Why Is My Turtle’s Shell So Soft?

You might need to visit your vet.

why is my turtle's shell so soft

A turtle’s most distinctive feature is his shell. More than just his home, the turtle shell serves as his armor and protection against predators. It also contains bones that attach to the turtle's spine, like a skeleton does for humans. But what happens if a turtle’s shell is soft? Is that a cause for concern?

We spoke with Kaitlyn Tullio, a licensed veterinary technician with TeleTails, for more insight into the importance of the turtle shell and whether you should be concerned if your turtle’s shell is soft.

My turtle's shell is soft. Why?

A soft turtle shell, in most cases, is a result of inadequate husbandry (how well your pet turtle’s habitat is taken care of, essentially) and diet.

“When it comes to your turtle’s aquatic habitat, exposure to ultraviolet light is key,” Tullio told The Dodo. “Turtles need UVB lighting (10–12 hours a day) in order to properly process calcium in captivity. Without UVB lighting, the chances for metabolic bone disease increase.” Metabolic bone disease is the inability to correctly metabolize calcium, which can lead to malformed shell growth and other deformities.

A lack of calcium in your turtle’s diet can also be an issue.

“If your turtle is not getting enough calcium in their regular diet, you may have to add a calcium supplement, such as Repti Calcium, which can be sprinkled over their food,” Tullio said. “Another easy way to provide calcium to your turtle is by giving him a cuttlebone, which is another type of calcium and mineral supplement.”

As referenced above, if a long-term lack of calcium persists, it can lead to “soft shell syndrome,” or metabolic bone disease.

“This disease can be deadly if your turtle is not given an adequate diet with calcium and doesn’t receive the proper lighting required for their breed,” Tullio said.

The turtle shell and its importance

Turtles and their shells have a complicated relationship.

Turtles move slowly because of their heavy, rigid shells, which requires them to use muscle power to breathe. On the other hand, a turtle’s shell is both his home and his protection from predators, which is pretty incredible.

And while your pet turtle won’t have to worry about predators in your home, making sure his shell’s in good condition is crucial to his health and well-being.

“The shell contains bones that attach to the turtle's spine,” Tullio said. “When the turtle grows, so do their shells. It goes without saying, but a turtle’s shell should be hard. A soft or damaged shell can lead to numerous problems, including bacterial, viral or fungal infections that have the potential to be life threatening. These living bones can cause severe pain if they are cracked or damaged.”

If your pet turtle’s shell is soft to the touch, it’s recommended that you visit your exotic pet veterinarian so that they can examine the shell further. These incredible reptiles deserve the best life we can give them.

We independently pick all the products we recommend because we love them and think you will too. If you buy a product from a link on our site, we may earn a commission.