Reptiles and Salmonella

By The Lange Law Firm November 04, 2020

Being a pet parent requires a lot of work but the joy and companionship they bring is unmatched. To date, we share our house with 2 dogs, 4 cats, 2 snakes, a parakeet, a tarantula, and a bearded dragon named Bishop. To say it can get a bit hectic around feeding time would be an understatement. At the end of the day though, between the feedings, litter, trips to the back yard and the vet every so often; we believe our rescues are worth it. But this time, we are talking about Reptiles and Salmonella.

When it comes to the more common pets, there is very little to worry about concerning safety to the family. Reptiles are a different story. No, I’m not talking about snake bites or nibbles from Bishop; I’m talking about Salmonella. You see, Bishop (and reptiles in general) has one major safety issue we need to be worried about that is also a big problem in the food industry: they carry the Salmonella bacteria.

Today, I wanted us to talk about Salmonella, not only as it pertains to reptiles, but the ever present danger it poses when we eat. Let’s take a look at Salmonella symptoms as well as preventative measures.

As a side note, if you own or are thinking about owning reptiles, take the time to research and fully understand the one you’re interested in. There is a lot to know about them but it is worth the time.

What is Salmonella?

Salmonella is a bacteria that makes people sick. According to the CDC “Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the United States every year.” This means Salmonella is a real danger and we need to be vigilant in our preparation when combating it.

The most common ways to contract Salmonella are through ingesting food and water contaminated with feces. Because of this blanket contamination, meats, poultry, and eggs are the most common but many other outbreaks have been found when water has been used on crops of for watering livestock. Because Salmonella is so widespread, prevention is the key here to keeping us safe.

Signs and Symptoms

Most people who find themselves unlucky enough to contract Salmonella come down with one or more of the following:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Headache

Symptoms usually start within six hours but can come as late as four days. The illness usually lasts anywhere from a few days to a week. Certain symptoms, if left unchecked, can lead to further complications so seeking medical advice is needed. Tests can be run to determine if you indeed have Salmonella and the doctors will know how to best treat it depending on your symptoms. The important thing here is if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, get help. A high fever, diarrhea lasting for more than a few days, and excessive vomiting can lead to dehydration which can be dangerous.

Reptiles and Salmonella

The Salmonella bacteria known as Salmonellosis, is most common in turtles, snakes, iguanas, and lizards. Recent studies have also found Salmonellosis in amphibians. This is not to say that other reptiles cannot carry the bacteria as well so be mindful when handling and caring for them all.

The first time I learned about reptiles having Salmonella, my fist question might be what you’re thinking now: how do they have it and not get sick? Strangely enough, they cannot get sick from the bacteria because it lives in their intestines – they are immune.

Here are a few tips to remember when you have reptiles for pets:

  • Always wash your hands before and after handling reptiles and anything they may have come in contact with. This includes their living area and food and water dishes.
  • Children younger than 5 and the elderly should avoid contact all-together. These particular groups can have worse symptoms if they contract Salmonella.
  • Don’t cross-contaminate. Do not handle reptiles, and then touch anything else (including other animals) until you have washed your hands thoroughly.
  • Keep reptiles and their living quarters away from the kitchen. Dust can still carry contaminants. If you are cleaning your reptile’s home, do it outside, away from where you make food.
  • As much as we think our reptile friends are cute, do not kiss or snuggle with them.


We have touched on prevention a little but I want to make sure we all get it one last time. I am guilty of forgetting to take precautions when handling Bishop but have been lucky so far. That does not excuse my forgetting the most important way to prevent Salmonella. This also applies to food preparation in that following a few simple yet necessary tips; we can greatly improve our chances of staying healthy.

Wash your hands. If I could name on rule for us all to follow to the letter, it would be this one. Whatever it is we are doing, washing our hands before we get started can drastically decrease the spread of germs.

More pertaining to food but still a good practice is washing the food we eat before we cook it. Yes, heat can kill off most germs but washing fresh foods can keep the germs from cross-contaminating to other areas.

Reptiles need special attention taken when cleaning cages as well. A well ventilated room or outside is best. Dust particles can carry Salmonella, which can enter through our noses.

If you’re not a fan of reptiles, that is okay. I don’t hold that against you. Many of my friends are a bit uncomfortable coming to our house because of the snakes. Either way, I bet you know someone who has reptiles as pets and knowing how to handle them and the precautions needed is important.

Salmonella is a real danger and needs to be thought of whenever we cook or handle animals known for carrying the bacteria. Our house takes the preventative road when it comes to certain bacteria. Now that there is a little one crawling around, we are doubly cautious, keeping them out of the immediate room too.

Take the time to read more about this bacteria and where it can be hiding. The time may come when you are ill and may not know how. Remember Reptiles and Salmonella can be an issue. Stay safe.

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