Pet ownership has exploded in recent years—and that includes ownership of reptiles and amphibians. According to the 2011-2012 National Pet Ownership Survey, almost 8 million households owned reptiles and amphibians, with the most popular animals including leopard geckos, bearded dragons, and ball pythons. Turtles have also remained very popular, despite laws regulating the trade in small turtles.
Many parents, however, have concerns about possible health risks associated with reptile and amphibian ownership. The main concern is salmonella, which can be carried and transmitted by certain animals, including reptiles and amphibians. There are also valid concerns about the health of the animals—many reptiles come home from pet shops as impulse purchases, without proper understanding of what is required to keep the animals healthy and thriving.
When it comes to salmonella prevention, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend exercising caution with any reptile or amphibian. The salmonella organism, which can cause serious illness and even death, can exist on the reptile’s bodies, in their habitats, and in their food and water containers.
To be safe, the CDC recommends treating all reptiles as potentially contaminated and to take commonsense precautions after handling reptiles. This includes thorough hand-washing with soap and water after handling anything associated with the reptile or the animal itself. Cages and habitats should also be cleaned outside the home if possible, and anything removed from the habitat should be disinfected before it’s disposed of to prevent environmental contamination. Children under age 5 should not handle reptiles or amphibians.
Just as young children aren’t equipped to independently care for a cat or dog, they are not likely to be prepared to care for a reptile with special lights, a customized diet, and regular habitat maintenance. If you choose to bring a reptile or amphibian into a home with children under age 5, it should be clear that the animal is under the care of an adult and it is not to be handled or played with.
- Reptiles and amphibians increase the possibility for salmonella bacteria exposure.
- Hands should be washed thoroughly after handling reptiles of any size and shape.
- Children under age 5 should not handle reptiles or amphibians.
- Reptiles have specialized requirements to thrive and should only be introduced to a home once the animal’s needs are understood.