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Special Considerations for Reptiles

By

Stephen J. Divers

, BVetMed, DZooMed, DACZM, DECZM (herpetology), FRCVS, University of Georgia

Last full review/revision Aug 2020 | Content last modified Sep 2020
Topic Resources

Most reptiles cannot tolerate much handling and do best when provided with an environment as close as possible to their natural habitat and then left alone. Reptiles also require specialized diets often involving live prey, fresh vegetation, and vitamin and/or mineral supplements. Because of these requirements, reptiles are pets best suited to adults or older children who will enjoy observing their pet’s behavior rather than playing with it.

Preventing the Spread of Disease from Your Reptile to You

It is extremely important that you practice good sanitation every time you come into contact with your reptile or anything from its environment.

  • Wash your hands with a disinfecting soap after handling the reptile and any of its environmental contents, especially after cleaning its cage and coming into contact with any animal droppings.

  • Use disposable gloves.

  • Disinfect the cage and its accessories often.

  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling your reptile or cleaning its environment.

  • Do not kiss your pet reptile.

  • Do not clean your reptile’s cage or its contents in your kitchen or where any food preparation may take place.

  • Disinfect the sink, tub, or counter you use to clean these items immediately after cleaning them to reduce the potential of disease-causing organisms being transmitted to you or anything you may use in the near future.

  • Supervise children around the reptile.

  • If your nonvenomous reptile bites or scratches you, wash the injured area immediately with a disinfecting soap and then apply a topical antibiotic ointment. If any signs of infection (such as redness, swelling, pus, or fever) develop, contact a doctor as soon as possible.

  • Do not keep venomous reptiles.

  • Take your reptile to a veterinarian and have the reptile tested for potentially harmful organisms.

Reptiles can transfer some disease-causing organisms to humans. Children under the age of 10 years, pregnant women, elderly people, and people with a weakened immune system are more susceptible. Even if your reptile is not sick, it can still pass disease-causing organisms to you. Salmonella species, Edwardsiella species bacteria, and various parasites, fungi, and protozoa are just some of the potential disease-causing organisms transmitted from reptiles that can cause disease in humans see Table: Diseases that can be Spread from Reptiles to People.

Table
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Diseases that can be Spread from Reptiles to People

Organism

Found in

Disease it Causes

Human Symptoms

Salmonella

Turtles and tortoises, lizards, and snakes

Salmonellosis

Upset stomach, cramps, diarrhea, fever, nausea, and vomiting; can become life threatening

Edwardsiella

Turtles and tortoises, snakes

Gastroenteritis; neonatal sepsis and meningitis

Same as salmonellosis plus more life-threatening illnesses

Spirometra

Snakes

Sparganosis

Painful and inflamed skin nodules, swelling and inflammation around the eye; could travel to the brain

Pentastomes (tongue worms)

Snakes

Pentastomiasis

Usually causes no symptoms; high numbers of worms can cause abscesses, masses, or blockage of ducts in various organs, with symptoms depending on the location

*Note: This is not a comprehensive list of infections passed from reptiles to people, but it includes the ones that are most common. (For a more detailed discussion of diseases you can catch from animals, see Introduction to Diseases Spread between Animals and People (Zoonoses).

Because of the risk of bites, it is not recommended that you keep venomous snakes or reptiles as pets.

For More Information

Also see professional content regarding reptiles.

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