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ASK THE VET: Even healthy pet turtles carry salmonella, so hygiene’s essential

by LEE PICKETT, VMD, Creators | March 27, 2023 at 2:22 a.m.

Q: Our son wants to adopt a turtle from his friend, who has become bored with his pet. Is there any reason not to agree?

A: Pet turtles commonly carry Salmonella bacteria, which can cause bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain in humans. Youngsters are most often affected. So, take into account your son's age and level of responsibility as you make a decision.

In recent years, Salmonella bacteria from pet turtles have sickened hundreds of Americans, hospitalized dozens and killed at least one person. Turtles with shells less than 4 inches long most often cause human infection.

Salmonella are carried on the skin and shells of clean, healthy turtles and excreted in their droppings, contaminating habitats, water and food. Therefore, if your son adopts a turtle, he must refrain from kissing or snuggling it, and he must wash his hands immediately after touching the turtle or its habitat.

The turtle's habitat must be washed somewhere other than the kitchen, preferably outdoors, to prevent Salmonella contamination of food preparation areas and bathroom sinks.

Children under 5 years of age, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should not touch pet turtles or their habitats.

Q: I want to start using an automatic toilet bowl cleaner, but our dog drinks from the toilet and I don't want him to get sick. Can you recommend a safe cleaner?

A: Most automatic bowl cleaners are reasonably safe when diluted in toilet water. If your dog does develop a problem, the worst he will experience is mild stomach upset.

On the other hand, the tablets themselves and undiluted liquid toilet bowl cleaners are corrosive. Ingesting them will irritate your dog's entire gastrointestinal tract, from his mouth and esophagus to his stomach and intestines, causing emesis and diarrhea.

While the diluted automatic bowl cleaners are fairly safe for pets, it's still unwise to allow them to drink. Human contaminants, including medications, can remain in the water after flushing and shouldn't be ingested by pets.

So, close the lid and offer your dog a big bowl of fresh water instead. Remember to wash and refill the bowl daily.

Q: Soren, my great Dane mix, has a soft mass the size of a golf ball on the side of his elbow. His veterinarian said it's a hygroma, not cancer, and recommended I treat Soren to a well-padded bed. Why won't my veterinarian surgically remove the hygroma? How can I prevent it from enlarging?

A: A hygroma forms when a boney prominence is repeatedly traumatized, for example, when the dog sleeps on a tile or hardwood floor. It starts as a fluid-filled sac, like a blister, and then thickens to form a callus.

Hygromas are most common in large-breed, short-haired dogs. They usually form on the elbow but may appear on the hock or "sit" bones of the pelvis.

Surgery isn't recommended because the continued trauma of sleeping on a hard floor promotes infection and prevents healing of the surgical site.

It's best to follow your veterinarian's recommendation and encourage Soren to sleep on a thick bed, preferably one with an egg-crate foam core.

To further protect Soren's elbow, you can apply a doughnut-shaped bandage to surround the hygroma, or outfit Soren in a long-sleeve T-shirt with padding sewn to the arm of the shirt. Or, use foam pipe insulation to protect his elbow and allow his hygroma to heal.

Another effective option is the DogLeggs elbow harness, which is comfortable, washable and easy to use.

In time, Soren's hygroma should shrink and become a mere callus.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Write to her using the contact page at

Print Headline: Kids should heed caution as pet turtles carry salmonella


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