Most of us know that a little bit of garlic can be used as medicine — most people have heard the old adage, “A spoonful of sugar helps the bitter pill go down.”
But did you know that this popular folk remedy may also cause harm to our pets if they ingest it accidentally?
Many different animals such as cats, dogs, hamsters and even turtles react badly when exposed to garlic.
While we don’t need to worry about them getting rid of their breath because of all those cloves in our salad, there’s another reason why we shouldn’t give these plants to our beloved creatures.
So can turtles eat garlic?
Garlic and onions both contain chemicals that are toxic to turtles.
If given enough, either plant could kill your turtle within hours.
So what exactly makes these vegetables so dangerous to turtles?
Let’s get into more detail in this article
Carry on reading to find out
Why is garlic toxic to turtles?
As with many animals, including humans, garlic contains harmful toxins called thio-compounds.
When ingested by an animal, these compounds affect its nervous system and digestive tract, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, depression, seizures, coma and death.
In extreme cases, exposure can lead to liver failure and kidney damage.
While some effects occur more quickly than others, the effect on turtles’ respiratory systems is particularly serious.
Because turtles breathe through their mouths rather than their nostrils like mammals do, any kind of foreign object entering their lungs causes choking and airway blockages.
The toxin enters the blood stream very fast and travels throughout the body causing severe damage.
It takes only minutes from ingestion until symptoms appear.
Once inside the bloodstream, the chemical attaches itself to proteins and destroys red blood cells, which leads to shock, internal bleeding and eventually death.
The way that scientists discovered that garlic was killing reptiles came after a study at Cornell University found that certain snakes were dying after eating large amounts of fresh garlic.
Researchers believed that the snake deaths might come from something in the garlic, but couldn’t figure out exactly what it was since each bulb contained hundreds of individual cloves.
Eventually, researchers realized that one specific compound in garlic caused the fatal reaction.
However, this particular substance isn’t unique to garlic — several types of onions (and even potatoes) contain similar substances.
So how much does a turtle need to consume before it dies?
That depends on a number of factors — size, age, weight gain/loss and health status among them.
Turtles get sick quite easily, especially during cold weather months, and sometimes just being handled can make them ill.
They’re delicate — a single clove eaten daily would probably be too much for a healthy adult, but a half cup per week wouldn’t hurt.
Young turtles who haven’t yet learned to avoid table food altogether often end up eating bits of lettuce, celery or broccoli along with their meal.
One of the best ways to prevent accidental poisoning of your turtle is simply keeping him away from anything green.
A bowl full of uncooked rice, beans, squash or carrots won’t take long for your pet turtle to devour, making it easy to keep his meals safe from potential contamination.
Why are onions toxic to turtles?
Onions, like garlic, produce two main kinds of toxins: sulfur containing compounds and oxygen containing ones.
Sulfur containing compounds include sulfides, allicins and propiocin.
These toxins bind themselves to white blood cells, interfering with normal cell function.
Oxygen containing compounds include acetaldehyde and acetic acid.
Both of these act as poisons and irritants on contact.
Like garlic, the effects of onions vary depending on the amount consumed and whether or not the turtle has been previously injured or stressed.
Small doses taken without prior injury tend to cause mild reactions.
Severe reactions usually happen when a larger dose is ingested over time.
On rare occasions, consumption of a massive quantity of raw onions has killed turtles.
When a turtle ingests a lot of onions, the first symptom is likely to be intense flatulence followed closely by constipation or diarrhoea.
As the intestine begins to shut off food intake, dehydration occurs.
To help relieve intestinal discomfort, turtles often begin licking the affected area, which actually pushes undigested material further into the gut where bacteria break it down.
Bacteria release hydrogen sulfide gas, giving rise to the characteristic smell associated with rotten eggs.
After repeated bouts of indigestion, turtles develop bloat due to buildups of partially digested waste.
Their gums become inflamed and bleed profusely.
Finally, turtles lose control of their bodily functions and experience paralysis, convulsions and ultimately die.
Other signs of toxicity include drooling, labored breathing, head tilt, stumbling, loss of coordination and lethargy.
That’s why it’s very important to never feed your turtle onions
If you suspect that your turtle has had a bad encounter with a vegetable or herb, consult your vet immediately.
He’ll advise you based on your circumstances.
Keeping a close watch on your pet is imperative.
Never let him play near or chew on grasses, shrubs or tree branches — he could swallow something that ends up harming him later.
Pay attention to changes in behavior — turtles are known to grow depressed over extended periods of time.
Make sure to always replace new vegetation with appropriate turtle foods.
And remember, turtles are naturally gentle creatures that deserve our respect and love.”