You might want to reconsider giving your pet turtle a kiss. The CDC is reporting a turtle-related Salmonella outbreak.

By Kristi Pahr
October 10, 2019
cdc samonella turtles
Credit: Arif Mirkar/EyeEm/Getty Images

Parents the world over know one thing—if your child wants a pet, you're the one who will be taking care of it. It's universal. Whether it's a puppy or a kitten or a snake or a lizard, the minute you bring it home, it becomes your responsibility (as if we didn't already have enough on our plates, right?). One thing we may not have bargained for, though, is the potential for that new pet to make our kids or us sick.

Sure, we may know in an offhand way that some pets are dirtier than others, the same way we know to make our kids wash their hands after visiting the petting zoo, but the CDC just issued a warning that people are getting sick from a rather surprising source: pet turtles.

Yep, turns out that turtles, while adorable, can harbor some nasty bacteria in their digestive tracts—namely Salmonella oranienburg. You might have thought you could only get salmonella from undercooked chicken or recalled spinach? Nope. That turtle, that was supposed to be a stress-free starter pet, might be a carrier. Since the bacteria live in the digestive tract of infected turtles (who can be totally symptom-free by the way) it's passed in their stool. Which then gets in the water they swim in. Which then gets all over their adorable turtle bodies. Which then gets all over your kids' hands when they play with said turtle.

Between May and September, 21 people from 13 states have been diagnosed with Salmonella oranienburg. Of the 21 reported cases, 7 have resulted in hospitalization, and no deaths have been reported, but a majority of those diagnosed reported contact with a pet turtle.

Luckily, there are a few steps the CDC recommends to keep your kids and yourself poop-water and salmonella free.

1. Wash Hands

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's so important that it bears repeating. Any time you or your kid comes into even the slightest contact with your turtle or its habitat, follow up immediately with thorough handwashing. Parents, supervise your kids so you can be sure they lathered up with soap and did a good job.

2. No Snuggles

Don't let your kid snuggle, hug, kiss, or love on the turtle. They're cute, yes, but they don't need cuddles.

3. Keep Pets Confined

Don't let your turtle have the run of the house. And definitely no turtles in the kitchen or anywhere food is prepared. Those germs can go airborne and land on your freshly cleaned counter, and it's all downhill from there.

4. Clean Animal Habitats Regularly

But clean them outside if you can. No scrubbing in the kitchen sink!

5. Make Sure It's The Right Family Pet

Kids under 5, people over 65, or anyone with a compromised immune system should avoid owning a pet turtle. If your 4-year-old is begging for one, just hold off for a bit and give that immune system time to mature a little more. And we all know that little kids love to put their mouths on things, so best to just wait until they're out of that particular phase.

If you have a turtle in the house, watch for symptoms.

The CDC warns that most people exposed to Salmonella will develop symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, and fever within 12-72 hours after exposure. Recovery usually takes 4 to 7 days but in some cases, hospitalization is required. If you or your child develops any symptoms, talk to your doctor and let them know you have been in contact with a turtle.