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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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Salmonella, Feeder Rodents, and Pet Reptiles and Amphibians – Tips You Should Know to Prevent Infection

You may be one of the many Americans who own a pet reptile or amphibian. Reptiles, such as corn snakes, iguanas, and red-eared sliders, and amphibians, such as frogs and toads, are unique creatures and can make for interesting pets. But pet reptiles and amphibians carry some risks to their owners, such as the potential for Salmonella infection. The reptiles and amphibians themselves, as well as the feeder rodents fed to some reptiles and amphibians, can be sources of Salmonella infection for people.

What are feeder rodents?

Feeder rodents are mice and rats—both frozen and live—used to feed some reptiles, such as certain snakes and lizards, as well as some amphibians, such as “pacman” frogs.

What are Salmonella and salmonellosis?

Salmonellosis is an infection with bacteria called Salmonella. People get salmonellosis by ingesting Salmonella germs.

These germs can be found in the feces of many different animals, such as reptiles, amphibians, rodents, live poultry and others, or in the areas where these animals live and roam. These germs can also be found in water in tanks or aquaria where certain animals, like turtles or water frogs, live as pets.

What are the symptoms of salmonellosis in people?

Persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4-7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However the illness can be serious, even fatal, in some people. Children under 5 years of age, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for salmonellosis and may develop more severe illness.

What should I do if I develop symptoms of salmonellosis?

If you develop any symptoms of salmonellosis, call your health care provider. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you have had recent contact with reptiles, amphibians, or feeder rodents.

How do feeder rodents, reptiles, and amphibians get Salmonella?

Rodents, reptiles, and amphibians can naturally carry Salmonella in their intestines and show no signs of illness. The animals shed the bacteria in their feces or droppings. These, in turn, contaminate the environment with Salmonella, including the outside of the animals’ bodies and their habitats.

How do I become infected with Salmonella from feeder rodents, reptiles, or amphibians?

Feeder rodents, reptiles, and amphibians might have Salmonella germs on their bodies even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on cages, aquariums, terrariums, the water where reptiles and amphibians live or swim, and other containers that house them. Anything that reptiles and amphibians touch should be considered possibly contaminated with Salmonella. The germs can get on hands or clothing when handling the animal or habitat. It is important to wash hands immediately after touching these animals, or anything in the area where they live and roam, including water from containers or aquariums, because the germs picked up from touching the animal or habitat can be spread to other people or surfaces.

Contaminated surfaces may include countertops, microwave ovens, refrigerators and freezers, kitchen utensils, and glasses and bowls used to store, thaw, and prepare feeder rodents. Reptile, amphibian, and rodent habitats, including their cages or enclosures, bedding, basking rocks, food and water dishes, and other objects in their cages or enclosures may also be contaminated with Salmonella.

Freezing does not kill Salmonella, so both frozen and live feeder rodents can be contaminated. Some companies may irradiate packages of frozen feeder rodents to lower the risk of Salmonella contamination. The labels on these packages will include the statement “treated with radiation” or “treated by irradiation” along with the international symbol for irradiation, the Radura.

Radura Symbol

Is salmonellosis the only disease I can get from rodents?

No, you can get other diseases from rodents besides salmonellosis. Worldwide, rats and mice spread over 35 diseases to people. Rodents spread some diseases directly to people, through handling, bites, or contact with their feces, urine, or saliva. Rodents spread other diseases indirectly to people, through ticks, mites, or fleas that have fed on an infected rodent and then bite a person. Be aware that feeder rodents, wild rodents, and pet rodents can all spread (transmit) diseases—directly or indirectly—to people. 

Tips to Reduce the Risk of Salmonella Infection from Handling Frozen and Live Feeder Rodents – The Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds) immediately after handling feeder rodents or anything in the area where they are stored, thawed, prepared, and fed to reptiles or amphibians.
  • DO thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces that come in contact with feeder rodents. A bleach solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 quart (4 cups) water is an effective disinfectant. For a larger supply of solution, add ¼ cup bleach to 1 gallon (16 cups) water.

The Difference between Cleaning and Disinfecting

Cleaning removes germs (like bacteria), dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces or objects. This process doesn’t necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, cleaning lowers the number of germs and the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals, such as bleach, to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process doesn’t necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, disinfecting can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Source: How to Clean and Disinfect Schools to Help Slow the Spread of Flu – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • DO keep feeder rodents out of areas where food and drinks for people are stored, prepared, served, or eaten.
  • DON’T thaw frozen feeder rodents in a microwave oven used for human food.
  • DON’T prepare feeder rodents or feed them to your pet reptile or amphibian with kitchen utensils that you use to prepare human food. DO designate separate kitchen utensils used solely for these purposes and clean and disinfect them after each use.
  • DON’T let children (especially those younger than 5 years), the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems handle or touch feeder rodents, reptiles, or amphibians.

Tips to Reduce the Risk of Salmonella Infection from Handling Pet Reptiles and Amphibians – The Do’s and Don’ts

  • DON’T let children younger than 5 years, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems handle or touch feeder rodents, reptiles, or amphibians.
  • DO thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds) immediately after handling reptiles or amphibians. DO supervise children during hand washing.
  • DO supervise children older than 5 years of age when they are handling reptiles or amphibians.
  • DO thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces that come in contact with your pet reptile or amphibian, including objects in the areas where it lives and roams. Talk with your veterinarian about which disinfectant is safe to use and how often. The website of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinariansdisclaimer icon has a list of veterinarians, by state, who have experience with these animals.
  • DO clean your pet reptile’s or amphibian’s habitat and its contents outside and use disposable gloves when cleaning. DON’T dispose of the waste water from cleaning in sinks used for food preparation or drinking water for people. DON’T clean the habitat and its contents near any sources of food (such as gardens or crop fields) or drinking water for people.
  • DO flush waste water from your pet reptile or amphibian down the toilet. DO dispose of droppings in a dedicated trash can, away from human food preparation areas. DON'T dispose of droppings or waste water down your kitchen sink, bathroom sink, or bathtub.
  • DON’T let children younger than 5 years handle or touch reptiles and amphibians or any object where the animals live and roam.
  • DON’T house pet reptiles or amphibians in children's bedrooms, especially if the children are younger than 5 years. It’s best to keep reptiles and amphibians out of homes with children younger than 5 years, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
  • DON’T touch your mouth after handling reptiles and amphibians and don’t eat, drink, or smoke until you have washed your hands thoroughly.
  • DON’T kiss your pet reptile or amphibian.
  • DON’T bathe your pet reptile in your kitchen sink, bathroom sink, or bathtub. DO bathe your pet reptile in a small plastic tub or bin used solely for this purpose.
  • DON’T let your pet reptile roam freely throughout your house, especially in areas where food and drinks for people are stored, prepared, served, or eaten.

Most of these tips hold true for pet rodents. Please see “After you touch your pet rodents, rabbits, and other small animals, wash your hands so you don’t get sick!

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