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Salmonella in Reptiles and Other Animals

      I attended a reptile symposium here in Toronto in 1997.

     One of the speakers was a local reptile veterinarian- Dr. Craig Mosely. Part of the lecture he gave was about common ailments that many reptiles and amphibians suffer from. The other part of his lecture concerned zoonotic diseases such as Salmonella that animals may pass on to their human keepers and how we may prevent this transmission. Of course I took notes!

      On this page you will find information that I received during this lecture, and from doing research on my own.

      Did you know that in one study, that was not species specific, of animals that had already died of various illnesses:

  • 50% of snakes and lizards were found to carry salmonella, and
  • 7% of the turtles carried salmonella as well
  • 30% of dogs tested also carry a salmonella bacteria

      So if you have say four reptiles, you could consider that perhaps 2 of them are infected with salmonella.

Estimated Infection rate in Reptiles

Species Percentage infected
Turtles 12.1-85%
Snakes 16-92%
Lizards 36-77%

      The vet himself was infected by salmonella from his pet cat! So it's not just reptiles and chicken that carry the over 2200 species of salmonella. Most animals seem to be host to one form or another- that also includes us!

      Almost all animals- reptiles and mammals can carry salmonella bacteria. It is something that all pet owners should be aware of- not just reptile keepers! While many reptiles do carry one form or another of salmonella please keep in mind that if you take proper precautions the chances of a healthy adult becoming ill with salmonella from a reptile will be very low. It would be much easier to get a salmonella infection from poorly cooked or prepared eggs or chicken.

      There are over 2000 strains of salmonella bacteria. Many of these strains are species specific and cannot cross over from one species to another. Many of these strains do not cause symptoms in their host but may make another species quite ill if the bacteria is one of those that is able to infect another species.

      Of the strains of bacteria that can cross over from an animal to a human, many will cause no noticeable illness, or will perhaps make the person feel slightly ill and they may only think that they have a mild form of the flu. Other strains can make humans quite ill with severe flu like symptoms.

Whether salmonella bacteria infections should be treated?

      Unless the animal is showing signs and symptoms that it itself is suffering from a salmonella infection it is believed that no reptile should be treated.

     First of all it is very difficult to tell whether your animal has salmonella. It may shed the bacteria in its faeces, but only at certain times. Other times the bacteria may be present in their systems but they are not shedding the bacteria in their faeces. So a false negative may be found when the stool is tested.

      One other problem is that some people want to try to eliminate the salmonella without finding out exactly what kind of salmonella it is that might be infecting their animal. If your reptile or other animal is found to positive for salmonella a culture and sensitivity test should be done to find out exactly what antibiotic is effective for that salmonella species.

      If the wrong antibiotic is used or if not enough of it is used to eliminate that bacteria the salmonella can develop a resistance to that antibiotic! This is scary... this is how other bacteria have come to be resistant to all or most commonly used antibiotics. Anyone hear of the flesh eating bacteria? I rest my case!

      There is a salmonella bacteria in the United States that has become resistant to commonly used antibiotics. It doesn't come from reptiles though... but it can be severe.

To help prevent transmission of salmonella bacteria

      You should wash your hands between handling each animal- at least ones housed separately so if they are contaminated with salmonella or have any other contagious health problems you are not passing it on from one reptile/animal to another...

      Keeping cages clean etc. will not prevent your animals from getting salmonella... in studies that have been done it's been shown that over 50% of the animals carry one or more strains of salmonella... so it's best to just assume that your herps, cat, dog, mouse, gerbil or rabbit all have salmonella and take proper precautions.

      Salmonella bacteria can infect the eggs too as they pass through the females cloaca, so even captive bred animals could be infected with salmonella. :( (why do you think 90% of the chicken eggs sold for human consumption are infected by salmonella?)

      Wash your hands in warm water, soaping well and scrubbing the skin and under the nails after handling any animal, their enclosures or utensils/dishes you for their care; or preparing chicken or eggs.

      You may use an antibacterial soap, but do keep in mind that many bacteria's are becoming resistant to antibiotics and antibacterial soaps may actually contribute to the problem and make a bacteria become resistant to some forms of antibiotics.

      Keep the cages very clean- removing any faeces as soon as you see them, and keep their water clean... disinfect the cages, water bowls and their food dishes with either a mild bleach and water solution, a quatricide compound or Novasolon.. and if your pets are allowed to free roam don't allow them in areas used for human food consumption or preparation i.e. the kitchen. Don't wash their things in the kitchen sink either- use the tub or a utility sink and bleach it all when you are done...

      Most importantly... do not allow infants, or young children (up to the age of 8 or so), the elderly, or immunosupressed (cancer, hiv) individuals to handle your animals or preferable even go into a room that reptiles are allowed to free roam in. There are some very virulent forms of salmonella, and salmonella in general seems to affect all of the above types of people in a much more serious manner than say a generally healthy adult.

How long can Salmonella bacteria live outside it's host?

      The salmonella bacteria can live outside of the host for quite a long time. In some studies it's been shown to live on formites (contaminated inanimate objects i.e. your couch..) for several months.

      In one study some researchers tested an old snake skin shed that had been hanging on a wall for years and it had viable salmonella bacteria on it!!!! (JW Grier, MS Bjerke, and LK Nolan [Zool. Dept & Dept of Veterinary Science & Microbiology, North Dakota State University, Fargo ND] "Snakes and the _Salmonella_ Situation", Bull Chicago Herp Society 28(3):53-59 (1993))

      In 43 of their snakes that they checked (JW Grier, MS Bjerke, and LK Nolan [Zool. Dept & Dept of Veterinary Science & Microbiology, North Dakota State University, Fargo ND] "Snakes and the _Salmonella_ Situation", Bull Chicago Herp Society 28(3):53-59 (1993)), they found 24 serotypes of Salmonella, with 38 snakes (88%) carrying one or more types of S. They checked their snakes several times, occasionally coming up with false negatives in snakes that had previously tested positive. It is interesting to note that they sent duplicate samples out to two independent labs. One found S. in all of the same samples; the other found none! That indicates the importance of using a reptile vet who uses a lab who is familiar with reptile parasites, protozoans, bacterial and fungi to do diagnostic work. They also check an old, unused multi-unit snake display cage that had been in the "home of a private collector who moved to a new house and left the cage at his former house. Although no reptiles had been in the cage or building or even the building for over six months, we recovered viable salmonellae from several units of the cage. "In the process of running our tests, we froze some samples then later thawed and analysed them. Freezing did not kill the salmonellae. These bacteria are very resistant and can persist in the environment."

      So those of us with free roaming reptiles and other pets, are particularly vulnerable to contamination, and any visitors we may have are also susceptible too.

      Many reptiles (and other pets!) have one strain or another of salmonella- nothing we can do about it- it's part of them ... it's all around us really!

      Salmonella bacteria is usually shed in the animals faeces and sometimes their saliva ... so if you have a lizard walking around licking things and dragging it's body all over stuff you have potentially contaminate a large area of your home.

      So, in general it's best to think of all reptiles and animals as carrying salmonella and to use proper precautions such as good hand washing techniques, and using a bleach and water solution to clean surfaces they come in contact with, their enclosures, their dishes, and their water containers, and not to clean their things in the kitchen sink either! Clean their things in an area not used by humans and use bleach to clean the sink or tub that you used for their stuff.

      Note: Lysol spray states on the bottle that it kills salmonella bacteria, but please remember that this is a TOXIC chemical to reptiles. Do not use this!

Substance: Salmonella Remains viable:
tap water 89 days
pond water 115 days
pasture soil 120 days
garden soil 280 days
in avian faeces 28 months
bovine faeces 30 months
Salmonella in substrate will penetrate through the shells of turtle eggs within one hour of contact.

Dividing line

Water Dragon Books

Green Water Dragons, Sailfin Lizards and Basilisks (General Care and Maintenance of Series) by Philippe De Vosjoli

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      Basic but detailed information about the care, diet, and health of green water dragons, sailfin lizards and basilisks.

Anoles, Basilisks, and Water Dragons Anoles, Basilisks and Water Dragons : A Complete Pet Care Manual (More Complete Pet Owner's Manuals) by Richard D. Bartlett, Patricia P. Bartlett (Contributor)

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     Discussion of the general care of many species of anole, basilisks and water dragons. Excellent information regarding enclosures, cage building, and insect care and breeding.

Eat this Bug Eat This Bug : A Guide to Invertebrate Live Foods for Reptiles and Amphibians by Lynn Davis

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      This book is a guide for owners of reptiles and amphibians who feed insects and other live foods to their pets. Advice is offered for selecting , ordering and raising your own supply of live invertebrate foods. More than a dozen species of live foods are discussed. The book includes instructions on keeping cultures of insects, and recipes & diets for insects.

Last updated
Mar, 19, 2010

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