DEAR ABBY: I know a young newlywed couple who just had their first baby. The baby is weeks old and isn't crawling yet. My concern is that they have a box turtle for a pet in their small apartment. They've had the turtle for probably a year and, while it has a cage, they often let it loose in the kitchen. I don't know if it has reign over other parts of the home.
This turtle is at least 8 inches across its shell, and its head is more than an inch long with a half-inch bite. The baby will be crawling this year. I feel the turtle is a threat, and the baby will no doubt be attracted to it and likely try to crawl over and touch it. The turtle's bites are notoriously sharp and likely contaminated, and I'm concerned about the baby losing a finger. Is this a reasonable concern? -- PROTECTOR IN NEVADA
DEAR PROTECTOR: Yes, it is. There is more than one reason for not exposing an infant or toddler (or anyone with a weakened immune system) to a turtle. The risk of a bite isn't the major one. The problem is, turtles (among other reptiles) carry salmonella bacteria that can infect the intestinal tract and cause nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea and sickness for as long as a week.
Because young children -- whose immune systems are not fully developed -- are at increased risk for salmonella infection, the Centers for Disease Control has recommended reptiles (including turtles) not be kept in preschools and homes with day-care centers if the children are under the age of 5. This is why the turtle should not be let loose in the kitchen where food is prepared or any area in which a baby will be crawling.
While most box turtles will not bite a human, they don't make good pets for young children because they don't like being handled. Share this information with the couple, but ultimately, the decision about whether to keep the "pet" or not is theirs.