Why Is My Turtle’s Shell Soft?

why is my turtle's shell soft

The turtle’s shell is the most crucial part of its body. It is made of two pieces, the top part is a carapace, and the bottom part is a plastron. Both the parts are fused on each side at what’s called a bridge.

The shell protects the turtle from most of the dangers of the world. It is generally supposed to be very hard and act as armour to the turtle. Its primary function includes protecting turtles from predators, regulating their body temperature, and being a reservoir for water fats and minerals of the turtle’s body.

Let’s go into more detail to understand why and how the turtle shell becomes soft.

Related Article: How Long Can Turtles Stay Out Of Water?

Why is my turtle’s shell soft?

There can be multiple reasons why your turtle shell is soft. The primary reason why your turtle shell is soft is the” metabolic bone disease”. This disease is mainly caused due to improper calcium to phosphorous ratio in the turtle’s body. The ratio should be 2:1, respectively.

Keep reading to get all the required information.

Is lack of calcium a significant factor for soft shells in turtles?

Calcium is as essential for the turtle shell as oxygen is to the human body. Without calcium, the turtle shell cannot stay hard for long. The primary reason for the turtle shell to become soft is calcium deficiency unless it is a baby.

Calcium deficiency results in Metabolic bone disease, most commonly found in reptiles. This disease makes the turtle shells soft and weak. The symptoms that are majorly seen in the turtle when they suffer from metabolic bone disease are the arched spine, bumps, swollen legs and shell rot. If the condition is not treated on time, it can lead to the turtle’s death.

However, you can add calcium supplements to the diet that you provide to your turtle to protect it from such disease.

You can give vegetables to your turtles. Vegetables are a rich source of vitamins and calcium. You can also provide them with calcium powder (available in pet stores) by sprinkling it on the turtle’s food. Kale is an excellent source of calcium for your turtle. Ultimately this will keep the turtle shell stronger and prevent it from infections.

Do lights affect your turtle shells?

The turtle requires proper lights, particularly UVB lights. The UVB lights ultimately help them process calcium for the development of their shells and keep them stronger and hard. If the turtle doesn’t get enough sunlight to bask, it can cause calcium deficiency in their blood. Due to this, the turtle shells start to become weak and soft. 

As we learned, when the turtle shells become soft, there is a possibility that they are suffering from metabolic bone disease. However, a bacterial infection could also be a possible reason. 

We have explained the lights/lamps to be used for your turtle in our article: Can I Use A Regular Light Bulb For My Turtle?

Are baby turtle shells soft?

Here comes an interesting fact about the turtles. Although we need to get worried when it comes to adult turtle shells getting soft, there is no need to worry much if you find your baby turtle shell to be soft.

Here is why?

The turtles are born with soft shells. With time the shells grow harder and stronger. There is no need for any treatment for your turtle’s shell if your turtle is less than 6-8 months of age and has a soft shell.

However, you need to provide your baby turtle with enough calcium and nutrients for it to grow a harder shell. The baby turtles need extra care and a clean environment to develop their shells.

What is the cause of shell rot in turtles?

If the turtle is not kept in good condition or dehydrated, they tend to develop this infection called shell rot. The symptoms include a bad smell, slime over the shell, flaking of the scutes, shell softening and reddish fluid under the shell plates.

Shell rot can occur if the aquatic turtle is exposed to a very dry environment. On the other hand, shell softening can occur if the species of the arid region is exposed to a humid environment.

Shell rot can even occur due to cracks in the shell or any type of shell injury caused to the turtle. Environment plays a vital role to prevent the shell from any such infections. So always keep the water clean.

It is observed that in some turtles, the shell might even entirely fall off, exposing the bones and nerves underneath, which is very painful for them. Sometimes this pain is unbearable for the turtles.

Shell rot can lead to a disease called septicemic cutaneous ulcerative disease or SCUD. This occurs due to the growth of bacteria in the bloodstream. The bacteria can further attack the turtle’s organs.

How to prevent the turtle shell from getting soft?

Once the turtle shell becomes soft, the treatment might get difficult. Well, it’s always said that precaution is better than cure, right? So let’s take some precautions to keep our beloved turtle in a safe condition and away from such infections and diseases. Here is how?

Keep the water tank clean. You can use a water heater and set the temperature to 78-82 degrees. Use an incandescent bulb to light the basking spot. It helps warm up the turtle and provides them UVB lights.

You can use a calcium block in the water tank. This will help the turtle to get the required amount of calcium. It will also keep the water clean and safe.

You can also use calcium supplements such as cuttlebone and turtle bone available in pet stores.
Exposure to sunlight can also prevent vitamin D3 and calcium deficiency. So make sure you expose your turtle to sunlight for a while.

Following the above steps will help your turtle’s shells to remain stronger.

Can a Turtle shell repair itself naturally?

Yes, the turtle shell can repair itself naturally, but this depends on the type of injury or damage.

Many turtles can survive even with a cracked shell. If you give them proper care and attention, they will do fine within a couple of weeks.

Sometimes when the shell is cracked, even their bones and nerves get damaged, so they need to be treated properly. It usually takes around 12 weeks for the shell to heal, whereas it might take a little longer to heal in case of severe injuries.

More severe injuries like crushing the shell require good treatment. The injuries caused due to a flight leaving the underneath area exposed must be kept clean and frequently monitored to ensure there is no bacterial infection.

Its always advised visiting a veterinarian to make sure the wound on the shell is adequately healed.


If you own a turtle, always keep an eye on your turtle to ensure it doesn’t get any injury or damage. As we learned, If you find your turtle shell very soft, they are liable to be suffering from metabolic bone disease and require immediate treatment. Calcium deficiency can adversely affect your turtle’s shell, so make sure you provide calcium supplements to your turtle. Unless for a baby turtle, you need to be extra cautious if you find your turtle shell very soft. Use the above steps to protect your turtle shell. Make sure the environment they are placed in is clean and safe.