Do Tortoises Smell

Do Tortoises Smell? Four Causes

Curiously, tortoises don’t sweat because they don’t have any sweat glands on their skin. But since they love burrowing and digging, it’s natural to assume these pets are dirty and smelly. 

So, do tortoises smell? Yes, tortoises have a mild earthy body odor. However, a tortoise can sometimes have a strong, pungent smell due to shell rot or respiratory infections. A tortoise can also smell bad because its enclosure is stinky with rotting leftover food, dirty dishes, or decaying poop.

Keep reading to learn more about what causes tortoise smells, what to do if your pet reptile stinks, and how to prevent these foul odors.

Do Tortoises Smell?


Yes. But naturally, tortoises don’t have a strong scent, and you can only notice their smell when you get close enough to them. Tortoises don’t stink mainly because they don’t have any sweat glands on their skin that would excrete smelly sweat. 

Do Tortoises Smell

Hence, if your tortoise has a strong odor, there must be a reason. Some of the most common causes include;

1. Shell infection

Shell infections occur when the tortoise gets injured, compromising its shell. This allows bacteria and parasites to gain entry, causing dangerous infections and releasing a pungent smell. 

2. Respiratory infection

Tortoises with respiratory infections exhibit several symptoms, including a noticeable smell. If your tortoise smells strange and discharges copious amounts of mucus, it probably has a respiratory infection.

3. Food and environment

The type of food your tortoise eats may contribute to its smell. For instance, cruciferous vegetables like kale contain high amounts of sulfur, making the tortoise’s poop stinky. 

Similarly, if the tortoise enclosure is not cleaned frequently, dirt, debris, and waste will accumulate, rot, and produce a stinky odor. 

4. Death

All dead animals rot and decompose, releasing extremely pungent smells. Hence, if you notice a smell coming from the tortoise enclosure, there’s a possibility that one of the tortoises is dead.

What Environmental Causes Can Make A Tortoise Smell?

What Environmental Causes Can Make A Tortoise Smell

In most cases, if you notice a stinky scent coming from your pet tortoise, the reptile must have picked it from its enclosure or environment. Some of the most common reasons for a stinky habitat include;

1. Dirty dishes

Food and water containers can become stinky over time due to dirt accumulation and leftover scummy water. If a dish isn’t cleaned well enough, the small amounts of food left behind begin to rot, releasing foul smells. 

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Similarly, a water container can get contaminated with bacteria and even some rotting bits of food, causing it to become smelly.

2. Leftover food

Though you may have a designated feeding area with dishes, tortoises often move their food to other parts of the enclosure while eating. These reptiles also have a habit of not finishing their food, so some of the moved food items remain within the cage.

Leftover tortoise food tends to rot quickly, especially in enclosures that are bound to get hot and humid. Consequently, a strong smell will emanate from the tortoise enclosure due to the presence of rotting veggies.

Tortoises Leftover food

3. Damp substrate

Though substrates are typically dry, they can become wet when the tortoise pees or after you bathe the animal. Some tortoise species, like the ones from rainforests, also prefer damp substrates, so you may already have it wet.

Though tortoise pee has a barely noticeable odor, its dampness creates a rich ground for all sorts of bacteria. As the bacteria grow and multiply, the tortoise enclosure will develop a foul smell that may rub off on the tortoise.

4. Tortoise poop

Tortoise poop is slightly smelly, but its smell is not strong enough to notice from afar. However, if left uncleaned, this poop attracts bacteria and small bugs that feed on it to produce a foul odor. 

What Should I Do If My Tortoise Is Smelly?

The first thing you should do after noticing a smelly tortoise is to clean it and its enclosure properly. Simply bathe the tortoise and remove any poop, damp spots, dirty dishes, or rotting food from its habitat. If the smell persists after doing all this, the animal is probably sick.

What Should I Do If My Tortoise Is Smelly

Here’s how to check if your tortoise has an infection;

  • Inspect the tortoise shell for soft spots, unusual growths, or unnatural openings like cracks and holes. If you find any of these symptoms, the tortoise is likely smelly due to a shell infection. 
  • Check the areas around the tortoise’s neck, tail, and legs for sores, inflammation, or open wounds. 
  • Observe the tortoise’s breathing and note whether it is labored or too rapid with wheezing sounds. Is the pet breathing with an open mouth? Does it have any nasal discharge? All these signs indicate a respiratory infection, which could explain the strong smell.
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If you go through this process and realize your pet tortoise is ill, immediately take it to the local vet for treatment.

Can I Prevent A Tortoise Enclosure From Becoming Smelly?

Can I Prevent A Tortoise Enclosure From Becoming Smelly

You can prevent your tortoise enclosure from becoming smelly using the following tips;

  • Clean the substrate at least once every few days by sifting through it and removing damp spots. 
  • You should change the substrate at least once a month to avoid bacteria growth.
  • Always check the enclosure for food remains and get rid of them.
  • Clean the water container and food dish every time after use.
  • Keep the enclosure well-ventilated to maintain free air circulation and prevent any smelliness.
  • Avoid overfeeding your tortoise since that may lead to leftover food rotting in the enclosure.
  • Remove all tortoise poop from the enclosure as soon as possible.


Here are some answers to common questions about tortoise smells.

Q: How frequently should I clean a tortoise enclosure?

A small enclosure with many tortoises must be cleaned more frequently than a larger one with fewer tortoises. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to have your enclosure thoroughly cleaned and disinfected every week.

Q: Do tortoise smells attract flies?

Tortoises don’t typically attract flies and other small bugs because they smell mild. Hence, if you notice flies swarming around your tortoise, you should investigate why because the reptile may be sick.

Q: How often should I bathe my tortoise?

The ideal bathing frequency for young tortoises is about twice a week, while a weekly bath should be sufficient for adults.


Generally, tortoises don’t have strong body smells. Hence, if you notice a foul odor coming from your pet reptile, chances are the animal is sick or the enclosure is dirty. In extreme cases, one of the tortoises could be dead within the enclosure.

To eliminate tortoise smells, clean the enclosure and bathe the tortoise. If the smell persists, check the pet for signs of infection or take it to the vet. Remember, preventing foul odors is easy – just keep the tortoise in a hygienic environment.

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