Mini Pet Turtles and the Four Inch Rule

A mini pet turtle is fascinating to children.  Its slow movement and tough, colorful shell are striking enough for children to want to keep it.   Because it is small,  people think  it can do no harm;  thus, kids can have it  as a pet.

Wrong.  These species are not suitable to become a family pet.
Mini turtles are not for children—even with parental supervision.   They can cause disease, especially to children who have weak immune systems. Children also have the tendency to put things in their mouths or put their unwashed hands in their mouths.   Both pose a great risk because turtles can be the source of salmonella poisoning.   See a photo of a baby turtle below:

A baby water turtle fits in the palm of your hand

A baby water turtle fits in the palm of your hand

Certainly, turtles carry salmonella, bacteria that can be easily transmitted even through casual contact.  This is the reason mini turtles are only suitable  for responsible adults.  Older children, about 10 years of age and older, can still hold and feed them, but only with adult supervision.   Make sure, however, that proper hand washing is done after touching them, because a casual contact with turtles, or to its environment, can make a person sick with salmonellosis.  One infected  person,  can  then easily  and quickly transmit these germs to others.   Reptiles transmit an estimated 74,000 cases of salmonellosis to people in the United States annually (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2003).   This is why  the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2008) warns “do not have a turtle in any household that includes children under five, the elderly, or people who have lowered natural resistance to disease due to pregnancy, cancer, chemotherapy, organ transplants, diabetes, liver problems or other diseases.”

Salmonella is bacteria not seen by the naked eye. It can cause  a human disease called salmonellosis, a serious infection of the gastrointestinal tract. Many people think it is only a food-borne disease; but the truth is that salmonella also occurs naturally in reptiles, such as turtles.  Salmonella does not usually make these animals sick, though.   A mere look cannot tell if a turtle  carries salmonella or not.    In addition, a turtle that  tests negative for salmonella does not ensure that it is not infected. Turtles do not always shed salmonella.   The negative result  could mean the turtle did not shed salmonella when it was tested.

Taking this into consideration, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a law in 1975 that prohibits the selling and distribution of turtles with shells less than four inches long.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “this has been so far the most effective public health action as it prevented an estimated 100,000 cases of salmonellosis each year in children”.   Nonetheless,  pet stores,  street vendors, online stores, and flea markets can get away with disregarding this four-inch rule easily.  The regulation exhibits ambiguity when it allowed these mini turtles to be sold for educational purposes.

Pet owners should, therefore, exercise proper care not only for their mini turtles, but also for themselves. This is to ensure a safe  and happy  turtle-keeping experience for you and all of your pet mini turtles.

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