Health & Wellness

Why the CDC is warning families against adopting pet turtles

A tiny pet turtle sounds like an adorable and harmless pet, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says otherwise.

The CDC pinned the popular reptile as the carrier and cause of a recent salmonella outbreak.

On Aug. 29, the CDC released an outbreak advisory linking 37 salmonella infections in 13 states with the shell-wearing pet.

Nearly half of the 37 cases reported led to hospitalizations and 12 of those infected were 5 years old or younger.

Since 2015, the CDC has warned against adopting a turtle as your next family pet. Pet turtles may be small but, according to the agency, they can carry a whole lot of bacteria.

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images
Turtles are cute, but contaminated, says the CDC.

Families with young children should be especially careful. Little fingers often move too quickly from playing with pets to rubbing eyes and sucking thumbs. These movements carry salmonellosis — a potentially deadly infection caused by bacteria — from reptile to child.

Children and older adults (age 65 and up) share a weaker immune system. Even with conscientious care, the CDC recommends that these two groups avoid all reptile contact.

According to the health protection agency, potential pet owners should never purchase turtles from a flea market, street vendor or souvenir shop. These retailers might even sell tiny specimens with shells smaller than four inches wide — a practice that is banned by the CDC due to their especially high infection-causing rate.

Tiny turtles are still cute but perhaps better for looking rather than touching.

If you do own a turtle — or another reptile for that matter — the CDC recommends thorough hand washing after handling your pet. Even coming into contact with your pet’s habitat, food or other equipment can put you at risk for contracting the illness.

Find more CDC recommendations on safe reptile ownership here.

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