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Indiana State Department of Health

Food Protection Home > Kid's Corner > Owning a Reptile Owning a Reptile

If you or any member of your family own a pet reptile, you should know that reptiles can make you sick. However, there are steps you can take to make sure that no one in your household becomes ill. Reptiles include turtles, snakes, or lizards. It is now known that all reptiles can carry a bacterium called Salmonella on their skin.

There are many kinds of Salmonella, and they can all cause illness in people. Some of the symptoms include headache, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, chills and cramps. It takes about eight to seventy two hours for symptoms to begin after you become ill with Salmonella. This disease can spread easily from your hands to your mouth or the food you eat.

There are many cases of people becoming ill from Salmonella, in which the disease was traced back to a pet reptile that was in their home or in an area they often visited. A normal healthy adult can recover from this disease within five days, but children and older people are very likely to become extremely ill. Babies under one year of age are especially at risk of illness, hospitalization and even death.

How can you avoid illness for you and your family? If you own a reptile, follow the steps below to stay safe:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands after touching your pet;
  • Wash your hands after cleaning the animal’s cage, feeding or watering it;
  • If the animal is allowed to be out of its cage, keep it in an area that is easy to clean up afterwards, and keep it out of the kitchen or places you eat.Don’t wash bowls in the kitchen sink;
  • Do not allow very young children to handle the animal; if they do, wash the child’s hands afterwards;
  • If you have a baby less than one year old, it is best to remove the animal;
  • If a young child in your house goes to a daycare or preschool, make sure the school does not keep a reptile, or if they do, that they take care to prevent illness by following the steps above.
  • If you would like to have more information about reptile safety, visit the sites below.