How to Handle a turtle?

how to handle a turtle

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

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In this article, I’ll share some tips with you on how to handle a turtle. These tips will help you to become a better turtle keeper eventually. So, let’s get to the good stuff!

Turtles are becoming very popular as pets in the United States. However, we still have some misconception about them. Turtles are not like cats or dogs. So, before getting one, we need to know what can we expect from a pet turtle.

If you are thinking of turtles as like cats or dogs, then you are gravely mistaken. Like cats or dogs, turtles don’t like to be handled. They prefer living in complete solitude. So, if you want a pet for handling, then turtle is not the one for you.

Though turtles are a type of reptiles, they can eventually get accustomed to the presence of human. Most of the turtle species can identify the person that feeds them. Once your turtle fully identifies you as his “Food Giver”, he’ll eagerly greet your presence by swimming towards you and begging for food.

For most turtles, this is the highest they can go in terms of socializing with the human. And that’s the hard truth, no matter how much you like, your turtles hate to be handled.

How to handle a turtle?

Even though your turtle doesn’t like handling, sometimes we need to handle them for various reasons such as taking it to the vet. So, we need to know, for such cases how we can handle turtles properly.

Here are some tips:

  • If it is a baby turtle, then you can simply lift it up on your palm encircling with your thumb and fingers. Be sure that the turtle is secured and it can’t jump off from your hand. A drop from your palm can cause severe injury to the turtle including broken shell, torn limb etc.
  • If the turtle is larger, you need to pick it up with both of your hands. Place each hand on each side of the shell between the front and back legs. Be careful if your turtle is an aquatic or semi-aquatic species. They can kick very strongly. Moreover, they have very sharp claws which can scratch you badly. If you are scratched, immediately sterilize the wound.
  • Never pick up a turtle by its tail. This is very risky as it can break the bones in the tail which is very painful for the turtle.
  • Don’t twist or turn around a turtle very quickly on your hand. A strong twist or turn will cause pain to the connecting tissue and organs. Take at least 2 seconds to fully turn over a turtle.
  • If you need to observe the plastron (bottom shell) of the turtle, then turn it tail over head or head over turtle. turning side over side isn’t recommended as it can twist the intestines of the turtle which can even kill the turtle.
  • When you need to rotate or turn over a turtle, don’t make a full 360-degree rotation. Keep it highest 180 degrees. It will reduce the chance of intestines getting twisted.
  • It is not recommended to keep a turtle on its back. If you absolutely need to do it for any reason, don’t keep the turtle in that way longer than it is necessary. This position is very stressful for the animal as turtles feel quite vulnerable in this position. They feel anything can attack them at any second and feel very stressed. While being in this position, they often hide inside their shell for extra protection.
  • When you are handling a turtle, don’t make a sudden movement of your hand. It will make the turtle stressed. Remember, turtles don’t even like to be handled in the first place. So, you need to be very gentle with them.
  • If you have a box turtle, then avoid putting your fingers between the top and bottom shell. As they can box up very tightly, it can pinch your fingers.
  • Most of the turtles try to bite if they are picked up. They can’t as their necks are small. However, there are some species with larger necks such as snakehead turtles, softshell turtles, common snappers etc. They can literally reach your hand around their shell and try to bite you. So, be extra careful with such species.
  • Some turtle species are very aggressive and it is better not to handle them if you are a newbie. They can severely injure you. Such species are common snapping turtles, alligator snapping turtles etc.
  • No matter how much you try, some species are very hard to be handled like large softshell turtles. Even the experts feel it is difficult to pick them up safely without getting bitten. They can kick or bite you very easily. Most experts pick them up by placing one hand under the back of the shell and the other under the front side of the shell. If you don’t have any prior experience with softshell turtles, I’ll strongly advise you to not handle them on your own. Take the help of an expert.
  • Never scratch the shell when you are handling a turtle. It can result in Fungus on the shell. Whenever you are handing a turtle, make sure the chance of injury is minimal for both you and the turtle.
  • If your turtle jumps off from your hand or you drop him accidentally, immediately take him to the vet.

How much should you handle a turtle?

Not any species of turtle like to be handled. So, you need to handle them as less as possible. When you pick up your turtle, if it quickly withdraws inside the shell or makes a hissing sound, then it means your turtle is scared and concerned about its safety.

Most turtles reach to handling by-

  • Trying to scratch and kick you
  • Turning around to bite you
  • Withdrawing inside the shell
  • Emptying the contents of cloaca on your hand
  • Peeing on your hand

That’s why you shouldn’t mess with them. It is better to keep them in their own terms. Turtles can be cute, but they are not cuddly at all!

Can handling turtles make you sick?

It depends. Some turtles carry Salmonella. Salmonella is a type of bacteria that live on the outer skin of reptiles such as lizards, snakes, turtles etc. if you handle a turtle that carries salmonella, then there are high chances that you’ll get affected with it.

Though salmonella doesn’t cause any harm to the turtle, it can be deadly for humans. Let me share an incident: In 2007, a 4-year-old baby in Florida died suddenly. Doctors found that the sickness was related to salmonella which came from a small turtle.

These are the symptoms of salmonella infection:

  • High fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea, pain
  • Headache
  • Vomiting etc.

Symptoms usually start to appear after 6 to 72 hours of getting in contact with the salmonella. They can last for up to a week. In most cases, the patient can recover without any serious treatment. However, in some major cases, the patient may need to be treated in a hospital.

To avoid the chance of getting infected with salmonella, always wash your hand with soap properly before and after handling a turtle. Do this even if you are handling anything related to the turtle such as cleaning the filter, basking area or tank.


Is it safe handling turtles while pregnant?

It is absolutely not. You should never handle a turtle while you are pregnant. Even, if your family is expecting a child, it is better to not keep a reptile in the home at all. Some turtles carry salmonella which can be deadly for you and your child. If you have to keep a turtle, then make sure you are always wearing gloves when handling them. Also, don’t forget to wash your hands with soap before and after handling them.

Always be safe!


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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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