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The Iguana Den





IMPORTANT: These pages on health are meant to be general guides, not hard and fast rules. They were not written by vets and are NO SUBSTITUTE for veterinary care. If you suspect something is wrong with your iguana, PLEASE see a qualified veterinarian!

Reptiles and Salmonella

As a reptile keeper, one of the most common questions I am asked is, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get salmonella?” Reptiles have long been associated with salmonella, and many people have come to believe that owning a reptile automatically means you will become ill from salmonella poisoning. While it is true that reptiles do carry salmonella, it is by no means a given that you will experience this yourself as long as you follow some common sense guidelines.

The fear of salmonella and reptiles first came to prominence in the late 60s and early 70s when small aquatic turtles were popular pets. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted several surveys to determine the frequency of salmonellosis among turtle owners. There was a clear link at the time between turtle ownership and salmonella. Around this time, a ban was passed limiting the sale of turtles under the size of 4 inches.

All reptiles carry salmonella. It is found in their digestive tracts and is virtually impossible to eradicate. This does not, however, mean that if you own a reptile you will get salmonellosis. You cannot get salmonella just by holding or touching a reptile. Salmonella travels to humans through a fecal-oral transmission route. If a human touches something contaminated with fecal matter and then touches their mouth, or food that they then eat, they can become infected. Using common sense, however, you can prevent this from happening.

To avoid salmonella, cleanliness is the most important preventative. If you handle your reptile, be sure to wash well with warm soapy water afterwards. Cages and cage furnishings should be kept clean and disinfected. Using a mild bleach/water solution to wash down the cage and furnishings helps keep salmonella and other bacteria or viruses from spreading. Just be sure to remove your reptile before cleaning the cage, and rinse and dry the cage well before returning them to it.

Do not bring reptile food and water bowls or other items into your kitchen or food prep area. These items can also be cleaned and disinfected with a bleach/water solution. Another option for disinfecting is a veterinary disinfectant called Nolvasan (chlorhexidine diacetate). It is excellent at cleaning and disinfecting, yet is not as harsh as bleach nor does it have the potential for toxic fumes if there is a failure to rinse properly. In fact, many vets use a diluted solution of it for wound and mouth washes for injured animals!
Keeping your reptile clean can also help prevent salmonella transmission. Many reptiles, especially tropical lizards such as iguanas, will benefit from a soak in warm water if they become soiled. A Rubbermaid box with a few inches of warm water in it works well for smaller reptiles, and larger ones can be bathed in the bathtub. Just be sure to clean and disinfect the tub before and after you are done!

Most reptile keepers will never have an outbreak of salmonellosis as long as they follow these common sense procedures. Statistically, you are more likely to get salmonella from poorly cooked food or improperly cleaned food prep areas than you are from reptiles. Reptiles are also not the only source of salmonella. Raw meats, eggs, even unwashed vegetables (including those that have been peeled) can carry salmonella!
The Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV) has developed the following set of guidelines to prevent the transmission of salmonella from reptiles to humans (From their website at

• Always wash your hands with hot, soapy water after handling reptiles, reptile cages and equipment, and the stool of reptiles.
• Do not allow reptiles to have access to the kitchen, dining room, or any other area in which food is prepared. Also, do not allow reptiles to have access to bathroom sinks and tubs or to any area where infants are bathed. Consider keeping your reptiles caged or limiting the parts of the house where reptiles are allowed to roam free. Always wash your hands after coming into contact with any area where reptiles are allowed to roam free.
• Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling reptiles, reptile cages, or reptile equipment. Do not kiss reptiles or share food or drink with them.
• Do not use the kitchen sink, kitchen counters, bathroom sinks or bathtubs to bathe reptiles or to wash reptile cages, dishes or aquariums. Reptile owners may wish to purchase a plastic basin or tub in which to bathe or swim their reptiles. Waste water and fecal material should be disposed of in the toilet instead of the bathtub or household sink.
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children less than five years of age avoid contact with reptiles, and that households with children less than one year of age not own reptiles. The Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians encourages reptile owners with young children to discuss steps to minimize risks associated with owning reptiles with their reptiles' veterinarian and their physician. Children should be supervised when they are handling reptiles to ensure that they do not place their hands or objects that a reptile has contacted in their mouths. Reptiles should not be kept in child care centers.
• Immunocompromised persons should avoid contact with reptiles.
• Follow instructions from your reptile's veterinarian concerning proper diet and environment for your reptile. Healthy reptiles living in proper environments are less likely to shed Salmonella bacteria.

Keeping reptiles can be fun and rewarding. By following the common sense guidelines above, you can keep yourself and your reptile healthy and happy for a long time. Wash up after handling your reptile, keep your reptile and its enclosure clean, and you can easily avoid salmonella.



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