Many people know the joy that companion animals bring to their lives and view their companion animals as an important part of their family, whether the pet is a cat, reptile or another species. Young and old alike enjoy interacting with an animal, sharing their homes and their lives with their pet of choice. An important part of being a pet guardian is to be concerned with safe animal handling practices.
All species of reptiles can carry diseases such as salmonella as it is a normal inhabitant of a reptile's gastrointestinal system. Although, turtles and iguanas are the most common carriers of salmonella... reptiles that carry this bacterium generally do not show any signs of illness.
Salmonella is an orally transmitted infectious disease generally acquired through contact with a reptile's fecal matter. Human infection can take place by not washing your hands after having contact with any reptile, the reptile's cage, décor and substrate. Salmonella is of greatest concern for children because of their tendency to put their fingers into their mouths.
The following simple precautions, ensures your safety and keeps your risk of becoming infected to a minimal and ensures the safety of your animal:
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and use a sanitizer or anti-bacterial gel after coming in contact with any reptile, contaminated water or habitat surfaces.
- Always carry some kind of disinfectant product with you if you will be handling reptiles outside your home or in an area that lacks proper washing facilities. If transporting your reptile to a classroom, make sure there are proper hand washing and cleaning facilities. Do not take a reptile to a kindergarten or daycare class for show-and-tell; or, if taken, do not allow the children to touch the animal.
- Keep your reptile enclosures, water and food bowls, décor and other surfaces as clean as possible and free of soiled bedding.
- Clean cages in a well-ventilated area or outside. Wear rubber, latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves and wash hands thoroughly when you are done. Once the cage is cleaned of organic material, disinfect it with a dilute bleach solution (one-half cup of bleach to one gallon of warm water). Let the bleach solution remain on the cage and all food bowls, water dishes, hide huts, etc. for ten minutes and then thoroughly rinse with warm water; allow to completely dry before placing the animal and the contents in the habitat.
- Closely supervise young children, especially those under the age of five, when cleaning cages and ensure they wash their hands immediately after handling pet reptiles, caging or bedding.
- Do not handle your reptile or habitat furnishings with open sores or cuts on your hands. Wear rubber gloves.
- Never let your mouth come into contact with your reptile. For example, some people like to give their reptile an occasional affectionate kiss. This is a practice we do not recommend as its can transmit a disease to the person kissing the animal.
- Pet reptiles should be kept out of the kitchen and other food-preparation areas. Kitchen sinks and bathtubs should not be used to bathe reptiles, clean cages or wash companion animal items. If unavoidable, first remove all materials used to cook prepare or serve food, including the toaster. Disinfect the area thoroughly with a mild bleach solution when finished.
- Do not touch food, dishes, pots pans, or other utensils in the kitchen after you have handled your reptile, until you have washed your hands thoroughly. Pet reptiles should not be allowed to roam freely throughout the home or living area.
- Persons at increased risk of infection or serious complications of salmonellosis (e.g., children less than 5 years of age, immuno-compromised persons and pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant) should avoid contact with reptiles and reptiles should be kept out of their households.
If you suspect you or a family member may be infected seek medical attention.