Zoonotic diseases - those that can pass from animals to people (i.e. Salmonella) - are a potential concern in the keeping of any pet. Most people associate Salmonella with reptiles, but nearly any animal, including dogs, cats and birds, may harbor the bacteria.
This information is not designed to discourage reptile and amphibian ownership. With a bit of care, the most commonly-encountered problems can be effectively managed.
Awareness of health concerns is an important aspect of keeping reptiles and amphibians. Salmonella infections are not typical, and they can be avoided by following a few relatively simple practices.
Healthy individuals have a relatively low risk of becoming infected. Infants and people with compromised immune systems are more susceptible. People can become infected and/or spread the bacteria to others if they handle a reptile (or items in its cage, etc.) and then eat or touch surfaces that come in contact with food before washing properly.
Simply handling an animal that carries Salmonella will not cause an infection; the bacteria are harmful to people only if ingested.
When is Salmonella Transferred?
Understanding how bacteria are transferred from animals to people is the key to avoiding Salmonella infections. Salmonella bacteria are likely present in all reptile and amphibian digestive tracts. While the bacteria rarely make reptiles ill, they are shed in the feces and may then be encountered by people. Reptile skin, water bowls, substrates and other surfaces may harbor bacteria that have been shed in feces.
It is important to be aware of the times when Salmonella bacteria will be most easily transferred to your hands or other areas of skin: during cage cleaning, feeding, changing water bowls, and when handling reptiles and amphibians. Hands must always be washed well after these activities.
Cleaning Cages and Surfaces
Reptile enclosures and the surfaces they have contacted, food bowls, and cage accessories should be disinfected with a reptile-safe commercial cleaner, or a bleach solution (1 cup bleach per gallon of water).
Tools used in terrariums should be soaked in a bleach solution before being re-used in the same or another enclosure. This will prevent cross-contamination. Be sure to remove feces and other organic material before soaking. Rinse tools well after removal from the soak solution.
Proper Hand Washing Techniques
Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
Rinse your hands well under running water. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
Using Hand Sanitizer
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them.
If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.
Wipe Out 1 Terrarium Cleaner
Repti Sand Scooper
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidelines
- Adults should always supervise hand washing for young children.
- Do not let children younger than 5 years of age handle or touch reptiles or amphibians, or anything in the area where they live and roam, including water from containers or aquariums.
- Keep reptiles and amphibians out of homes with children younger than 5 years old or people with weakened immune systems.
- Reptiles and amphibians should not be kept in child care centers, nursery schools or other facilities with children younger than 5 years old.
- Do not touch your mouth after handling reptiles or amphibians and do not eat or drink around these animals.
- Do not let reptiles or amphibians roam freely throughout the house or in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens, pantries, or outdoor patios.
- Habitats and their contents should be carefully cleaned outside of the home.
- Use disposable gloves when cleaning and do not dispose of water in sinks used for food preparation or for obtaining drinking water.
- Do not bathe animals or their habitats in your kitchen sink. If bathtubs are used for these purposes, they should be thoroughly cleaned afterward.
- Use bleach to disinfect a tub or other place where reptile or amphibian habitats are cleaned.
- Wash any clothing the reptile or amphibian might have touched.
- Use soap or a disinfectant to thoroughly clean any surfaces that have been in contact with reptiles or amphibians.
This care sheet is not meant to replace a doctor's advice and is intended for general informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor or veterinarian for specific information concerning disease prevention, symptoms of infection, and treatment.