What Diseases Do Turtles Carry? How Deadly Can They Be

Turtles are some of the most ancient and fascinating reptiles to have as a pet. They make a wonderful addition to aquariums and provide a glimpse into the most ancient origins of the earth itself. But, like having any animal as a pet, we have to understand what it means to care for Turtles, and what diseases turtles carry. 

This knowledge goes beyond habitat, feeding and keeping it at the right temperature. It’s also about knowing what kind of diseases they can carry, if they can spread to humans and how to treat the illnesses. The most common and notable of these diseases are Salmonella. But there are other diseases to be aware of as well.

What Diseases Do Turtles Carry?

Unfortunately, these cute shelled creatures have a biochemical makeup that is very prone to contracting and spreading disease. They have a delicate system of bacteria that can get easy out of control.  Improper care, dirty habitat, poor nutrition and trauma can all contribute to these bacteria making a Turtle sick.

However, some of these are natural to their existence, others are an effect of living in captivity and yet some are genetic.  But it’s the pathogenic bacteria that Turtles carry within their bodies which drum up the most concern. Although these serve important digestive functions, they can become a huge problem for various reasons.


Salmonella is a bacterium that Turtles carry in their mouths and this is common for most reptiles. As humans shed skin cells, Turtles, especially baby ones, shed Salmonella through fecal matter. This is part of their normal, regular processes and babies produce higher amounts of Salmonella than adults.

There is no way to guarantee a turtle will be free of Salmonella. This is important for owners and handlers, including children, to understand. 

Gastrointestinal Parasites

Cryptosporidium, tapeworms and roundworms are very common gastrointestinal parasites. These are important to the processes of their digestion but can get out of control. Poor and unclean living conditions can induce illness in the Turtle from these parasites. 

Other Bacterial ; Fungal Infections

Turtles either carry or can contract a host of bacterial and fungal infections. Most fungi and bacteria are part of the normal flora environment in a Turtle’s mouth and digestive system. But, these infections can enter other areas of the body where they shouldn’t be and this is how infections develop.

Some of them include, but are not limited to:  Mycobacterium, Klebsiella, Citrobacter, Pasturella, Aeromonas, Pseudomonas, Clostridium, E. coli, Enterococcus, Corynebacterium, Streptococcus and Staphylococcus.

Treatments For Turtles That Carry Diseases?

In order to treat a Turtle for diseases, you must first recognize the symptoms. If they appear to be suffering in any way, it’s imperative to make an appointment with a vet.  Don’t just schedule with any vet, ensure they have knowledge and experience with reptiles. They will have the treatments necessary for the Turtle’s to heal.

Symptoms ; Signs of Disease

Symptoms of these include infections of the skin, ear and shell along with the digestive and respiratory tracts. It can even cycle through the circulatory system if the infection is severe enough. The shell will have discoloration, abnormal sloughing, bleeding, bad odor or softness.

Bulging on either side of the head can be a sign of an ear infection. Respiratory infections range from runny noses and sinus infections to pneumonia. Parasitic infections of the digestive tract can number greatly and can affect other functions like the kidneys, liver and blood circulation.


The best way to control disease is through practicing proper hygiene and refraining from handing the Turtle too much. Invest in a box of vinyl, nitrile or rubber gloves that you can dispose of after every handling of the Turtle and its environment.

Even with proper cleaning and disinfection, you will not be able to control, remove or mitigate the bacteria. If you have a pet Turtle, it’s important to keep your hands and their living quarters as clean as possible. Also, maintaining proper water quality, temperature and nutrition will help regulate and prevent the Turtle from developing disease.

When first bringing it home, quarantine the Turtle for one month.  During this period, observe it for signs and symptoms of sickness, inflammation and swelling. Some of these will accompany lethargy, heavy breathing, lack of appetite and difficulty with digestion. If you notice any of these, take the Turtle to the vet.    


Treatments for Turtles will depend on the diagnosis and whichever areas of the body show infection. The vet will give a complete examination that usually accompanies diagnostic testing like cultures, x-rays, fecal analyses and, sometimes, biopsies.

Since Salmonella isn’t harmful to Turtles, there’s no need to treat them for it. They are asymptomatic carriers and need the bacteria for their digestive system’s processes. This is why it’s important to understand that you can’t, nor should you want to, remove the bacteria altogether.

But, for other types of infections, the Turtle may have to undergo surgery to remove dead or infected tissue. Only the vet should prescribe and determine the treatment plan a Turtle needs to heal from infections. Pet owners should not try to do this on their own.

Is There Such a Thing As Antibiotics For Turtles That Carry Diseases?

There are antibiotics for Turtles, along with antiparasitics and antifungals. Administration of these types of medications can be oral, topical, nebulized or injected. Most antibiotics should come from the vet, but if you have a chronic health condition, there are some available at online and in-store pet suppliers.

Quarantine the Turtle

It’s important that when a Turtle takes on an antibiotic regimen, no one touches it until the medication finishes. This is because of the healing process that involves massive shedding of bacteria and other harmful fecal matter.

Good ; Bad Ideas

It is also a good idea to quarantine the Turtle away if it shares a community tank with other fish and aquatic life. Do not use antibiotics as a means to control or keep down the risk of Salmonella or other bacteria necessary to the Turtle. 

Antibiotic Resistance

When giving the Turtle antibiotics, also keep in mind that, just as humans can develop a tolerance to antibiotics, so can Turtles. Therefore, keep antibiotic use to an absolute minimum. Only administer it as a last resort under the guidance of a vet.

Can Turtles Pass Diseases Onto Humans?

So, can a turtle carrying diseases pass them onto humans? Zoonotic diseases are illnesses that can transfer from animals to humans. Although there aren’t many that exist in nature, Turtles can and do transfer their bacterium to humans. This can make people sick, especially children and those with compromised immune systems. Salmonella is the most notable of these bacteria.


People can get very sick when they come in contact with Salmonella.  This is not only a food-borne illness, but it’s also an essential bacteria for Turtles. Many parents falsely believe that a Turtle is a safer pet for small children.  This isn’t true because it’s this bacterium that causes the disease Salmonellosis.

Turtles can pass Salmonella onto people of all ages via biting or fecal shedding.  This is why the elderly, pregnant women and others with poor immunity should not have or handle Turtle. Children are no exception to this warning.

Statistics ; Spread

Believe it or not, Salmonellosis causes 1.4 million cases of illness and 400 deaths each year across the United States. About 10%, or 140,000, of these cases are people who reported having direct contact with a reptile.  That’s considerable and something worth noting when taking on the responsibility of a Turtle.

What’s more, once a human becomes infected, they too begin to shed the bacteria. This can and will infect other people. So, it can become quite the health emergency.  Those looking to become Turtle keepers must take this into account with seriousness.

Symptoms of Contraction

In the event someone does contract Salmonellosis, the symptoms are many, but will be undeniably clear and visible. These include things like abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache and even blood infections (also known as septicemia). 

These will start to appear as soon as 12 hours after contact with a Turtle but no later than 36 hours.  The symptoms can last two days or for as long as seven.  In severe cases, it can last as long as 10 or 12 days. What’s more, Salmonella can thrive on surfaces for weeks that are dry and dirty. 

Contraction of Other Bacteria

Aside from Salmonella, humans can become very if sick there is any outer infection from a Turtle’s delicate digestive bacteria. It means any of the bacteria mentioned above can and will infect people, resulting in illness and, sometimes, hospitalization. 

This is why it’s always a wise idea to wear rubber, vinyl or nitrile gloves when handling the Turtle. Even with gloves, wash hands thoroughly after touching it or its environment.

Meticulous Cleaning ; Disinfecting

In the event of a fungal or bacterial outbreak, it’s crucial to clean all places the Turtle touches. Use a good household disinfectant along with hot water and detergent. Rinse everything thoroughly and well. 

Any towels, fabrics and clothing that come into contact during cleaning must also undergo washing or proper disposal. This includes discarding sponges, paper towels and using a pair gloves.

Always clean up feces right away and create a designated area for cleaning items that belong to the Turtle.  Scrub and disinfect the designated area afterwards.  You also want to do this every time the Turtle’s tank is dirty.  It is of the utmost importance to wash hands well after every handling, feeding and cleaning to prevent Salmonella infections.


Well there you have it, everything you need to know on “Do turtles carry diseases”. There are quite a few diseases pet Turtles can carry and it’s important to be knowledgeable about them. Nature designed Turtles to harbor many bacteria for their digestion so nutrients can turn in to energy it can use.  Therefore, you do not want to remove this but you must do a lot of cleaning to prevent it from getting out of control.

Any Turtle owner has to keep a close eye on their pet for signs of illness. Schedule an appointment with the vet the moment anything’s wrong.  This will keep the Turtle happy and thriving.

If you can be responsible and conscientious about the care and handling of a pet Turtle, this special creature can provide decades of joy.  So, if you’re considering owning one, it’s vital that to be honest about how much you’re willing to commit to. If you abhor cleaning, a Turtle may not be quite right for you.

What Diseases Do Turtles Carry? How Deadly Can They Be

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top