As a turtle owner, you’ll want to be aware of their potential behaviors and traits. Not only will this ensure that you can keep them happy and safe, but equally, that you remain so too. But what about biting? Are pet turtles known to bite and is there anything that an owner can do to limit or reduce this behavior entirely? I decided to the research the topic. I would love to share what I have been able to find with you here today.
So, do pet turtles bite? Pet turtles may bite if and when they feel threatened. Pet turtles have also been known to bite if they are not handled carefully. However, pet turtles are generally of a friendly and calm disposition. With the correct care, pet turtle owners should not need to worry about biting.
Turtles make excellent pets. They are rewarding and owners can form strong bonds with them. However, like most reptiles they will protect themselves if the feel threatened.
Let us now take a closer look at the topic, answering the most common questions, helping you to set your expectations and to help you better understand your pet much further.
Can Turtles Bite?
Although turtles don’t have teeth, they do bite and some can bite hard.
Biting generally occurs when a turtle feels threatened or whoever is handling them is not taking due care. If someone is poking around the turtle’s head/face and the turtle feels scared, they will likely get bitten.
As a general rule, turtles are of a calm demeanor. Turtles usually prefer to be left alone and owners can take great joy from watching them from a distance.
Like most animals, turtles’ personalities are distinct: some may tolerate handling and human interaction whilst others do not like being handled and may try to bite.
It is important that turtle owners take time to get to know their pet and understand how best to take care of them. You should learn whether your turtle likes handling and respond accordingly. Never pick up your turtle if you know they have a distaste for it.
If you can handle your turtle, and they will let you know if it is okay to do so, it is very important to wash your hands before and after, as turtles carry salmonella.
Be careful of the soaps and products you use prior to handling – as the chemicals can irritate a turtles skin if not properly removed beforehand.
Why Can Turtles Bite?
Owing to the fact that a turtle has limited ways in which they can express their feelings, when a turtle bites it is usually because they feel scared or threatened in some way. Depending on the species of turtle you choose, you may or may not experience biting.
When properly cared for, the circumstances under which a turtle feels threatened and the need to bite will be rare. Owners should be mindful of this and when interacting with their pet turtle doing so slowly, gently and in a calm manner.
If you are considering getting a turtle as a pet, make sure you invest time getting to know your pet and allowing them to get to know you. Building a familiarity in your relationship with your turtle they will feel safe in your presence and should not bite.
Unsurprisingly, male turtles are more likely to bite than their female counterparts. Turtle owners may encounter bites from their male turtle because they are trying to establish dominance.
So, if your male turtle has ever taken a bite at your hand for no apparent reason, they could be trying to assert their dominance over you! Turtles will often bite each other for this reason too.
If you have been hand-feeding your pet turtle, they may bite you accidentally thinking that you are food.
Turtles are likely to try and eat most things that are put in front of them – your fingers are no exception! – this is due to the fact that they are opportunistic feeders.
This is not to say that a turtle would try and eat your finger, generally turtles prefer a omnivorous diet, if they did bite your fingers, it would most likely be to eliminate the possibility that they might be a tasty treat.
When you have been feeding your pet turtle by hand, we would recommend rinsing your fingers to eliminate any food scent or residue before handling your turtle. This can help to prevent accidental nips or bites from your turtle thinking that your fingers are food!
Do Turtle Bites Hurt?
Turtles do not have teeth and owning to the fact that your pet turtle probably loves nothing more than chomping down on some tasty lettuce, you might assume that their bite is not that strong.
It would be wrong to underestimate the strength of a turtle’s jaw, owing to the fact that turtles have been known to be able to take a bite of another turtle’s leg. Turtles generally have very strong jaws.
Depending on how hard your turtle clamps down on you, the pain caused by the bite and subsequent injury that follows may vary.
Typically, your turtles bite will probably feel like a hard pinch. The pressure of the bite may leave a mark on your skin that is likely to disappear after a few hours. You may also incur some bruising around the area of the bite. Applying ice to the bite area will help to reduce swelling.
In some rare cases, a bite from a turtle may break the skin and cause bleeding. Be sure to clean and disinfect the bitten area to minimise the risk of infection.
What Happens If A Turtle Bites You?
If a turtle bites you it can be quite painful and cause:
- A pinching sensation,
- A feeling of pressure,
- Broken skin (in some cases).
Remember, your turtle will usually only bite when they feel threatened or if they have mistaken you for food. It is important to understand that and treat your pet turtle with respect as they do not know any better.
You should disinfect the bitten area thoroughly and treat the wounds in the usual way. Applying ice to the area affected by the bite can help to reduce bruising and swelling.
Beyond this, if they are able to pierce and penetrate the skin, you may want to consider adding an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin. I get mine for a great price from Amazon and its great to have stocked up on in the home.
Can You Get Salmonella From A Turtle Bite?
It is widely known that turtles carry salmonella. It is recommended that owners wash their hands thoroughly after handling their pet turtle. Salmonella can cause:
- Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
- Abdominal cramps
It is very important that turtle owners take relevant precautions to ensure that they are not putting themselves or others at risk. Do not let the chance of salmonella put you off owning a pet turtle though. Common sense and regular hygiene practices (washing your hands) are sufficient to prevent this from happening.
You may be wondering can you get salmonella from a turtle bite? Yes, as turtles carry salmonella, there is a risk of contracting salmonella from being bitten. However, by washing and disinfecting the bitten area thoroughly this risk can be reduced.
If you show any symptoms of salmonella, you may need to be treated with anti-biotics. Contact your doctor as they will be able to advise you on the necessary treatment.
Pet turtles may bite if and when they feel threatened, if they are not handled carefully and if they think that your fingers are food!
Pet turtles are generally of a peaceful nature, so by behaving calmly around them can help to minimize the risk of being bitten.
The strength of a turtle bite will depend largely on the species of the turtle, and the size of the turtle. Generally, the larger the turtle the more power that a turtle will be able to bite with. However, turtles do not possess teeth and therefore most turtle species do not possess a significantly powered bite and will be unlikely to penetrate the skin. Exceptions include the Snapping Turtle, Mud, and Small Musk species; all of which are known to be able to cause quite a lot of damage when biting. The Alligator Snapping Turtle is perhaps the most powerful biter currently known.
You can pet a turtle. However, turtles do not generally enjoy being handled and petted in the same way other domestic animals do. Some turtles will be more fond of handling and petting than others. When petting and handling a turtle, you will need to ensure you do so safely and be sure not to stress out or harm them. Equally, you will need to ensure you wash your hands before and after to ensure you do not become ill from the salmonella bacteria they inherently carry.
Looking to learn more about turtles? My following guides may be of interest:
- Do Turtles Smell? [Expectations For New Pet Turtle Owners]
- Should I Let My Turtle Walk Around? [What About Outside?]
- How Long Can Turtles Go Without Eating? [Owners Guide]
- Do Turtles Get Attached To Their Owners? [Can You Bond?]
- Do Turtles Have Tongues? [Information You Need To Know ]
- Can Turtles Live With Fish? [Is It Safe For & Okay For Either?]
- Can Turtles Sleep Underwater? [I Couldn’t Believe This Either]
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.