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Indiana State Board of Animal Health

BOAH > Species Information > Other Species > Reptiles Reptiles

Reptiles and Salmonella
What is salmonella?
Reptiles have bacteria (germs) called salmonella on their skin from their feces (waste). These are the same type of bacteria that can be found in uncooked foods like raw eggs or raw chicken.

How does salmonella spread?
The salmonella bacteria are passed through the feces of reptiles, and the bacteria get spread inside cages or tanks. The bacteria also get on the skin of the reptiles. When you or other people touch the reptile or the area where it has been, the bacteria can get on your hands. When you touch your hands to your mouth or prepare food, the bacteria are swallowed and can cause disease. People can spread the bacteria in their feces, too.

Always wash your hands with soap and water after touching a reptile or cleaning its cage.

The salmonella bacteria are usually normal for reptiles, so your pet may not seem sick from this bacteria. Even if the reptile does not have diarrhea or any other problems, it can still spread the germs through its feces.

Salmonella and People
Getting sick form salmonella
Salmonella in humans can cause an upset stomach, cramps, diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting. Most people get sick 12 hours to 36 hours after the bacteria are swallowed. Symptoms usually last for several days. Some people may get sick enough to go to the hospital. In rare cases, the bacteria can get into the blood and become life-threatening.

Who is at greatest risk of getting sick?
*Babies and children
*Elderly people
*Pregnant women
*People who have a weakened immune system from conditions like:

HIV/AIDS, cancer treatments, organ transplants, kidney disease, liver or spleen problems, certain treatments such as steroids, other immune system problems.

People at high risk can end up in the hospital. Children and infants are at especially high risk of getting bad infections. Some young children have become sick enough to die from reptile salmonella.

What can you do?
*Talk to your doctor.

If you have any medical condition that may put you at high risk, or if you have someone in your home who is very young, elderly or at high risk, talk to your doctor first, or think about getting a different kind of pet.

If you decide to get a reptile, be sure to watch yourself and others for signs of this disease. If you think you might have symptoms, see your doctor right away. Be sure to tell your doctor what kind of pet you have.

*Wash your hands!
Always wash your hands carefully with soap and running water after touching a reptile or cleaning its cage. Keep reptiles away from kitchens and food; don't clean their food or water bowls in the sink. Always wash your hands carefully before touching food. Don't wash reptiles in the kitchen, kitchen sink or bathtub; their germs can spread to the places where you eat food or drink water. Teach children to wash their hands after touching pets, too.

Birds and Psittacosis
What is psittacosis?

Psittacosis is an infection in birds from bacteria called Chlamydia psittaci. Birds that are exposed to these bacteria spread the disease in their feces. People and other birds get sick by breathing in the air that has bacteria in it from the dry bird droppings. The bacteria are too small to see, but they can still make people and birds sick. People may also become sick after a bird bites, or touches a person's mouth with its beak, or contact with a bird's feathers. Sick birds may also spread disease through a runny nose and eyes.

Birds usually get sick from psittacosis. Birds may become 'depressed,' and stop eating. They may also get ruffled feathers, eye or breathing problems, and their droppings may change in color or shape. Psittacosis in birds can be treated with antibiotics. If you think your bird has any of these symptoms, take it to a veterinarian right away. Some birds can seem healthy while carrying the disease, so it's important to have all new birds examined and tested by a veterinarian.

People and Psittacosis
Psittacosis in humans can be serious enough to cause pneumonia. Some people feel like they have the flu, with fever and chills, headaches, weakness, body aches, and a cough. Other people may have trouble breathing. If you or anyone in your family develops these symptoms, see a doctor right away. Don't forget to tell your doctor that you own a bird.

What can you do?
*Buy only healthy birds.

When you bring a new bird home, keep it separate from other birds and watch it closely for 30 days. Always have any new birds examined by a veterinarian.

*Clean carefully.
When you clean your bird's cage, keep feathers, dust and droppings from mixing into the air. Anything that touches bird droppings should be disinfected. Then use hot, soapy water, followed by clear water to rinse.

*Clean your bird's cage often.
For extra protection, you can wear a dust mask when cleaning your bird's cage. Because you can breathe in dried droppings, change the paper in your bird's cage often. Always wash your hands with soap and water when you finish cleaning the cage.

Birds and reptiles are fun pets when you learn how to enjoy them safely.