just be sure your turtle can get all the way out of the water and be sure it’s under the light so he can warm up when he needs to.
  • Your turtle also needs a UVA light source in his tank. The light he basks under should be 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit to properly regulate his body temperatures. You can put the light on a timer to mimic the sun rising and setting.
  • He also needs his water to be warm. It should be ten to fifteen degrees less. A heater will keep the water temperature warm enough for your pet.

Do Turtle Tanks Smell?

Turtle tanks sometimes smell if they aren’t kept clean. Other reasons why your turtle’s tank smells include

  • Too many decorations in the tank – These grow algae and bacteria that can smell.
  • Your turtle smells – Sometimes you need to give your pet turtle a bath.
  • Too much food – If you feed your turtle too much, he can’t eat it all. The food that lays around will rot and start to smell. Greens clog up the filter and so the water doesn’t get filtered properly. Rotting vegetables will also stink up your turtle tank.
  • Poor filtration system – If your filter isn’t filtering the water properly, the tank water will get dirty and begin to stink.

How To Keep Your Pet Turtle From Smelling

If your pet turtle smells, you should do two things:

  1. Wash the turtles tank,
  2. Give your turtle a bath.

When it comes to bathing your turtle, you will need a new soft toothbrush each time. Getting an economical set like this from Amazon therefore is a great idea.

You’ll then need two disposable containers, big enough to hold your turtle..

From there, you will need to follow these bathing steps.

How To Bathe A Turtle

  1. Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  2. Add warm water to the containers. The water should be close to the same temperature as your turtle’s tank so he won’t be shocked by the temperature difference.
  3. Put your turtle in the first container with water. Hold the container firmly in your hands.
  4. Dip the toothbrush into the other container, then start scrubbing your turtle. Start at the top of the shell first, then go under the edges where algae and bacteria may hide. Be gentle, don’t rub too hard.
  5. Scrub the underneath side of your turtle last of all.
  6. Put your turtle into his cleaned out tank under the light so he can get warmed up.
  7. Throw out the toothbrush and containers.
  8. Wash your hands with warm water and soap to rid your hands of any bacteria.

You should clean your pet turtle’s tank at least once a week. Scrub your pet turtle once a week, too. This will eliminate any likelihood of foul-smells.

Turtles can be high maintenance pets. This often surprises people, since turtles look so small and easy to care for.

Besides having the right sized tank, lights, and a basking rock. You will need to get the right food for your turtle so he won’t stink up your house.

The Right Kind Of Turtle Food

Commercial turtle foods do not spoil as quickly as fresh foods do, so it is less likely to smell up your turtle tank.

But commercial food isn’t enough for your turtle. Three or four times a week, give your pet turtle some fresh greens such as

  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Collard greens

If there’s anything left over, remove the greens so they won’t clog up the filter.

Some turtles are carnivores, so they need extra protein. You can give him mealworms or minnow. If he doesn’t eat them, remove them or the tank so it won’t smell.

If Your Turtle Still Smells

If you clean your turtle’s tank and you’ve given your turtle a bath, but he still smells it could mean he has a fungal infection called shell rot.

Shell rot happens because of injury of some kind, like a scratch that got infected. Check your turtle for any signs of discharge or a scratch.

Shell rot isn’t serious if it’s caught early. But if shell rot gets too deep into your turtle’s shell, it could take a while to get rid of it or kill your turtle.

If you suspect he has shell rot, take him to the vet. Inspect your turtle every week for scratches or anything out of the ordinary.


Turtles normally don’t smell. But if you don’t keep your turtle’s tank clean, your turtle will start to smell.

They will also smell if there is leftover food in the tank, especially if greens get stuck in the filtering system.

You may also need to give your turtle a bath to get rid of any smell.

If you’ve cleaned his tank and washed your turtle, but he still smells, you may want to check his shell for shell rot.

Shell rot causes a smelly discharge.

If you suspect your turtle has this disease, be sure to take him to your vet for a check-up right away.

No one wants a smelly pet, but if you constantly clean your pet turtle and his tank, you’ll have a sweet-smelling pet for many years.

Looking to learn more about turtles? My following guides may be of interest: