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Preventing Transmission of Diseases in Reptiles

recommendations for preventing the transmission of infectious diseases in reptiles

Companion animals can carry diseases such as Salmonella. Even healthy reptiles can carry this bacterium, as it is a normal inhabitant of a reptile’s gastrointestinal system. Reptiles that carry this bacterium generally do not show any signs of illness.

Salmonella is an orally transmitted infectious disease generally acquired through contact with a reptile’s fecal matter. Human infection can take place by not washing your hands after having contact with any reptile, the reptile’s habitat, décor or substrate.

Salmonella is of greatest concern for children because of their developing immune systems.

Taking these simple precautions can help keep you from becoming infected:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or use a sanitizer or anti-bacterial gel after coming in contact with any reptile, contaminated water or habitat surfaces.
  • Always carry some kind of disinfectant product with you if you will be handling reptiles outside your home or in an area that lacks proper washing facilities.
  • If transporting your reptile to a classroom, make sure there are proper hand-washing and cleaning facilities. Do not take a reptile to a kindergarten or day care class for show-and-tell with children under five years old.
  • Keep your reptile enclosures, water and food bowls, décor and other surfaces as clean as possible and free of soiled bedding.
  • Clean habitats in a well-ventilated area or outside. Wear rubber, latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves and wash hands thoroughly when you are done. Once the habitat is cleaned of organic material, disinfect it with a diluted bleach solution (one-half cup of bleach to one gallon of warm water). Let the bleach solution remain on the habitat’s surfaces and all food bowls, water dishes, hide huts, etc. for ten minutes and then thoroughly rinse with warm water; allow to completely dry before placing the animal and the contents in the habitat.
  • Closely supervise young children when cleaning habitats and ensure they wash their hands immediately after handling pet reptiles, habitats or bedding. Children under five years of age should not help clean habitats or their contents.
  • Do not handle your reptile or habitat furnishings with open sores or cuts on your hands. Wear rubber gloves.
  • Never let your mouth come into contact with your reptile. For example, some people like to give their reptile an occasional affectionate kiss. This is a practice we do not recommend as it can transmit a disease to the person kissing the animal.
  • Pet reptiles should be kept out of the kitchen and other areas where food is prepared. Kitchen sinks and bathtubs should not be used to bathe reptiles, clean habitats or wash companion animal items. If using an indoor basin is unavoidable, use the bathtub (never the kitchen sink) and thoroughly disinfect it afterward.
  • Do not touch food, dishes, pots, pans or other utensils in the kitchen after you have handled your reptile, until you have washed your hands thoroughly.
  • Pet reptiles should not be allowed to roam freely throughout the home or living area.
  • Persons at increased risk of infection or serious complications of Salmonellosis (children younger than five years of age, immuno-compromised persons, the elderly and pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant) should avoid contact with reptiles and reptiles should be kept out of their households.

By following safe animal handling practices, you can help ensure your safety and that of your animal.

Note: The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for medical diagnosis. If you suspect you or a family member may be infected, seek medical attention.

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