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

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You may be one of the many Americans who owns 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 of these animals can be sources of Salmonella infection for people.


What are feeder rodents?
What is salmonellosis?
What are the symptoms in salmonellosis in people?
What should I do if I have symptoms of salmonellosis?
How do feeder rodents, reptiles, and amphibians get Salmonella?
How do I become infected with Salmonella from feeder rodents, reptiles, or amphibians?
Is salmonellosis the only disease I can get from rodents?
Tips to Reduce the Risk of Salmonella Infection from Handling Frozen and Live Feeder Rodents – The Do’s and Don’ts
Tips to Reduce the Risk of Salmonella Infection from Handling Pet Reptiles and Amphibians – The Do’s and Don’ts
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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.

Feeder rodents go by various names, depending on their age: pinkies (1 to 5 days old), fuzzies (6 to 13 days old), hoppers (14 to 20 days old), and adults (21 days and older).

What is salmonellosis?

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

These germs can be found in the feces (sometimes called "droppings") of many different animals, such as reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and chickens, or in the areas where these animals live and roam. Salmonella germs can also be found in the aquarium water where certain animals, like turtles or water frogs, live as pets.

What are the symptoms of salmonellosis in people?

The symptoms of salmonellosis in people include diarrhea (which may be bloody), vomiting, fever, and stomach cramps. People start showing symptoms 6 hours to 6 days after they ingest Salmonella germs. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment. However, the illness can be serious, even fatal, in some people. Children under 5 years of age, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for salmonellosis and may have more severe symptoms.

What should I do if I have symptoms of salmonellosis?

If you have 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?

Feeder 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 and, in turn, the feces 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 the inside and outside of their cages, aquariums, and terrariums. You should consider anything that feeder rodents, reptiles, and amphibians touch as possibly contaminated with Salmonella. The germs can get on your hands and clothes when you touch these animals, their enclosures, or items in their habitat, such as bedding, basking rocks, and food and water dishes. You can also get Salmonella germs from touching contaminated surfaces or items used to store, thaw, and prepare feeder rodents, such as countertops, microwave ovens, refrigerators, freezers, kitchen utensils, glasses, and bowls.

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 many other diseases from rodents besides salmonellosis. Rodents spread some diseases directly to people through physical contact. This can happen if you handle an infected rodent, an infected rodent bites you, or you touch an infected rodent’s feces, urine, or saliva.

Rodents spread other diseases indirectly to people, meaning you can get sick without having any contact with an infected rodent. This can happen when a tick, mite, or flea feeds on an infected rodent and then bites you.

Be aware that feeder rodents, wild rodents, and pet rodents can all spread diseases—directly or indirectly—to people. See Diseases spread by rodents.

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 and objects or remove germs, but by killing germs 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 your own food.
  • DON’T prepare feeder rodents or feed them to your pet reptile or amphibian with kitchen utensils that you use to prepare your own food. DO prepare feeder rodents and feed them to your pet with separate kitchen utensils used only for these purposes. DO clean and disinfect the utensils after each use.
  • DON’T let children (especially those younger than 5 years), pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems handle or touch feeder rodents.

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

  • 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 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 Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians has a Find a Vet page that lists 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 wastewater from cleaning in sinks where you prepare your food or get your drinking water. 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 wastewater from your pet reptile or amphibian down the toilet. DO dispose of your pet's feces in a dedicated trash can stored away from your kitchen. DON'T dispose of feces or wastewater down your kitchen sink, bathroom sink, or bathtub.
  • DON’T let children younger than 5 years, pregnant women, the elderly, or people with weakened immune systems handle or touch reptiles or amphibians. They also shouldn't handle or touch any object where these 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, pregnant women, 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 only 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.

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