Reptiles, Salmonella, & Feeder Rodents

SalmonellaThis post is not in reference to the FDA release of Salmonella, Feeder Rodents, and Pet Reptiles and Amphibians – Tips You Should Know to Prevent Infection this past Saturday. Number one someone should talk to those authors about some serious SEO issues but I’m digressing before we even get started. There’s always  a lot of talk by anti-reptile groups about the potential for cross-species disease infection. The technical term for this is zoonoses. Can reptile pets carry diseases which can then be transmitted to humans? The short answer is, yes they can. As can just about any animal that is kept as a pet.
Dogs and cats have about fifteen diseases that can be transferred to humans. Which we have listed below.

Cat Scratch Disease, Hookworms, Leptospirosis, Psittacosis, Lyme Disease, Salmonellosis, Toxocariasis, Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis, Toxoplasmosis, Brucellosis, Tapeworms, Dog Heartworms, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and Pasteurellosis

Rodents which were the original subject of this piece requested by Robert Kilpatrick are well-known for being the bearers of some serious zoonotic diseases. Anyone remember the Black Death? Well, if you’re reading this and remember the outbreak of the bubonic plague then we should talk about your health care plan! All kidding aside, rodents are one of the leading carriers of zoonoses. Special note: the typical white mouse you buy from your local pet store or supplier is not one of the ones who commonly bear zoonotic pathogens. Wild rodents on the other hand; all bets are off. Hence the reason we and our colleagues always alert pet owners to not feed wild caught insects or rodents to their pets. 

Reptiles are also capable of passing on diseases to their caregivers as well.

Salmonellosis, Aeromoniasis, Campylobacteriosis, Mycobacteriosis, and Zygomycosis are pathogens which can be transmitted to humans. Pathogen is basically the technical term for something which causes disease specifically a microorganism like bacteria or fungus.

Now that I’ve completely terrified you of ever owning a pet and before you shave you’re mammals and give them a Silkwood Shower, remain calm and keep reading. Pets whether mammalian or reptilian all carry the pathogens, however with a little elbow grease and mindfulness you too can avoid gaining frequent flyer miles from the porcelain god airlines. You can also avoid the emergency room like the plague (pun totally intended). So what is a pet owner to do with their pets? Five simple words:

“Boy in the Plastic Bubble.”

I’m kidding! Now before I get any hate mail hear me out. David Vetter, the true Boy in the Plastic Bubble was born with a severe combined immunodeficiency which basically means exposure to any pathogen could have killed him. The reason I bring this up is because we (in my observations) as a society have been breeding the ‘super viruses’ by reacting the way we do to health issues. Forgive me while I wax nostalgic for a moment.

As a colleague once said

“People are gross.”

While this may in fact be true, it goes deeper than that. When I was growing up, we ate dirt, threw dog feces at one another, swam in the nearby river where you wouldn’t eat the fish you caught and you know what?


I personally see humans today as being too clean. I hear stories of kids being shunned when they get the chicken pox. When I was a kid, the first kid on my block to get chicken pox was someone whom I didn’t know personally. My mother knew his mother though and that was all she needed. As soon as she got the call she dragged me down there to play with the kid. Needless to say not long after I got the chicken pox. I still hate that kid for that.

Tire Swing

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons Jon Pallbo

I have literally seen with my own eyes mothers on a playground wiping down a swing-set before letting their child near it. I’m no doctor but this anti-bacterial escapade purveyed as being ‘healthy’ is truly harming us. When I was growing up we built immunity by not sheltering ourselves. We lived life. I’m digressing though. Let’s get back to reptiles.

Fact: Any living animal and especially human primates (that’s you and me) carry pathogens and sometimes zoonotic ones.

Fact: Human primates can obtain pathogens from numerous animals (living and dead) which they interact with. Yes vegetarians can get sick too, they generally interact with other humans.

The last and final fact…Drumroll PLEASE!

WASHING YOUR HANDS WITH SOAP AND WATER PREVENTS BACTERIAL TRANSMISSION! Harvard Medical School found that Healthcare workers who washed their hands reduced their bacterial count on their hands by 58%!

All kidding and tongue-in-cheek aside folks we are surrounded by pathogens everyday. Reptiles actually carry less pathogens (hypoallergenic pets) than any mammalian ones do. So with some simple hand washing before and after handling your reptile pet you’re no doubt going to be safe. That said, if you’re sucking face with them (as I have seen people do in photographs) then that’s on you.

For a more in depth look at reptiles & salmonella with Dr. Sean McCormack take a look over at