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Reptiles and Salmonella



Reptiles of all types can transmit Salmonella to their handlers, but the dramatic increase in iguana sales during the past few years has made them the most noticeable culprit.

Signs and Symptoms

Salmonella is a bacterium that may not cause any obvious signs of disease in the pet reptile but can cause diarrhea, fever, and dehydration in infected people.  Salmonellosis (infection with Salmonella) is likely to be life threatening in very young children, the elderly, and immune-compromised persons (patients with AIDS, those receiving chemotherapy for cancer, etc.)


Most cases of salmonellosis in this country occur when people eat contaminated, undercooked meat or eggs.  However, pet owners can get the disease by accidentally ingesting fecal material from their infected pets.  This is most likely to occur if pet owners forget to wash their hands after handling their pets or their pet's cage, food bowls, etc.  Cleaning reptile cages and food bowls where human food is prepared and stored can also spread Salmonella to humans.


Taking some common sense precautions can help you avoid becoming infected with Salmonella or spreading it to your family members.

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with an antibacterial soap and warm water after handling any reptiles or their cages and cage accessories.

  • Never clean cages in the kitchen or anywhere you prepare food for human consumption.

  • Do not house reptiles in the kitchen, dining room, or eating or food-preparation areas.

  • Disinfect reptile cages and cage accessories frequently.

Young children, the elderly, and immune-compromised individuals should avoid contact with reptiles.  Children should only handle reptiles with adult supervision.

Owners' Responsibilities and Rights

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta are considering recommending a ban on the importation and sales of iguanas.  It is imperative that all responsible reptile owners take it upon themselves to prevent Salmonella infections in their families.  Share this information with friends and family members who own reptiles.  If the rate of Salmonella infection among reptile owners continues to increase, our rights to keep these animals may be seriously threatened.

The above is a reprint of an article written by Valarie V. Tynes, D.V.M.  Reprint permission obtained.


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