Healthy reptiles and amphibians can carry Salmonella and other germs that make people sick—especially young children. Take steps to keep you and your family healthy!
Many people think that Salmonella infections are caused only by contaminated food, but you can also get infected by handling reptiles, which include turtles, lizards, and snakes, and amphibians like frogs, and salamanders. You can get infected from reptiles and amphibians in your household even if you don’t touch the animals because Salmonella germs in droppings (feces) can contaminate anything they touch, including anything in their environment like aquariums and food dishes.
If there are young children in your home, consider pets other than reptiles or amphibians for your family.
In 2015 and 2016, more than 202 people were sickened in several ongoing, nationwide Salmonella outbreaks linked to small turtles. Forty-one percent of patients were children younger than 5 years. Some people in these outbreaks became sick even when they did not touch the turtles, but had turtles in their households. From 2006 to 2014, CDC investigated 15 multistate Salmonella outbreaks linked to turtles; 921 people were sickened, 156 were hospitalized, and an infant died. In 2011, CDC investigated an outbreak linked to African dwarf frogs; 241 people were sick and sixty-nine percent were younger than 10 years of age. These illnesses and outbreaks are why CDC recommends that turtles and other reptiles should not be kept as pets in households with young children.[775 KB]
Safe Handling Tips for Reptiles and Amphibians
- Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling reptiles and amphibians, and anything in the area where they live or roam such as their habitats, food, or equipment.
- Children younger than 5, people with weak immune systems, and adults older than 65 should not handle or touch amphibians, reptiles or their environment. These groups have a higher chance of serious illness and hospitalization from Salmonella germs.
- Don’t cross-contaminate! You don’t have to touch a reptile or amphibian to get sick from their germs. Any reptile food such as frozen or live rodents, equipment, and materials, including the tank water, can be contaminated with Salmonella and other germs.
- Keep your reptiles and amphibians and their equipment out of your kitchen or anywhere food is prepared, served, or eaten.
- Clean reptile and amphibian habitats outside your home.
- If you cannot clean items outside of your home, clean items in a dedicated bin and use warm, soapy water to clean the bin and any surfaces it touches.
- Don’t kiss or snuggle with reptiles and amphibians
Choosing a Reptile or Amphibian Pet
- Don’t buy turtles less than 4 inches in length (about the size of a deck of cards or a cell phone). Federal law bans the sale of these small turtles, even though they might be sold in souvenir shops and at roadside stands. If you want to have turtles as pets, buy turtles with shells longer than 4 inches from a trusted pet store.
- Don’t catch wild reptiles or amphibians and keep them as pets.
- Don’t release unwanted reptiles or amphibians into the environment. This isn’t good for the animal or for the environment. Call your local reputable pet store or a reptile rescue.
- If you decide to get a pet reptile or amphibian, talk with your veterinarian about the housing and feeding needs to ensure this type of commitment meets your family’s expectations and abilities.
- For other information on choosing and handling reptiles visit: https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/reptiles.html