Turtles & Salmonella (Before you get a turtle)
So you want to get a turtle, that’s a great idea. But what about turtles & Salmonella?
As low maintenance pets, most kids (especially teenagers should have no problem caring for turtles and terrapins such as sliders, cooters, box turtles, or map turtles).
However, these innocuous and interesting pets may harbor salmonella. Salmonella infection or salmonellosis is caused by bacteria known as salmonella and affects the digestive system.
Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever.
Can you get salmonella from turtles?
Yes, you can. Kids are, particularly, at risk.
Concern Over Turtles And Salmonella Is Not A New One
While tiny turtles are cute and innocuous-looking, these tiny creatures can make you sick. This is because turtles including hatchlings are known to carry salmonellosis on their outer skin and shells.
Turtles are not the only pets that carry salmonella. Other reptiles such as lizards and snakes also carry salmonella.
Frogs, salamanders, and newts are also known to carry salmonella. In addition, the enclosures of pets that carry salmonella are usually covered in salmonella regardless of how clean they look.
Coming into contact with the pets or the enclosure can put you at risk.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to get rid of all your pet reptiles or amphibians. Many people over several centuries have kept pet turtles and have never had a problem with salmonella.
As long as you have or create the simple habit of washing your hands before and after handling a turtle, you should be just fine. There is absolutely no need to panic.
What is Salmonella?
Salmonellosis is an intestinal tract disease caused by a genus of bacteria known as salmonella.
These bacteria are generally located in the intestines of both humans and animals (including turtles). Turtles, in particular, have a large number of these bacteria.
In fact, about 90 percent of all turtles carry salmonella. One good thing though is even if you come into contact with salmonella, it doesn’t mean you will automatically mean be infected.
However, exposure to the bacteria does pose a risk. To minimize this risk of contracting salmonellosis, keep a clean enclosure as salmonella can live on the enclosures surfaces as well.
Typically, most people with salmonella infections show no symptoms and the infection dies out on its own.
On the other side of the coin, you can also develop fever, diarrhea and other symptoms within 8 to 72 hours of contact.
With proper medical care, healthy adult humans should recover within a few days. There isn’t a specific treatment for salmonella and most people recover on their own by staying hydrated, using antidiarrheals and in some cases antibiotics.
Children, infants, the elderly and anyone with a weakened immune system may find it more difficult to recover in comparison to healthy adults.
Apart from turtles, raw eggs, raw meat, poultry, seafood, and fruits and vegetables may also be contaminated with salmonella.
Eating contaminated food can lead to salmonella infection as well as, touching contaminated food and then touching your face (mouth in particular) can transfer the bacteria into your system.
People Most At Risk
Reptile and bird owners are among the people most at risk of contracting salmonellosis as birds and reptiles usually carry the bacteria including those that live in clean enclosures.
Keeping enclosure of your pet turtle clean can help keep the level of bacteria to a minimum, but again you should always be washing your hands.
Other people with an increased risk of infection include persons with bowel or stomach disorders and people with immune problems such as HIV/AIDS, sickle cell disease and several others.
Old people, pregnant women, and infants are also at a higher risk of contracting the disease. These people should try and avoid turtles.
Symptoms and signs of salmonella include:
- Blood in the stool
- Abdominal cramps
Symptoms generally last for two to seven days. The incubation period for the disease is generally 8 hours to 48 hours. Most salmonella infections can be classified as stomach flu (or a stomach bug).
Because of the diarrhea and vomiting associated with salmonellosis, infected persons lose a lot of fluid. When not handled properly, this can lead to severe dehydration which requires hospitalization.
Affected individuals need to replace fluids and electrolytes until they recover. No further treatment is needed unless the case is severe.
Doctors may also prescribe antidiarrheals to relieve cramping although this may prolong diarrhea.
Additionally, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics if the bacteria enter the bloodstream (this is uncommon, and comes with its own health risks; if you have salmonellosis, do not take antibiotics without first consulting your doctor).
Contracting Salmonella From Pet Turtles
Not washing your hands after handling your turtle is a sure way to contract salmonella. Kids are prone to placing things into their mouths. A child or an infant can unknowingly place a pet turtle in the month and contract salmonellosis.
It’s important to remember that the salmonella bacteria can be present on other objects and surfaces the turtle comes into contact with. These can include the floors, tabletops, sinks, and carpet.
As such, it is absolutely crucial that you don’t let the turtle roam free. The turtle must always be confined to a space they can call their own such as a tank.
To protect yourself from contracting it, minimize your exposure to the enclosure and wash your hands after feeding, cleaning the enclosure, replacing the water in the aquarium, and any other activity that includes contact with the turtle, its enclosure and the enclosure’s content.
What Can I Do To Ensure That My Pet Turtle Doesn’t Have Salmonella?
Naturally, turtles carry salmonella. This bacteria isn’t harmful to them. Even turtles with no salmonella can develop it later on at any point. Keeping the cleanest enclosure won’t stop your turtle from carrying salmonella, but it can minimize its exposure.
There is nothing you can do to prevent turtles from having salmonella.
Chances Of Getting Salmonella From A Turtle
When it comes to contracting salmonella, small turtles are most likely to transmit it. This is because they are easiest to pick up.
According to Infectious disease specialists, the ban on the trade of small turtles prevents an estimated 100,000 Salmonella infections in children each year in the United States.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 391 Salmonella-related illnesses in 40 states and the District of Columbia, between 2011 and 2013, which most of the victims being children. Most of these cases were down to the handling of reptile and amphibian pets such as turtles and water frogs.
With over 100,000s of pet turtles all over the United States, the chance of contracting salmonella from pet turtles is very low. However, to be safe make sure to follow the necessary precautions.
Here are some precautionary measures to take if you have a turtle.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling your turtle, its enclosure or any of the tank’s content.
- Never let turtles loose inside the house or outside the house. Always confine them to an enclosure. Be it a turtle tank or an outdoor enclosure.
- Avoid acquiring small turtles, other reptiles and amphibians as a pet for little children. Also, do not give out reptiles and amphibians as gifts.
- Don’t clean your turtle’s enclosure or supplies in a kitchen sink. When you must clean the tank, do so in a bathroom/tub or on the lawn. Use bleach to disinfect the tub or area where you clean the enclosure. Since bleach can kill grass, you can also use disinfectants specifically designed for turtle tank cleaning.
- If someone in your household is an expectant mother, remove all small turtles before the baby arrives.
- Do not keep turtles in households with at-risk individuals. These include children under the age of 5, the elderly, or persons with weakened immune systems.
- Try not to touch turtles and other reptiles and amphibians at pet stores, petting zoos, and other locations.
- Do not snuggle or kiss a turtle.
- Lastly, be on the lookout for symptoms of salmonellosis such as diarrhea, fever, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and headache.
Turtles & Salmonella is a topic that every turtle owner has to discuss. While the risk factor here is not significant for most people. For several demographics, salmonella is a serious disease.
Salmonella among turtles is not down to how clean or disease-free the turtle is. Any turtle can carry salmonella.
In fact, every 9 out of 10 turtles carry the bacteria. Even turtles that don’t carry salmonella can in the future. There is no true way to get rid of salmonella in turtles.
Instead, you need to take the needed precaution so salmonella from pet turtles aren’t transmitted to humans.
A few of these include washing your hands after touching your pet turtle or any object the turtle has been in contact with.
Secondly, don’t allow the turtle to roam free.
Thirdly, keep turtle away from children who are easily tempted into picking it up or placing it in their mouths.
Lastly, if you have children under 5, people with weakened immune systems and the elderly in your home, it’s best not to keep a turtle as a pet.
If you have any questions or additional information, please leave a comment below.