Your soft, cozy bed may seem like the ideal spot to let your turtle rest while you’re cleaning his tank or to let him wander around for a bit of exercise. Or maybe you’re even craving some cuddle time with your turtle friend. Perhaps you’ve considered letting him spend the night nestled next to you on the mattress.
Can I put my turtle on my bed? No, you should not put your turtle on your bed. Allowing your turtle on your bed poses a dangerous health risk to you, since turtles often carry salmonella. Additionally, a fall from an elevated surface, such as a bed, could cause serious harm, or even death, to your turtle.
Although this might be disappointing, there are plenty of safer alternatives for bonding with your pet turtle and offering him exercise and comfort. Read on to find out why sharing your bed with your turtle can be harmful, as well as how you can contribute to the lasting health of your turtle, and strengthen your bond with him, even without those bedtime snuggles.
What Risk Does My Turtle Pose to Me?
Turtles, both captive and wild, can carry Salmonella bacteria. They can carry this bacteria in their droppings, as well as on their shells and skin. Even a turtle who looks clean and healthy can carry Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella can be transferred to you when you come into contact with your turtle, his habitat, or a surface your turtle has touched.
Even though Salmonella bacteria will not make your turtle sick, it can cause a serious, or even life-threatening infection in humans. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), children, senior citizens, and those with lowered natural resistance to disease due to pregnancy, cancer, chemotherapy, organ transplants, diabetes, liver problems, and other diseases are even more at risk.1
Possible symptoms of a Salmonella infection include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills, and headache and can last two to seven days.2
There have been several Salmonella outbreaks in the United States that were linked to reptiles, including one linked specifically to pet turtles in early 2020. During this particular outbreak, 35 people were infected and 11 were hospitalized. Children under 12 years old made up two thirds of those hospitalizations.
You can avoid Salmonella infection by minimizing contact with your turtle. Pet turtles are safest and least stressed when they are kept as ornamental pets. However, some turtle owners like to have regular playtime and contact with their pets, and that’s fine too.
Just make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching your turtle or any part of his habitat. Never kiss or snuggle your turtle, as this can allow Salmonella bacteria to come into direct contact with your mouth, nose, and face.
Be especially careful if you have a young child who comes into contact with your pet turtle or any surface the turtle has touched. Make sure your child washes their hands thoroughly and never puts your turtle in their mouth (babies and toddlers do crazy things, afterall).
And finally, don’t let your turtle walk around on your bed. If your turtle defecates on your sheets, they can be washed, but a mattress isn’t so easy to clean and disinfect. Even if your turtle doesn’t use the bathroom while on your bed, they can still spread Salmonella simply by walking around on it. You really don’t want this bacteria in the place where you lay your head at night.
What Risks Does Being on a Bed Pose to My Turtle?
As far as your turtle is concerned, the biggest reason not to place him on your bed, or on any elevated surface, is that he could fall. Any type of fall can pose serious health and safety risks to a turtle. A fall could cause him to fracture his shell or break a limb.
A cracked shell can lead to other problems, such as infections. Also, if a turtle falls side over side, it could cause his intestines to twist. In the worst case scenario, a fall could also be fatal to your turtle.
If your turtle does suffer a fall, be sure to consult your veterinarian immediately. If his shell is cracked, keep him at a temperature of 80-85℉ until you can get to your vet. Keeping him at this temperature will aid his immune function. Also, keep your turtle away from flies if his shell is cracked. Never attempt to glue the cracks in his shell together with any type of epoxy.
Placing your turtle on your bed, or anywhere in your home, also prevents him from basking and getting the proper amount of UV light. Even if your bed is right under a window, windows in a typical home block out UVB light. Your turtle needs to spend 10-12 hours a day under the UV light source in her habitat to maintain good health.
The temperature in your bed might not be ideal for your turtle. The basking area of a turtle’s tank should be 75-88℉ and the water temperature for an aquatic turtle should be between 75-82℉. Chances are, the temperature on your bed is not quite this warm, especially during the summer months when your air conditioner is running.
Exposing your turtle to decreased temperatures for extended periods can cause him to stop feeding and will also make him more susceptible to illness and infection.
If you’re putting your turtle in your bed with the intention of snoozing next to them, there is also the chance that you could kick or roll over onto them in your sleep. And, as mentioned above, sharing close quarters with your turtle, and having them in close proximity to your face, presents the risk of a Salmonella infection.
What Should I Do With My Turtle Instead?
There are plenty of ways to provide enrichment to your turtle and also to bond with them, without sharing your bed.
First, be sure to provide the right habitat for your pet turtle. An aquatic turtle should live in a tank that is at least 55 gallons. This tank should have a large aquatic area for your turtle to swim, as well as a smaller area for them to rest and bask outside of the water.
Terrestrial turtles do best when they are housed in turtle-safe outdoor habitats. Whether their home is outside or not, however, they need at least twelve square feet of space. Provide a cool area for them, as well as a basking area.
Whether your turtle is aquatic or terrestrial, you can provide him with plenty of stimuli in the form of appropriate substrate, hiding spots, live insects, and turtle-safe toys. Floating logs are an excellent option for aquatic turtles, as they provide a place to climb and explore.
Similarly, you can provide natural branches to your terrestrial turtle. Just make sure these branches are secured so that they will not fall over onto your turtle. You can also add climbing rocks and non-toxic plants (or artificial plants for those without a green thumb).
If you are going to handle your turtle, make sure to do it properly. Turtles aren’t social creatures by nature. They may bite you when they are taken by surprise or mishandled. However, if you are patient, persistent, and gentle with them, they can learn to interact with you comfortably.
Always approach your turtle from the front to avoid taking him by surprise. Avoid picking your turtle up, except when it is absolutely necessary, as this makes them quite stressed and uncomfortable.
When you do pick up your turtle, always hold him securely with both hands. Each of your hands should grip one side of his shell between his forelimbs and hindlimbs. Place him very gently on the ground when setting him down.
If you are going to allow your turtle to roam outside of his enclosure, limit him to one room or enclosed area. Hardwood and tile floors are best, as they are easy to clean once your turtle is finished with his exercise time.
You can even bring your turtle outdoors if it isn’t too cool. If you want to interact with your turtle, sit on the floor closeby and allow him to come to you when he’s ready. You can then attempt to pet him gently on his head, neck, and cheeks. You can even stroke your turtle’s shell, but be very careful not to scratch it.
When you are finished handling your turtle and have returned him to his habitat, clean and disinfect the area on which he roamed, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
Even though sharing some bedtime snuggles with your turtle might sound adorable and appealing, it is not a good idea. By placing your turtle in your bed, you are putting both you and your turtle at risk. There are much better ways to build your relationship with your little reptile.