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Salmonella and Reptiles: Veterinary Guidelines

Posted on May 23, 2016


Veterinarians who treat reptiles should be aware of the following information and recommendations concerning reptiles and Salmonella spp.

Salmonella spp. carriage appears to be highly prevalent in reptiles. Reptiles should be considered to be nonclinical carriers of Salmonella spp. The organism is intermittently or continuously shed in their feces and, if ingested by humans, may result in a potentially serious illness.

Veterinarians treating reptiles play an important role in informing reptile owning clients about salmonellosis and advising them on precautions for reducing the risk of acquiring Salmonella infection from reptiles.

Because Salmonella spp. may be shed intermittently in the feces of reptiles, it is not possible to determine whether any individual living reptile is free of Salmonella spp.

Bacterial culture of fecal specimens from reptiles will not detect all carriers.

Attempt to treat reptiles with antibiotics to eliminate Salmonella spp. from their intestinal tract have not proven to be effective. Doing so increases the risk of emergence of antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella strains, which, if transmitted to humans, would complicate treatment of the infected person. Attempt to raise “Salmonella-free” reptiles have been equally unsuccessful.

With this information in mind, the following guidelines have been developed by the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV), in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to help disseminate information to veterinarians and to the general public on how to minimize risks of exposure to Salmonella spp. and to help prevent development of reptile-associated salmonellosis in humans.

  1. Veterinarians who treat reptiles should educate their clients who own reptiles about Salmonella spp. and provide information on the recommended precautions for reducing the risk of transmission of Salmonella spp. from reptiles to humans.
  2. All veterinarians, staff and clients who handle reptiles should follow recommended precautions for reducing the risk of transmitting Salmonella spp. from reptiles to humans.
  3. All reptiles should be presumed to be carrying Salmonella spp. in their intestinal tract and to be continuously or intermittently shedding it in their feces. Bacterial culture of fecal specimens from reptiles to determine Salmonella infection status is discouraged. If veterinarians are called upon to assist health officials in determining the cause of salmonellosis in a person, bacterial culture of combined fecal and cloacal specimens from reptiles with which that person has had direct or indirect contact are recommended.
  4. It is not recommended to treat healthy reptiles with antimicrobial agents with the intention of eliminating Salmonella spp. from the intestinal tract. Clients who request treatment of healthy reptiles for Salmonella spp. should be discouraged from such treatment and cautioned about the possibility of causing the emergence of anti-microbial resistant Salmonella strains that might pose a greater health risk to humans.

This post was developed by the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is intended for informational purposes only; please seek advice from your physician and your reptile’s veterinarian if questions or problems occur.

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