Do Turtles Carry Diseases? [Hidden Dangers]

Turtles are Exotic Pets. Sulcata Tortoise or African spurred tortoise are walking on the table in the veterinary examination room.

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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I am isolating a few of my turtles because they have been sick for some days. Sick turtles can be a potential threat to other turtles. When I called my doctor for immediate treatment, he told me to isolate them. Since then, I have been thinking, do turtles carry diseases?

Turtles carry diseases like salmonella, E. coli, ranavirus, parasitic germs, shell rot, and herpesvirus. Most of these diseases are transmittable and can sometimes infect healthy turtles, reptiles, and humans.

But are these infections curable? Or is it possible to prevent these potential bacterial infections? If you want to keep the turtles and yourself safe from the dangers, keep reading to find everything about the transmittable diseases of turtles.

Key Highlights

  • According to some studies, turtles can carry dangerous bacterial transmissions.
  • They are affected by zoonotic bacteria that cause salmonella.
  • Besides these germ agents, turtles also carry respiratory infections, parasitic infections, ranavirus, shell rot, herpesvirus, mycobacteriosis, and E. coli.
  • Salmonella transmits through feces, food, and water.
  • This disease can infect humans and other animals.
  • Turtles can be infected with E. coli and spread it to their fellow turtles.
  • They can carry allergens that can cause allergic reactions in humans.

Do Turtles Carry Harmful Diseases?

Turtles can carry various contagious diseases and harmful bacteria infections. When I began with turtles, I had no idea about their diseases. One of my female turtles was sick due to bacterial agents. I was so afraid that I took her to the vet as soon as possible.

Domestic reptiles like tortoises and turtles are the source of zoonotic bacteria, and it can be the reason for salmonella infections. Baby turtles are affected by salmonella. That’s why the United States banned selling or keeping tiny turtles at home.

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Thus, the researchers find these germs harmful to humans, especially kids. Along with these dangerous bacterial infections, sea turtles can transmit Mycobacterium and parasites. Some of their diseases can be spread to other animals and humans. 

However, symptoms of these diseases aren’t visible enough underwater to take precautions. Cats, dogs, rodents, and more pets can carry these germs or virus diseases. You need to monitor their activities when they don’t act normally.

A 2023 salmonella outbreak was linked to pet turtles, affecting 33 people across multiple states according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (source).

What Kind Of Diseases Do Turtles Carry?

Turtles can carry a variety of diseases, not only bacterial infections. I’ve found some serious diseases that turtles can carry with symptoms and effects. This table will help you to learn about the transmittable diseases of turtles.

Respiratory infectionsMycoplasma, pseudomonas, AeromonasPoor environment, temperature issuesHeavy breathing, sudden nasal dischargePrescribed antibiotics from the vet
SalmonellaSalmonella genusInadequate hygiene,  improper handling, fecal sheddingDiarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetiteSanitize the tank properly, keep the affected turtles in isolation, and follow the vet’s instructions
MycobacteriosisDifferent species of MycobacteriumPolluted waterLethargy, joint swelling, weight loss, breathing issues, digestive problems      Isolating sick turtles, taking them to the vet, medicating, change the tank water
Shell rotFungiDirty water quality, insufficient basking areaSoft and discolored shell, bad smell Prescribed antifungal ointment, changing water
Parasitic infectionsParasitesDiarrhea or abnormal feces and inactivenessBad hygiene practices, low-quality water, and foodAnti-parasitic medicines
RanavirusIridoviridaeInteraction with affected animals, ecosystem imbalanceChange in behaviour, swelling, lazinessProper medication, supportive care
HerpesvirusHerpesviridaeLiving with susceptible turtles, stress, and poor environmentSwimming irregularities, drastic weight loss, idlenessEnsure proper sanitary system, good quality food, vet-prescribed medicines
E.coliDiverse bacteriasPoor husbandry practices, polluted food, low-quality habitatDiarrhea, weak shells, anorexiaAdequate diagnosis and treatment, give good hydration and balanced nutrition

Why Do Small Turtles Carry Salmonella?

Small turtles can usually be affected by several bacterial agents. Salmonella is the most common disease and contagious in reptiles. It can infect aquatic sea turtles, domestic box turtles, red eared sliders, and other reptile species as well.

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Moreover, overcrowded tanks or ponds can be one of the reasons for salmonella. If the turtles live with other infected animals, this bacterial infection can spread to other turtles and even to humans.

Hence, turtles can catch the salmonella germs through feces, food, water, and poor habitats. They carry these bacteria in their digestive tracts. Sometimes, you can’t even understand the symptoms as these germs aren’t visible in turtles.

How Likely Is It To Get Salmonella From A Turtle?

The chances of getting salmonella from a turtle in humans. Salmonella infection is the carrier of the zoonoses bacteria family. According to WHO, zoonoses is a transmissible bacteria that can spread from reptiles and amphibians to humans.

Salmonella symptoms from turtles are diarrhea, indigestion, abdominal cramps, and severe fever. Around 200 people were affected with salmonella outbreaks linked to small turtles in 2015 and 2016.

Yet, the symptoms are visible within 12 to 72 hours when it infects humans. Most of the time, humans recover within 3 to 6 days without medication.  But with medication, it can be dismissed quickly. 

How To Prevent Salmonella From Turtles?

Whenever I get a new turtle, I make sure to check whether they’re carrying any diseases or not. But that’s not enough. It’s necessary to take some precautions to avoid these bacterial infections. Here are some techniques to stop getting salmonella from turtles. 

  • Maintain proper hygiene and wash your hands every time you touch turtles.
  • Clean and sanitize the turtle’s tank regularly.
  • Monitor turtle’s activities and interactions.
  • Separate the infected turtles from others.
  • Avoid direct contact with affected turtles.

If you want to learn more about the prevention of Salmonella from turtles, then this article will help you with the detailed discussions. 

A study published in 2021 found that marine leech parasitism of sea turtles varies depending on host species, seasons, and the tumor disease fibropapillomatosis (source).

What Are Reasons For Turtles Carrying E.coli?

Another most common bacterial disease in turtles is E. coli. Like salmonella, turtles also carry E. coli in their gastrointestinal or digestive tracts.  Not all of the germs of E.coli are harmful, so it’s one of the regular parts of their health.

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Poor environmental conditions are responsible for E. coli in turtles. When the water is polluted with E.coli fecal elements, it can be transmitted to turtles too. If you can’t handle your turtles properly and maintain their regular habitats, these germs can spread into turtles.

When turtles are under stress, it weakens their immune system and stamina. For this reason, the virus causes potential health risks to turtles.  Thus, zoonotic transmission can be the source of E. coli, and it can affect humans.

How To Get Rid Of E.coli In Turtles?

If you find the symptoms of E. coli in your turtles, you should take them to the vet as early as possible. But only the vet can’t fix your turtle’s health. You also should take care of the turtles and ensure some prevention tips for E. coli.

Tunu, one of my red eared sliders, got affected by E. coli. I was scared as I’d never experienced these problems with my turtles. However, I took the turtle to the regular for proper guidance. I’ve isolated the affected turtles from the healthy ones.

Moreover, I’ve cleaned the debris and food particles and disinfected the tank with a mild turtle-safe sanitizer. To avoid bacterial infections, I regularly clean and filter the water to ensure good hygiene. These steps will be enough to keep your turtles safe from E. coli transmission.

Can Turtles Cause Allergies In Humans?

According to Chinese medical journals, soft-shelled turtles can be potential allergenic offenders. The primary source causing human allergies is the protein agents turtles carry in their feces, urine, skin, and saliva. These agents are potential allergens that can trigger humans.

Turtles and humans can get asthma, itching, sneezing, and nasal issues from it. It also causes breathing difficulties, watery eyes, and skin rashes.  If you find yourself affected by the allergens of turtles, you need to visit a skin specialist as soon as you can.

Woman holds a turtle in hands. Middle aged white woman shows small tortoise with yellow belly. Care about lovely pet or veterinarian examination

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Turtles Make Other Turtles Sick?

Turtles can make other turtles sick with some contagious diseases. It can spread through their saliva and urine. Along with these, it can be transmitted during mating, fighting, and sharing habitats.

Can Turtles Cause Respiratory Problems In Humans?

If humans get in touch with salmonella-infected turtles, it can cause respiratory infections in humans. Additionally, the harmful allergens of turtles can be responsible for respiratory or breathing issues in humans.

Is Turtle Bite Poisonous?

Turtle bite isn’t poisonous. Some wild turtles can carry infectious bacteria that can cause infections. The snapping turtles have strong jaws, and their bite can be painful. Thus, turtles usually bite when they feel provoked and threatened.

Before You Go…

All transmittable diseases of turtles aren’t harmful to humans. But some of them aren’t severe for turtles as well. I’ve broadly discussed salmonella and E. coli because these cause serious health issues in humans and other creatures.

As a responsible turtle owner, you should know about the diseases of turtles and quick treatments. The articles below can give you a comprehensive idea of turtle’s health.

Metabolic Bone Disease In Tortoise: Symptoms, Prevention & Cure

Turtle Eye Diseases: Types, Symptoms, Prevention And Cure

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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