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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Special Considerations for Reptiles

By Roger J. Klingenberg, DVM

Most reptiles cannot tolerate much handling and do best when provided with an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible and then left alone. In addition, reptiles require specialized diets often involving live prey, fresh vegetation, and vitamin and/or mineral supplements. Because of these requirements, reptiles are pets best suited to adults or older children who will enjoy observing their pet’s behavior rather than playing with it.

Reptiles can transfer some disease-causing organisms to humans. Children under the age of 10, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with a weakened immune system are susceptible. Even if your reptile is not sick, it can still pass a disease-causing organism on to you. Salmonella species, Arizona species, and Edwardsiella species bacteria, as well as various parasites, fungi, and protozoa, are just some of the potential disease-causing organisms transmitted from reptiles that can cause disease in humans see Table: Diseases that can be Spread from Reptiles to People.

Diseases that can be Spread from Reptiles to People

Organism

Found in

Disease it Causes

Human Symptoms

Salmonella

Turtles and tortoises, lizards, and snakes

Salmonellosis

Upset stomach, cramps, diarrhea, fever, nausea, and vomiting; can become life-threatening

Edwardsiella

Turtles and tortoises, snakes

Gastroenteritis; neonatal sepsis and meningitis

Same as salmonellosis plus more life-threatening illnesses

Spirometra

Snakes

Sparganosis

Painful and inflamed skin nodules, swelling and inflammation around the eye, could travel to the brain

Pentastomes (Tongue worms)

Snakes

Pentastomid infections

Inflammation of the prostate gland, eye infection, watery eyes, stomach pain, nose discharge, difficulty breathing and swallowing, vomiting, headaches, low tolerance of light, abnormal protrusion of the eyeball

*Note: This is not a comprehensive list of infections passed from reptiles to people, but it does include the ones that are most common. (For a more detailed discussion of diseases you can catch from animals, see Introduction to Diseases Spread from Animals to People (Zoonoses).

Due to public health concerns, it is not recommended that you keep venomous snakes or reptiles as pets.

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