Why Is My Turtle Shell Soft? Should I Worry?

Quick Answer

A turtle's shell may become soft due to metabolic bone disease, a common condition caused by an improper diet, often lacking in calcium or proper UVB lighting. It could also be a sign of shell rot, a fungal or bacterial infection that needs immediate veterinary attention.

If you own a pet turtle, you may have noticed that their shell is not as hard as it should be.

When your turtle shell soft, it can be an indication of underlying health issues, and it’s important to address the problem as soon as possible to ensure your pet’s well-being.

In this article, I will explore the reasons behind a soft turtle shell and the potential health issues it can indicate.

I will provide insights on how to address the problem and ensure your pet turtle’s shell health.

The Importance of Calcium for Turtle Shells

A turtle’s shell is not just a home, but an essential part of their body. It protects them from predators and helps them regulate their body temperature.

A healthy shell is hard, strong, and free from deformities.

Calcium is an essential mineral for maintaining a turtle’s shell health. Without enough calcium in their diet, turtles can develop a soft shell, which can cause a range of health problems.

What is calcium deficiency in turtles?

A calcium deficiency in turtles occurs when they are not getting enough calcium in their diet.

Calcium is a vital mineral necessary for bone and shell health. Without enough calcium, turtles can develop a soft shell or other bone deformities.

A soft shell is a sign that the turtle’s body is not getting enough calcium to harden its shell properly.

How can I ensure my turtle is getting enough calcium?

The best way to ensure your turtle is getting enough calcium is by providing a balanced diet.

Turtles can get calcium from various sources, such as cuttlebone, calcium supplements, and specific foods. Calcium-rich foods include collard greens, kale, and other dark, leafy greens.

It’s also essential to provide your turtle with proper lighting, such as UVB light, which helps them metabolize calcium efficiently.

What are the consequences of calcium deficiency in turtles?

A calcium deficiency in turtles can lead to soft shell syndrome, a condition where the turtle’s shell becomes soft and pliable.

A soft shell is weak and vulnerable to deformities, infections, and injuries.

In severe cases, calcium deficiency can lead to metabolic bone disease (MBD), which can cause significant health problems and even death.

How can I test my turtle’s calcium levels?

Testing your turtle’s calcium levels usually requires a blood test.

However, a visual inspection of the shell can also provide clues about the turtle’s calcium levels.

A soft shell is an early sign of calcium deficiency, and you should consult your veterinarian immediately for a diagnosis and treatment.

What should I do if my turtle has a soft shell?

If you notice that your turtle’s shell is soft, it’s crucial to address the issue promptly.

Consult a veterinarian to determine the cause and proper treatment for the condition.

You may need to change your turtle’s diet, lighting, or tank setup to ensure they receive enough calcium and maintain a healthy shell.

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

Metabolic Bone Disease

If you notice that your pet turtle’s shell is soft, it may be a sign of metabolic bone disease (MBD).

MBD is a condition that affects a turtle’s bones and can lead to weak, soft shells.

Metabolic bone disease can be caused by a variety of factors, such as a lack of calcium and vitamin D3 in the turtle’s diet, inadequate UVB light exposure, and improper temperature regulation in the turtle tank.

The symptoms of MBD can vary, but typically include a soft shell, muscle weakness, lethargy, and difficulty moving.

If you suspect that your turtle may have MBD, it is important to consult with a veterinarian who can provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Preventing MBD in Turtles

One of the best ways to prevent MBD in turtles is to provide them with a healthy and balanced diet that includes enough calcium and vitamin D3.

You can also ensure that your turtle is receiving adequate UVB light exposure by providing them with a UVB lamp and placing it above their basking spot.

It is also important to maintain the proper temperature range in your turtle tank.

Turtles should have access to a basking spot with a temperature range of 75-86 degrees Fahrenheit. This will help them absorb calcium and vitamin D3 more effectively.

Treating MBD in Turtles

If your turtle has been diagnosed with MBD, your veterinarian may recommend a variety of treatments depending on the severity of the condition.

Some potential treatments may include calcium and vitamin D3 supplements, UVB light therapy, and changes to the turtle’s diet and environment to promote shell health.

It is important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely to ensure that your turtle receives the proper care and treatment they need to recover from MBD.

Common Causes of Soft Shells in Turtles

Soft shells in turtles can arise from various environmental factors and health conditions.

Owners should pay attention to potential causes and take the necessary steps to prevent and treat soft shells in their pets.

Shell Rot

Shell rot is a bacterial infection that commonly affects aquatic turtles.

It can cause the shell to soften and decay, leading to other health issues. Shell rot can occur if the turtle’s environment is not kept clean and dry, or if the turtle has scratched or damaged its shell.

To prevent shell rot, regularly clean your turtle’s tank and monitor for any signs of injury or infection.

If you notice any softness or discoloration on the shell, speak to a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections can also cause soft shells in turtles.

These infections can occur from exposure to contaminated water or surfaces, or from injuries that are not properly treated.

Symptoms may include softness or discoloration of the shell, as well as lethargy and loss of appetite.

If you suspect your turtle has a bacterial infection, consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Inadequate UVB Exposure

Turtles require UVB exposure in order to properly absorb calcium and maintain healthy shell growth.

Without enough UVB, the turtle may develop a soft shell or even metabolic bone disease.

Ensure that your turtle’s tank has a UVB light source, and that the turtle has access to a basking spot where it can absorb the light and heat it needs.

Improper Diet

A lack of proper nutrition can also lead to soft shells in turtles.

Turtles require a balanced diet that includes calcium-rich foods, such as dark leafy greens and calcium supplements, to ensure the health of their shells.

Feeding your turtle pellets that contain adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D3 can also promote optimal shell health.

Consult with a veterinarian or reptile nutritionist to establish a proper diet for your turtle.

Providing Proper Nutrition for Your Turtle

A balanced diet is crucial for maintaining a healthy turtle shell.

Feeding your turtle a diet that is lacking in essential nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D3, can lead to a soft shell.

Here are some guidelines for ensuring your turtle is getting the proper nutrition:

  • Feed your turtle a variety of foods, including leafy greens, vegetables, and protein sources such as insects, fish, and commercial turtle pellets
  • Ensure your turtle is getting enough calcium by dusting their food with a calcium supplement powder or providing a cuttlebone for them to chew on
  • Include foods that are high in vitamin D3, such as liver and egg yolks, in your turtle’s diet
  • Avoid giving your turtle too much fruit or processed foods

Commercial turtle pellets can be a convenient way to ensure your turtle is getting a balanced diet.

Look for pellets that contain at least 2% calcium and 0.5% phosphorus. However, keep in mind that a pellet-only diet is not sufficient for turtle health

Tip: Gut-loading insects with calcium-rich foods, such as kale, can boost the calcium content of your turtle’s diet.

Creating the Ideal Environment for Shell Health

Creating the perfect environment for your turtle is essential to maintaining shell health. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Basking spot: Designate an area where your turtle can “sunbathe” and bask in heat. Use a heating bulb or lamp to ensure the spot stays between 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal heat.
  • UVB light: Place a UVB light above the basking spot for 10-12 hours a day. This helps the turtle absorb calcium from its food and promotes healthy shell growth.
  • Temperature: Keep the turtle tank at 75-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid drastic temperature changes and extreme temperature levels to prevent stress on your turtle.

“Remember to always monitor the temperature and humidity of the turtle tank to ensure a comfortable and healthy living environment for your turtle.”

Recognizing and Treating Soft Shell Syndrome

Soft shell syndrome is a common condition in young turtles, which can significantly affect their health if left untreated.

This condition occurs when a turtle’s shell fails to harden and remains soft, leaving it vulnerable to external injuries and infections.

What Causes Soft Shell Syndrome?

Soft shell syndrome can occur due to several factors, including insufficient calcium or vitamin D3 levels, improper diet, inadequate UVB exposure, and poor living conditions.

It can also be the result of an underlying health condition, such as metabolic bone disease.

If left untreated, soft shell syndrome can lead to a range of health problems, including shell fractures, shell rot, bacterial infections, and even death.

Recognizing Soft Shell Syndrome

If you suspect your turtle has soft shell syndrome, there are some telltale signs to look out for. These include:

  • A shell that is noticeably soft to the touch
  • A shell that appears dented or deformed
  • A shell that has abnormal growth patterns or markings
  • Difficulty swimming or moving around
  • Lack of appetite or lethargy

Treating Soft Shell Syndrome

The treatment for soft shell syndrome largely depends on the underlying cause of the condition.

If it’s due to a lack of calcium or vitamin D3, adjusting the turtle’s diet and introducing supplements can help.

Ensuring proper UVB exposure and creating an optimal living environment can also aid in the turtle’s recovery.

It’s important to note that addressing the root cause of soft shell syndrome can take time, and it may take several months for the shell to fully harden.

Regular vet check-ups are essential to monitor the turtle’s progress and adjust treatment plans as needed.

Tip: Prevention is key to avoiding soft shell syndrome in turtles. Make sure to provide a balanced diet, adequate UVB exposure, and an optimal living environment to help keep your turtle’s shell healthy and strong.

Addressing Shell Rot and Bacterial Infections

Shell rot and bacterial infections are common culprits of soft shells in aquatic turtles.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to address these issues and prevent them from worsening.


The best way to address shell rot and bacterial infections is to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Ensure that your turtle’s tank is clean and well-maintained, with proper filtration and regular water changes.

Additionally, avoid overcrowding the tank and ensure that your turtle has enough space to swim and bask properly.


If you suspect that your turtle has shell rot or a bacterial infection, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian.

They will be able to diagnose the issue and recommend a course of treatment.

Symptoms of shell rot include soft or discolored areas on the shell, while symptoms of a bacterial infection may include lethargy, loss of appetite, and discharge from the eyes or nose.


Treatment for shell rot may include topical or oral antibiotics, as well as regular cleaning and debridement of the affected area.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged areas of the shell.

Treatment for bacterial infections may also include antibiotics, as well as supportive care such as fluid therapy and nutritional support.

It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely and continue treatment until the issue has resolved.

With proper treatment and preventative measures, you can help ensure your turtle’s shell health and overall well being.

When to Consult a Vet

If you notice that your pet turtle’s shell is soft or deformity is increasing, it is essential to seek medical attention from a vet who specializes in reptile care.

It is especially true if you have tried to fix the problem using the methods suggested in this article and haven’t seen any positive changes.

Additionally, if your pet turtle has stopped eating or showing signs of lethargy, it is vital to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

These symptoms may indicate an underlying health issue that requires immediate attention from a professional.

It’s important to consult a vet before administering any medication or supplements to your pet turtle since some drugs may have adverse effects on reptiles.

A veterinarian may perform a thorough physical examination and recommend a suitable treatment plan based on the underlying cause of your pet’s soft shell.

In some cases, the vet may need to perform an X-ray or other diagnostic tests to determine the root cause of your pet’s shell deformity.

You should follow the vet’s advice and treatment plan carefully and provide your pet turtle with the necessary care to ensure a full recovery.

If you are unsure whether your pet turtle’s soft shell is a cause for concern or not, it’s better to err on the side of caution and seek a professional opinion. Delaying medical treatment may result in serious health complications for your pet turtle.

FAQs about Soft Turtle Shells

How long does it take for a turtle shell to harden?

A turtle’s shell is made up of bone and cartilage and can take several years to fully harden. In general, a turtle’s shell will be fully formed by the time it reaches about 4-5 years old.

However, if you notice that your turtle’s shell is still soft or pliable, it could be a sign of an underlying issue and you should consult with a veterinarian.

What are the effects of a soft shell on a turtle’s health?

A soft shell can be a sign of an underlying health issue and can cause a number of problems for your turtle.

If left untreated, a soft shell can lead to serious health problems, such as deformities, infections, and organ damage. In severe cases, it can even be fatal.

What can I do to help my turtle’s shell harden?

If you’re concerned about your turtle’s soft shell, there are several steps you can take to help it harden. Make sure your turtle is getting enough calcium and vitamin D3 in its diet and that its UVB lighting is adequate.

You should also provide a basking spot where your turtle can get plenty of heat and light. If the issue persists, consult with a veterinarian for further guidance.

Can a soft shell be prevented?

A soft shell can often be prevented by providing your turtle with a balanced diet that includes plenty of calcium and vitamin D3, as well as proper lighting and a suitable environment.

Regular check-ups with a veterinarian can also help catch any issues early on before they become more serious.

What should I do if I suspect my turtle has a soft shell?

If you suspect your turtle has a soft shell, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible.

They can help diagnose the underlying issue and provide treatment options to help your turtle’s shell harden and prevent any further health problems.

Can soft shell syndrome be cured?

With proper treatment and care, soft shell syndrome can often be cured.

This can involve adjusting your turtle’s diet and environment, as well as providing any necessary medical treatment. However, the success of treatment will depend on the severity of the condition and how early it is caught.

About David Nitta

I am a lifelong lover of turtles and have dedicated years of research to understand and care about this wonderful creature. I regularly post blogs, mostly from what I read and my own experience, covering everything from turtle care, health, feeding habits, habitat setup, and so much more.