Could your bearded dragon make you sick?
You may have heard the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) news investigating salmonella outbreaks linked to exotic pets.
This may have you worried.
How can you prevent an outbreak of salmonella?
Why is it linked back to bearded dragons?
What causes salmonella infection?
Though proper hygiene and taking care of your pet’s waste are the most effective ways to prevent salmonella outbreaks, they are still possible, if less likely.
Is There A Bearded Dragon Salmonella Risk?
Pet bearded dragons may be healthy carriers of the salmonella bacteria. Since they can pass it through their droppings, they are often a source of infection.
While healthy disease carriers may not experience any symptoms of infection, their waste matter still contains pathogens which cause a wide range of illnesses and infections.
Salmonella infections are zoonotic, meaning they are transmittable between animals and humans.
As recently as 2020, large-scale salmonella outbreaks in multiple states have been investigated and linked back to pet bearded dragons’ common source.
People who experienced infections reported they had recently purchased a bearded dragon from pet stores.
Pet stores often have common suppliers and breeders who provide reptilian pets.
This means bearded dragons from these suppliers and bearded dragon breeding operations share salmonella germs and other pathogens, especially if they are housed together.
If you as an owner do not take proper cleaning initiatives, bacteria from their feces will spread to their environments, onto their skin and bodies, and onto anything outside the enclosure if you let them roam.
How Do I Get Rid Of Salmonella?
Taking fecal samples to a veterinarian is never a bad idea if you want to detect the presence of salmonella and other pathogens in their systems.
While salmonella rarely hurts its host reptile, the samples will also show any parasites, leading to illness in a bearded dragon.
If you suspect your bearded dragon may have given you a salmonella infection, the first thing you will need to do is fully disinfect and clean their enclosure, any items you have used to disinfect their enclosure, and any items from outside their habitat with which your beardie has come in contact.
We do not recommend cleaning these items in your kitchen sink, as this bacteria can pass very easily to any food items and then to you.
If you have to clean inside, your bathtub or a laundry sink are the best places, as long as you clean thoroughly after using it to disinfect the enclosure.
If it is possible to clean these items outdoors, a hose in your yard will work great.
Since salmonella spreads very quickly through food, we do not recommend letting your beardie roam in the kitchen or in any area where you prepare and eat food.
Going forward, make sure you are spot cleaning areas in your pet’s habitat around feces and urates as soon as you find them.
Remove them and any surrounding soiled substrate and throw them away.
Replace any lost substrate with fresh substrate.
While kissing your bearded dragon may seem sweet, this will spread their germs on and in your mouth.
This also applies to eating or drinking around them.
Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling your pet.
If you have children or let children handle your bearded dragon, it is vital to teach them proper handwashing behavior.
Children can very easily spread the infection to another person.
Although bearded dragons make great pets for people allergic to cats and dogs, their likelihood of carrying specific pathogens makes them inappropriate for certain people.
CDC officials warn against keeping beardies as pets for immunocompromised individuals, adults over 65, and children under 5.
Symptoms of Salmonella Infections (Salmonellosis) In Humans
Symptoms of salmonellosis in humans include:
- stomach cramps
- vomiting and nausea
Symptoms usually develop 6 hours to 6 days after contact with the bacteria.
An illness will usually last from four days to a week.
Though most cases do not require medical treatment, a severe salmonella illness could lead to septicemia (blood poisoning), meaning hospitalization is needed.
If not treated, septicemia will spread to internal organs and may result in death.
Though these most recent outbreaks have not caused any deaths, you will still want to be careful not to transmit your pet’s bacteria to other people.
Severe illnesses are more likely in children under 5 years old, adults 65 years or older, and immunocompromised individuals.
Do Other Pets Carry Salmonella?
Most reptilian pets have the potential to pass salmonella through their fecal matter.
These include box turtles, snakes, geckos, monitor lizards, and chameleons.
Amphibian pets like frogs, newts, salamanders, and horned toads may also be healthy carriers.
Small rodent pets, like rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, and rabbits, may also have bacteria in their systems.
Feeder rodents, which are more often fed to pet snakes than bearded dragons, may also have the pathogen.
As recently as January 2021, the CDC was investigating another multistate salmonella outbreak explicitly linked to pet hedgehogs.
In this more current outbreak, multiple outbreak strains spread across 17 states.
Sick people had recently bought pet hedgehogs from pet stores, breeders, and online stores with standard suppliers.
Pet birds, while they are not necessarily linked to salmonella outbreaks, carry different bacterias which may spread through their droppings.
Even cats and dogs carry pathogens which may affect humans.
It is always a good idea to wash your hands before and after animal contact.
If you are cleaning up their droppings, make sure to wash your hands afterward.
Proper hygiene remains the best way to prevent future outbreaks.
More often, investigations center around a foodborne outbreak of salmonellosis.
Chicken and eggs, mostly if undercooked, may cause salmonellosis and are often a common culprit.
Yes, your bearded dragon may be carrying salmonella germs in its system.
This is likely if you obtained it from a large-scale breeding operation since salmonella quickly spreads between cohabitating animals.
In the past decade, the CDC has launched investigations into multiple multistate outbreaks in the U.S. linked back to pet reptiles and pet hedgehogs.
If you contact animals, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling them or their waste.
This will lessen the chance of infection.