Are Turtles Poisonous? – Here’s What Research Says

Image of a turtle with salmonella swimming in water

Turtles are poisonous as they carry the salmonella bacteria. Older people, infants, and people with morbid conditions such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, liver complications, etc. are more prone to catch the salmonella infection. The best way to prevent this infection is by maintaining proper hygiene.

The majority of the pet owners are well aware of the fact that turtles carry salmonella. Hence, turtles need careful handling and are not a pet to be handled by children. So, let’s now understand why turtles are poisonous and what prevention methods can be used to safeguard ourselves from this bacteria.

Why Are Turtles Poisonous?

Turtles are poisonous as they carry salmonella bacteria on their shell and outer skin.

These bacteria can be transmitted to people if proper care and hygiene are not maintained.

Small turtles can also pass this bacteria, and so selling small turtles is banned in the United States.

Even if the turtles look healthy and clean, they will still carry salmonella.

These bacteria can pass on to humans if hands are not washed properly with soap after handling a turtle.

When any person comes into contact with a turtle, salmonella transfers itself to the human body.

It can also get transmitted into the human body if we eat or drink anything that has got contaminated with salmonella transferred from turtles.

Salmonella is a type of zoonosis bacteria that can be transferred to the human body from turtles.

It is a genus of bacteria that causes gastrointestinal illness.

Though the salmonella infection is not a life-threatening disease, it can still lead to hospitalization.

This is because a lot of fluid is lost from the body due to excessive vomiting and dehydration.

Alright! Now that we know every turtle carries salmonella, let’s also understand the various ways through which you can contract salmonella infection from pet turtles.

How Do You Contract Salmonella From Pet Turtles?

Turtles are often kept as pets. These tiny grassy-eyed creatures are adorable.

However, little do we realize that coming in contact with a pet turtle or its enclosure usually puts us at risk of contracting salmonella infection.

Even though your turtle looks healthy and clean, it carries salmonella germs on its body.

When you touch the turtle, these germs can get on your hands and clothing.

If you do not wash your hands immediately with soap, there are high chances that you may get infected.

The second possibility is that when you have a pet turtle, it will roam freely all over the home without any restrictions.

Turtles can sometimes even enter the kitchen where food is kept.

If your turtle gets in contact with the food, there is a high possibility that they will leave salmonella in the food.

And when you consume that food, you can contract salmonella infection.

Even when your turtle is just roaming around in your home, the floor, carpet, cabinet, and other furniture that comes into contact with the turtle can get contaminated with salmonella bacteria.

This again poses a threat as you can get infected from the bacteria in your house.

Most of the turtle owners clean their tank equipment like filter and substrate in the kitchen sink.

This is highly dangerous because now all family members are at risk of contracting salmonella.

Okay! Now that you have understood how you can contract salmonella infection from your turtle, you should also know that certain people are at higher risk of getting this disease.

Who Is More Likely To Get Salmonella From Turtles?

Any person can get salmonella from turtles. When you have a turtle as a pet, hygiene is the most vital thing.

You cannot be lazy in maintaining hygiene because otherwise, it may prove hazardous.

The chances of being infected by salmonella are high among the following people:

  • Older people,
  • Children and infants,
  • Pregnant women,
  • People having a lower natural resistance to bacterial infection,
  • People with low immunity,
  • People having stomach or bowel disorders, and
  • People suffering from diseases such as diabetes, cancer, liver problems, HIV/AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases.

If possible, these people should avoid any contact with turtles.

If they handle pet turtles, they should be cautious and should stringently maintain hygiene.

The most crucial point to always keep in mind is that you cannot get rid of your turtle’s salmonella bacteria.

This does not mean that you cannot keep these little creatures as pets.

You can always take precautions and enjoy the company of your beloved turtle.

How To Prevent Salmonella Infection From Turtles?

As the saying goes, “Precaution is better than cure.” you need to practice it and bear in mind that your turtle always carries the salmonella bacteria.

Following are some of the precautions that you can follow to prevent salmonella infection from turtles:

  • The first and foremost thing is to maintain hygiene. The habitat of your turtle needs to be clean all the time. Regularly cleaning the turtle enclosure will reduce the risk of contracting the salmonella infection.
  • Regular water changes of aquatic turtle’s tank should be a part of tank maintenance.
  • Make it a stringent rule to wash your hands properly with soap after handling a turtle.
  • You should never snuggle or kiss the turtle out of love or affection. This is dangerous as it can spread the salmonella bacteria on your face and mouth and make you sick.
  • You should never let your turtle enter the kitchen or where food is kept.
  • Never buy turtles that are smaller in size. The length of your pet turtle should exceed 4 inches at the time of purchasing.
  • Do not ever clean the turtle’s supplies or enclosure in the kitchen sink. You can clean the turtle tank on the lawn or in the bathroom tub. After cleaning the equipment, always disinfect the tub or the area where you clean the enclosure with bleach.
  • If you have a pregnant woman in your house, it is always better to remove all small turtles from your home before the baby’s arrival.
  • Keep older people, small children, and people with low immunity away from the turtle.
  • Aquatic turtles have a habit of making a mess of their tanks and swimming pools. The turtle feces should be disposed-off regularly as the salmonella bacteria also reside in the turtle’s guts.

What Are Salmonella-Free Turtles?

In recent years, Salmonella-Free turtles have shown up in the market.

Basically, salmonella is eradicated from the turtle eggs, thus resulting in salmonella-free hatchlings.

These hatchlings initially do not shed any bacteria and hence are not poisonous.

However, some studies have found that even if the hatchlings are free from salmonella, they can test positive for salmonella once they grow up.

So, you can never be 100% sure that the turtles are salmonella-free.

Purchasing a salmonella-free turtle gives a false sense of security, which lasts for a short period. All species of turtles carry salmonella.

Now, this does not mean that turtles are not safe to be kept as pets.

As long as you are diligent with your hygiene and take good care of your turtle, the risk of catching an infection is minimal.

Final Thoughts

All turtles carry salmonella. A turtle that is free of salmonella at present can carry these bacteria in the future.

So, there is no way to get rid of salmonella from turtles.

Salmonella infection is not dreadful.

However, it can severely damage people with high diabetes, liver complications, cancer, and other major illnesses.

Pregnant women, older people, infants, children under the age of 5 years, and people with low immunity are at more risk of contracting the salmonella infection from turtles.

The best way to prevent this infection is by maintaining proper hygiene at home and keeping the turtle’s enclosure clean.

Washing your hands with soap immediately after handling the turtle is essential.

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