Salmonella and Small Turtles

January 14, 2008 | By Matt Van Hoven | Category: Care & Safety | 602 comments
Tags: turtles, salmonella, health & wellness, care & safety, reptiles

NATION – According to the Humane Society of the United States, a law that passed in 1976 which banned the sale of small pet turtles could be repealed if a current motion passes through Congress.

Turtles, like all reptiles, carry Salmonella. The disease is especially prevalent in small shelled turtles. During the 1970s when owning small turtles was something of a trend, nearly 250,000 cases of Salmonella sprang up each year – many of them afflicting children.

That's because kids often treat them like toys, touching the animals and then putting their hands in their mouths.

So finally, in 1976, the Food and Drug Administration banned the sale and distribution of turtles with shells smaller than four inches. The outcome was a 77 percent decrease in annual Salmonella cases related to reptiles.

Turtles benefitted too – since experts believe there was a 100 percent mortality rate for the critters within a year of birth due to poor transportation and handling.

But of late there has been a resurgence of the trend. Small roadside souvenir shops sell them, breaking Federal law by doing so.

In 2007, a small child died after contracting Salmonella from a turtle purchased at one such establishment. Other cases have come to light as well, yet nothing has been done.

Decreased funding for the FDA and lacking local law enforcement have led to the current situation.

A law currently wading through Congress could reverse the 1976 law – and although that is being opposed by the Humane Society of the United States, both people and turtles look to suffer if something isn't done.

To help resolve this problem, the HSUS recommends the following.

Report illegal turtle sales to the FDA or local authorities.

Contact the FDA and ask them to continue their work with turtle legislation.

Never purchase small and baby turtles.


U.S. Food and Drug Administration

5600 Fishers Lane

Rockville, MD 20857-0001

1888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332)

More info at

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Comments (355)

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Stephanie L.

Stephanie L.
6 years ago

I agree it's a bad idea to lift the ban.

Good Point | Reply ›

J O.

J O.
6 years ago

Laws aren't helpful if they aren't enforced. People need to be smart enough to not buy a cute tiny turtle on impulse, but they aren't. I think education is key-although many people will always see animals as disposable.

Good Point | Reply ›

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