Turtles and Salmonella: Separating Fact from Fiction
We’re getting blunt and honest about turtles and salmonella. When you were a child, you may have asked if you could get a pet turtle only to be shut down by your parents saying “No, they carry salmonella.” While yes, your parents were right, turtles can, in fact, carry salmonella; but so can snakes, lizards, and many other reptiles. So what’s the difference between fact and fiction when it comes to turtles and salmonella?
Yes: Turtles Can Produce Salmonella
Reptiles that can produce salmonella are all a part of the Zoonoses family. According to the WHO, a Zoonosis is “ a disease or infection that is naturally transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans or vice-versa.” Over 200 zoonoses have been recorded; these zoonoses were caused by bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses.
- Verotoxigenic Escherichia coli
- Q fever
- Avian influenza Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever
- Rift Valley fever
- Toxoplasmosis Trichinellosis
So what does all of this mean? It means that there are always dangers associated with animals, but that is not to say that we need to avoid any animal that has the potential to carry these diseases. This data goes to show that you should practice safe handling and care with all animals. If we avoided any animal that had the capability to harm us through a transmitted disease, no matter how small the chance, then we wouldn’t associate with dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, and many more beloved pets.
The threat of infection should never be forgotten. Cohabitation is achievable with the animals listed above by practicing good hygiene and being knowledgeable about the diseases that your pet could potentially pass on to you.
According to the CDC, in 2015 and 2016 more than 200 people were sickened in several ongoing nationwide salmonella outbreaks linked to small turtles. For comparison, salmonella is estimated to cause one million foodborne illnesses in the U.S. with an estimated 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.
Statistically, children under the age of five are the most likely to contract salmonella from turtles. People infected with salmonella will develop symptoms within 12 to 72 hours and the effects usually last 4-7 days and most recover without treatment.
Be Turtle Smart: Choosing the Right Turtle
Thousands of households across America keep turtles as pets, yet only 200 cases of turtle related illness were reported in a two-year span, so obviously someone is doing something right. Protecting yourself from salmonella starts with adopting or purchasing the right turtle off the bat. You should never adopt a turtle that is less than four inches in length; a standard playing card is 3 ½ inches long, so as long as your turtle is bigger than a playing card you should be good. More so, federal law bans the sale of small turtles, so if you come across a tiny turtle for sale, it’s being sold illegally.
You should never take a turtle from the wild to keep as a pet.
Turtles are hearty animals that can live anywhere from 20-100 years. That’s right – if properly taken care of your turtle could potentially outlive you. Turtles are ectothermic, which means that their body temperature depends on that of the environment around them. In the wild turtles will bask in the sun to warm themselves, that’s why you can usually see multiple turtles sitting on a log in lakes, streams, and ponds. In captivity, a turtle depends on its owner to ensure that its tank is kept at an ideal temperature with a source of heat within reach for sunning themselves.
There are over 250 different species of turtles living across the globe in various environments. Some breeds of turtle are freshwater species while others are saltwater species. The largest family of turtles is called the Emydidae family, or more commonly, marsh turtles. The Emydidae family is comprised of 50 different breeds of turtles including Red-Eared Sliders, Box Turtles, and Painted Turtles. Each different breed of turtle has something unique to offer.
Properly Handling Turtles To Avoid Salmonella
Some find it helpful to imagine a turtle as an uncooked chicken breast. While that may be an unappealing image to some, it can be useful in explaining the care that should be given when handling turtles. Would you touch other food after handling raw chicken? No. So you shouldn’t do so with turtles. It is crucial to thoroughly wash your hands every time after handling your turtle or interacting with your turtle’s enclosure. Do not touch your face or other surfaces until your hands have been cleaned.
Further Turtle Rules Include:
- Do not allow turtles free rein of your home
- Food and drink should never be near a turtle or turtle enclosure
- Keep turtles away from children age five or younger
- If possible, clean your turtle’s enclosure outside. If that is not feasible designate one sink to be the turtle sink. Do not prepare food or wash your hands in the turtle sink.
- Wear gloves while cleaning your turtle’s enclosure
- Clean your turtle’s enclosure frequently
A Turtle to Call Your Own
Turtles can give you salmonella, but they can also be wonderful pets that never pass any disease to your or a loved one. Owning a turtle is a calculated risk, you should be confident in your ability and the abilities of those around you to follow the turtle rules outlined above. When taking proper precautions turtles can be great additions to any family. When handled improperly and irresponsibly turtles have the potential to pass on salmonella. Which of these two scenarios comes to pass is completely reliant on you.