Can You Get a Bacterial Infection from Your Pet Turtle?

bacterial infection from your turtle

They’re adorable. The little ones especially are so cute. But yes, you can get a bacterial infection from your turtle. The little ones especially.

Turtles carry Salmonella – not usually fatal, but not usually a walk in the park either. Vomiting, diarrhea, fever – the usual, and miserable, suspects. And with young children, the elderly, or people with immune system problems, salmonellosis can, indeed, be fatal.


Turtles, and in fact, many reptiles carry Salmonella. It doesn’t seem to make them sick. And getting them tested doesn’t help. They don’t shed all the time, and if they get tested on a “good” day, you could still get a bacterial infection from your turtle.

Little Turtles

They are the cutest ones. And that’s the problem:

  • They’re so cute that they attract children. And they are cuddly – or at least as cuddly as a turtle can get.
  • Children are less likely to be careful about handling them, touching their water, or remembering to wash their hands.
  • They’re small, so they seem more suited to younger children.
  • Younger children are more likely to kiss them, cuddle them, and hold them.

The sale of small turtles (under 4 inches) has been banned in the United States since 1975. They were banned because most of the pet turtles sold were the small ones. It’s not that the small ones have more germs.

What Can You Do?

Don’t have a turtle (iguana, salamander, etc.) in a home with anyone whose immune system isn’t fully operational. That means any home with a child under five, anyone elderly, or anyone with medical conditions that compromise immunity, like chemotherapy. Or anyone who’s pregnant.

Too Late

  • Give It Away: There are reptile rescue organizations who may be able to help.
  • Learn to Live with Salmonella: Remember that everything your turtle (iguana, salamander, etc.) touches is contaminated – water, cage, table, and especially people. And everything that touches the things the turtle has touched… it’s an invisible hot potato.

Caution: If you’re pregnant and you already have a turtle, it’s important to give the turtle away before the baby arrives.


They’re cute. And it’s certainly not the turtle’s fault. But you or someone in your home could get a bacterial infection from your turtle. And that’s not cute at all.