- Reptiles and amphibians carry germs and bacteria that may cause serious
illness in humans.
- Always wash your hands with warm, soapy water after handling any reptile
- Reptile-associated salmonella dangerous and can lead to serious health
Pets can be a wonderful addition to your family. Not only do they give
you hours of entertainment and enjoyment for you and your children, they
emotional support as well. However, when considering any pet there are
potential health risks to keep in mind, particularly for animals like turtles, frogs, fish, and lizards.
Amphibians and reptiles are popular pets with many families because they
are quiet and relatively low maintenance. When comparing them to other
animals, reptiles and amphibians are hypoallergenic, which is a big plus
for parents who have children with allergies. However, they frequently
carry germs, fungus, bacteria and zoonotic diseases that may cause serious
illness in people.
What is a zoonotic disease?
Harmful germs like viruses, bacterium, parasites, and fungi cause zoonotic
diseases that can be easily passed from animals to humans. One important
germ is salmonella, which exists naturally in the digestive tract of healthy
reptiles and amphibians.
Reptile-associated salmonella is a bacterial disease that can cause serious
infections in humans, including anyone who has contact with the animals,
their environments or the water in which they live. These infections are
more dangerous than food-borne salmonella, more likely to be associated
with invasive disease, often led to hospitalization and more frequently
involve infants than other salmonella infections. Reptiles can be carriers
of this type of bacteria without any signs of illness.
Before welcoming a reptile or amphibian into your home it is very important
to understand how to properly care for and handle it as well as become
aware of the diseases it may carry.
Regular veterinary care and easy hygiene habits, however, can reduce your risk of getting sick
from touching, petting or owning one of these animals.
Signs and symptoms of salmonella
and other zoonotic diseases
The most common symptoms of salmonella and other
zoonotic diseases like rabies, anthrax, tularemia and West Nile virus include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle aches
Safe handling tips for reptiles and amphibians
There are ways you can safely own and enjoy a reptilian or amphibious
animal in your home, such as:
Keeping your hands clean
It is important to always
wash your hands thoroughly after handling your pet.
Separating your pet from the kitchen
Keep your pet out of any area where food is kept, prepared served or eaten
to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
Cleaning your pet’s habitat outside of your home
Another helpful way to lower the risk of cross-contamination is to clean
your pet’s habitat and other belongings outside or in a dedicated
wash bin with warm, soapy water. Be sure to clean the bin and any surfaces
Tips for choosing a reptile or amphibian pet
If you’ve decided to select a reptile or amphibian pet, here are
some tips to help choose a companion that will bring you joy and entertainment
— and to help you avoid illness:
Turtles should be at least four inches in length and purchased only at
a trusted pet store. Because the risk of salmonella is so great, the sale
of small turtles was
banned in 1975.
- Keep in mind reptiles and amphibians might not be suitable for your family
due to their risk of spreading diseases to humans. If you have a pregnant
woman, very young children or persons with a weakened immune system in
your home, you may want to consider alternative options.
- Check local, state and property laws to make sure your pet will be allowed
in your apartment or rental home.
- Always purchase reptiles and amphibians at a trusted pet store; do not
catch them in the wild and keep them as pets.
- Talk to your veterinarian about the housing and feeding requirements to
make sure your family is ready and willing for the responsibility of owning
While reptiles and amphibians carry the highest risk for zoonotic parasites,
human family members are at a potential risk for diseases no matter which
pet you welcome into your home. If you have a reptile or amphibian as
a pet and are experiencing diarrhea or any of the symptoms listed above,
please contact your primary care physician. Be sure to tell them you have
been in recent contact with a reptile or amphibian.
Find a St. Joseph Health primary care provider or specialist near you.
We hope these helpful handling tips will help you enjoy a happy, healthy
companionship with your reptile or amphibian!
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.