How to Keep Your Turtle From Getting Salmonella and Then Infecting You

Ericson, a practicing Orange County veterinarian, is president of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn

Q My wife recently bought my son a red slider turtle. I recall a number of years ago that these small turtles were taken off the market because of some disease that was passed on to the owner. Do you recall what the disease was and is it something that we need to be concerned with? If so, how can we prevent it?

--G.D. Tayco, Santa Ana

A For the answer to this question, I sought advice from Greg Hickman, of the North Orange County Regional Occupation Program in Anaheim. Hickman is very knowledgeable about non-domestic and exotic animals. He advised me that, years ago, the U.S. Fish and Game Department banned the sale of aquatic and partially aquatic turtles less than 3 inches in diameter unless they were farm-raised. The disease to which you refer is salmonella, a bacteria that can cause severe gastrointestinal illness in humans and animals. The bacteria could be spread to the owners by handling infected turtles or having contact with their aquariums.

It is recommended that the aquarium water be filtered similarly to a fish tank or changed frequently. Careful washing of your hands afterward is extremely important in preventing infection to yourself. Maintaining a proper diet for your turtle as well as an adequate amount of sunlight or ultraviolet light will help keep your turtle healthy. If you suspect that your turtle is not doing well, have your veterinarian examine it and possibly take a culture, if necessary.

Q I would like to ask you why a dog eats its feces. I have a basset hound which does this. Please help me. It is so gross I can't stand it. I clean up as fast as she does this.

--R.E. Burch, La Habra

Q I have an older female German shepherd mix which has the objectionable habit of eating other animals' droppings--dogs, cats, rabbits. Is this harmful to her? She seems healthy, and eats anything and everything. She seems hyperactive and never gains weight. She was picked up as a stray along a mountain road, while we were on vacation.

--J. Byaard, El Toro

A Copraphagia or eating of stools is a common problem of young dogs which frequently is due to curiosity or indiscriminate eating behavior. Training and discipline along with keeping the stools cleaned up daily will generally eliminate the problem. Frequently, the odor of stools from other pets, especially cats, is attractive to dogs. Keeping the litter box in an area inaccessible to your dog will stop this behavior. Using a leash for walks is essential in keeping your dog from coming into contact with the feces of other animals in parks or fields. Copraphagia can be harmful, especially if the stools are contaminated with parasitic eggs such as roundworms. Gastrointestinal infection causing vomiting/diarrhea is frequently seen.

In some dogs which chronically eat stools, nutritional deficiencies must be considered. Your veterinarian may want to put your dog on a special diet or supplement. A blood test may be done to evaluate pancreatic dysfunction, such as an atrophied pancreas or a digestive insufficiency. The dogs tend to have large appetites yet are very thin. Fecal exams should be done to check for parasites and evaluate fat content.

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