How to Get Rid of Salmonella in Turtles?

How to Get Rid of Salmonella in Turtles

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

In this article, I am going to explain in details how to get rid of salmonella in turtles. I’ll also explain everything regarding turtles and salmonella. So, if you are a turtle keeper or wish to keep turtles in the future, this article will be extremely important for you.

First thing first, let’s start with what is actually salmonella and why we need to care about it:

What is Salmonella?

Salmonella is a type of bacteria. it was first discovered by Daniel Edward Salmon, the bacteria was named after him. There are many types of bacteria. Salmonella is a type of zoonosis bacteria that can be transferred from animals to humans which causes disease.

Most reptiles carry salmonella. Turtles carry them on their outer skin. Though the bacteria is already on the turtle’s body, it doesn’t hurt the turtle. When any human comes in contact with the turtle, salmonella transfers itself to the human body and cause severe sickness.

Salmonella can be so serious that, in 2009 it caused the death of a 4-year-old baby.

Where does Salmonella come from?

Salmonella can come to human bodies from many sources. The most common sources are eggs, chicken as well as meat. Some other sources are reptiles, turtles, dogs, cattle, pigs, ducks and flies, cockroaches, hamsters, rabbits etc. Most of the animals can carry this bacteria on their body.

Also, some peculiar sources of salmonella are from amphibians such as frogs, newts, salamanders and from habitats of reptiles as well as amphibians. These habitats will include tanks, cages, aquariums etc.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection:

  1. Nausea
  2. Vomiting
  3. Fever
  4. Diarrhea
  5. Headache
  6. Stomach pain

The symptoms usually start to show within 72 hours after the bacteria has been in contact. The symptoms can last for 2 to 7 days depending on how severe the condition is. If you are experiencing these symptoms, immediately do a checkup in the hospital. Delay can make this diseases deadly.

How to get rid of salmonella in turtles?

Here are the tips to get rid of salmonella in turtles:

  • Unfortunately, till now there is no procedure invented that can successfully remove salmonella from a reptile. We can’t treat it like a regular bacterial infection as the salmonella is using the reptile as a carrier.
  • Salmonella works as a regular element to an animal’s microflora. It is very difficult to successfully remove this type of bacteria from their host because they are deeply linked to the host. That’s why, in such a case, using an antibiotic won’t bring a positive result.
  • There are some drawbacks to giving anti-biotic for removing salmonella from a reptile. The antibiotic can cause a change in the population of intestinal bacteria. In such a case, the number of salmonella bacteria will grow more.
  • Salmonella is known to live in the cells of the intestine where no antibiotic can reach. As a result, there is no practical and effective way to permanently get rid of salmonella in reptiles.

Who is more likely to get salmonella from turtles?

The unfortunate thing is, anyone can get salmonella from turtles. But the chances of getting salmonella runs high among:

  • Children and infants
  • Old people
  • People with low immune system
  • People with low resistance to infection
  • Pregnant women
  • People who are suffering from other diseases such as diabetics, cancer or HIV

Vic Boddie (Ph.D. and safety officer of FDA for veterinary medicine) said:

“All reptiles and amphibians have the potential to be carriers of Salmonella. And if children come in contact with small turtles, they run the risk of becoming very ill.”

The most frightening thing is turtles that are carrying salmonella look perfectly fine and healthy. So, if your turtle seems to be fine, there is no reason to think that it is not carrying salmonella. It is better to assume that your turtle is carrying salmonella with it. This will help you to follow proper safety precautions.

These are the most common scenarios through which salmonella enters into human body:

  1. The first most common way is if you touch your turtle and then put that hand in your mouth without washing it with soap. The salmonella directly gets transferred from the turtle to your body through your hand. That’s why it is always recommended to wash your hands thoroughly after handling turtles and touching anything regarding their tank.
  2. Most turtle owners clean the equipment of turtle tank i.e. filter, basking place, tank, substrate in the kitchen sink. This increases the risk of cross-contamination at an alarming rate. The dangerous thing is, it poses a health risk to all the members of the family.
  3. If you let your turtle roam around the house freely, then there are high chances that the floor, carpet, tabletops, cabinet etc. is also contaminated with bacteria. you’ll be surprised to know how long the bacteria can survive on these surfaces. So, you need to keep all these surfaces properly clean.

How to prevent Salmonella infection?

  • Almost 90% chance of salmonella infection will be reduced by following proper hygiene. This includes, thoroughly washing your hands after handling the turtle or anything related to the turtle. By following this simple hygiene practice you can be safe from salmonella.
  • The next way to keep salmonella at a minimum level is by keeping the turtle enclosure clean. Regularly clean the filter, basking place as well as the enclosure. Do a weekly water change. By keeping the enclosure clean, the bacteria won’t get a favorable environment to grow.
  • Never buy turtles that are smaller than 4 inches in length
  • If someone in the family is pregnant, it is better to remove any reptile or amphibian from the home.
  • If there are children below 5 years old, elderly people or people with a low immune system, then it is better to keep reptiles and amphibians out of your house.
  • It is recommended not to allow your turtles roam freely inside the house, especially where food is prepared and eaten i.e. kitchen, dining room.
  • Clean the turtle enclosure and other equipment with bleach inside the bathroom or better outside on your lawn.
  • It is better to wear gloves when cleaning your turtle enclosure.

Chances of getting salmonella from a turtle

First, keep in mind that almost all reptiles carry salmonella. So, it is safe to assume that your turtle is carrying salmonella too. If you are not following a proper hygiene practice, then there is a high chance that you’ll be infected with salmonella.

The chances of getting salmonella from a  turtle will increase if you do the followings:

  • Not washing hands with soap after handling turtles
  • Not washing hand after cleaning the turtle enclosure
  • Not washing hand after touching any of the turtle tank equipment such as filter, basking place, tank water etc.
  • By not keeping the turtle enclosure clean and healthy

Do all turtles carry Salmonella?

No, not all of the turtles carry salmonella. But most of them do. Generally, aquatic turtles are more likely to carry salmonella than tortoises. That’s why it is safe to assume your turtle is carrying salmonella and follow proper hygienic procedure.

How do you know if a turtle has salmonella?

Unfortunately, there is no definite way to tell if a turtle has salmonella or not. Salmonella bacteria lives inside the turtle. So, even if a single sample turns out to be negative, that doesn’t imply the turtle is free from salmonella.

Till now there hasn’t been any method or procedure that can effectively say if a turtle has salmonella or not. Yet we don’t know what to sample, how many times to sample, what to look for when determining the existence of salmonella in a turtle. So, it is better safe to assume the turtle has salmonella in the first place.

How to choose the right turtle?

When choosing a turtle, look for the below factors carefully:

  • Never buy a turtle that is less than 4 inches in length. A good way to check that is, compare the length of the turtle to a playing card. A playing card is usually 3.5 inches long. If the turtle is larger than a card, then it is safe for buying.
  • It is illegal to sell small pets by the federal law. If you see someone selling a baby turtle, keep in mind that he is doing an illegal thing.
  • Never take a turtle from the wild and start to keep it in your home.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Question: Do only turtles carry salmonella?

Answer: No, Salmonella is not unique to turtles only. Other animal species such as rodents, cats, dogs etc. can carry salmonella too.

Question: What happens if you by any chance swallow salmonella?

Answer: In most of the cases, the bacteria will go through your body without doing anything. However, if you get infected, then the symptoms will start to appear within 2-3 days. You may suffer from diarrhea. If diarrhea lasts for more than 48 hours, visit a doctor.

Question: Do all reptiles carry salmonella?

Answer: In this regard, the Los Angeles Department of Health has conducted a test. After the test, it was found that almost 9 out of 10 reptiles carry salmonella within their body.

Question: How long can salmonella live?

Answer: Salmonella can live for weeks to years. If a surface is infected with salmonella, then it can stay infected for years if not cleaned properly.

Interesting Facts:

  1. A recent study showed that nearly 60% plants that process chicken are infected with salmonella
  2. Though salmonella is a curable disease, it can turn out to be fatal in 1% of cases.
  3. Marijuana can also carry salmonella
  4. Till now, approximately 2300 types of salmonella are found.
  5. Among total salmonella infected people, 36% are children below 5 years old and 13% are below a year. It shows, children are more vulnerable to salmonella.

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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