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Salmonella in Turtles

Updated on February 22, 2015

Turtles and Your Health

Practice appropriate safety measures when handling turtles.
Practice appropriate safety measures when handling turtles. | Source

Turtles and Salmonella Infection

According to Pet, 85 percent of all turtles carry at least one of the 500 different varieties of salmonella. Adult turtles carry the bacteria in their intestinal tracts, but baby turtles also have salmonella on their skin and on the surface of their shells. This disease is harmless to the turtle, but it can result in serious infection for small children or people with weak immune systems.

The symptoms of a salmonella infection are fever, severe stomach pains, nausea and diarrhea. There are a number of safety tips that pet owners can follow to limit the spread of salmonella infection.

Keep Turtles Away From Food Sources

Since the kitchen sink is usually the biggest sink in the house, it's tempting for pet owners to wash out the turtle enclosure in the kitchen. In addition, many turtle owners also pour dirty turtle water down the kitchen sink or throw leftover food or vegetables into the garbage disposal. This is not a good idea. Salmonella bacteria from the turtle enclosure can easily contaminate the sink and surrounding food preparation areas. If possible, use an outdoor garden hose to rinse out the turtle's enclosure and equipment, or use the bathtub if you live in an apartment.

Supervise Small Children

The classic children's story by Judy Blume, “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” culminates in Peter's younger brother Fudge being rushed to the emergency room after swallowing Peter's small turtle. Although the situation was somewhat comical, the unfortunate truth is that this sort of thing actually happened often enough so that the Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of turtles under four inches in length in 1975 to curb the spread of salmonella-related illnesses in children.

The FDA consumer update entitled, “Pet Turtles: Cute But Contaminated with Salmonella” strongly recommends against keeping turtles in the home if there are children younger than five. Watch children when they are around turtles to make sure that they do not place their fingers in the turtle water and then put their fingers in their mouths. Do not allow children to kiss turtles or place them near their mouths. Finally, wash their hands carefully after allowing them to handle turtles.

Practice Basic Sanitation

Wear disposable gloves when you clean out your turtle's aquarium or change its water. If you do not have gloves, wash your hands with warm water and soap after handling turtles and after cleaning their enclosures. Using hand sanitizer afterwards will kill any remaining bacteria that the soap might have missed.

Last, do not allow your turtles to wander through the house. Salmonella is passed by the turtle coming into contact with surfaces such as flooring and counter-tops, according to the FDA, and in the end, it is safer for the family members if the turtle stays in its enclosure while indoors.


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