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Take Care with Pet Reptiles

Young boy holding turtleHealthy reptiles and amphibians can carry Salmonella and other germs that make people sick. But there's good news! You can take steps to keep you and your family healthy around these pets.

Many people think that Salmonella infections are caused only by contaminated food, but you can also get infected by handling turtles, lizards, frogs or anything in their environment, such as aquariums and food dishes. Salmonella germs in reptile and amphibian droppings (feces) can contaminate anything they contact.

If there are young children in your home, consider other pets for your family. More than 125 people have become sick in several ongoing, nationwide Salmonella outbreaks linked to small turtles. Most patients are children younger than 5 years. From 2006 to 2014, CDC investigated 15 multistate Salmonella outbreaks linked to turtles; 921 people were sickened, 156 were hospitalized, and an infant died. These illnesses and outbreaks are why CDC recommends that turtles and other reptiles are not kept as pets in households with young children. [775 KB]

Animals and Health

Check out two CDC websites with helpful resources.

Choosing a Reptile or Amphibian Pet

  • Reptiles and amphibians are not recommended for children younger than five years. This includes in households, school or childcare settings. Families that include adults older than 65 or people with weak immune systems also should consider a different pet.
  • Don't buy turtles less than 4 inches in length. Even though these turtles might be sold in souvenir shops and at roadside stands, their sale is banned by federal law. If you want to have turtles as pets, buy turtles with shells longer than 4 inches from a trusted pet store.
  • Don't catch wild turtles and keep them as pets.
  • Don't release unwanted turtles into the environment. This isn't good for the turtle or for the environment. Call your local reputable pet store or a reptile rescue.

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling reptiles, amphibians and anything in the area where they live or roam.

Safe Handling Tips for Turtles, Lizards, and Frogs

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling reptiles, amphibians and anything in the area where they live or roam, such as their habitats, food, or equipment.
  • Children younger than 5, people with weak immune systems, and adults older than 65 should not handle or touch amphibians, reptiles or their environment. These groups have a higher chance of serious illness and hospitalization from Salmonella germs.
  • Don't cross-contaminate! You don't have to touch a reptile or amphibian to get sick from their germs. Salmonella and other germs also can contaminate reptile food such as frozen or live rodents, and equipment and materials, including the tank water.
  • Don't bathe your pet or clean its tank in your kitchen or bathroom. Do this outside, or use a tub or bin that is only used for your pet if you must do it inside.
    • Use warm water and soap to clean the tub or bin and any surface it touches inside the house.
  • Don't kiss or snuggle with reptiles and amphibians because this will increase your chance of getting sick.

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