Do Bearded Dragons Carry Salmonella?
Bearded dragons carry salmonella, as do most reptiles. Reptiles can carry Salmonella bacteria in their intestinal tract, or if they do not already have it, it can be unwittingly introduced such as through feeding mice pups (pinkies). The bacteria will be intermittently or continuously shed in their feces.
A study by Cartwright (2016) was able to pinpoint that 11% of infections between 2008 and 2010 in the United States were due to animal exposure (significantly associated with reptiles and frozen feeder rodents) whether through direct contact or from cleaning cages, handling contaminated pet food or bowls and touching anything that the animal contacts. 1 The true infection rate is difficult to determine as mild symptoms may never be associated with a salmonella infection either because medical assistance is not sought and/or it is not properly diagnosed and is passed over for some other common illness.
Salmonella infections in humans can cause mild to severe symptoms with children among those more vulnerable. Salmonella is typically spread from fecal matter to oral route. It does not require direct contact with a reptile to become infected. Humans can become infected from clothing of those who have handled reptiles or even the air. This is apparent in one case that occurred in California in 2001 where an infant was taken to hospital and found to have Salmonella. There were no reptiles in the child’s home but the child’s father was a biologist for a school and handled reptiles, in this case a snake. He did not change his clothes before picking up his child.2 He knew reptiles carried the bacteria, but perhaps he didn’t realise what little contact it took to contaminate others. In Australia a 4 year old became infected by the families eastern bearded dragon (Pogona barbata) even though they claimed the child was never in direct contact with the reptile.3
Bearded dragons that carry salmonella, do not show signs of salmonella infection. If Salmonella is present it can spread everywhere, into their water and anywhere else they contact, including pet owners clothes. Being aware means you can take the right precautions to ensure risks are mitigated. Here are some recommendations:
- Clean the enclosure, accessories and equipment with appropriate disinfectants such as F10 or steam clean.
- Provide large enclosures, the smaller the enclosure the higher the concentration of pathogens the animal is constantly exposed to.
- Create an enclosure that is easily cleaned regularly (i.e. daily). Loose or material (i.e. carpets, artificial turf) substrates will make cleaning properly impossible without replacing the entire substrate or keeping spares for cleaning.
- Do not take your bearded dragon into the kitchen or any other food preparation or eating area.
- Never clean or take your reptiles food bowls or other containers it has come in contact with in the kitchen. That includes the dishwasher.
- Ensure that any young children that touch your bearded dragon or anything it comes in contact with wash their hands. Children have a tendency to put their hands in their mouths so this must be monitored.
- Do not place the bearded dragon or any reptile on or on any item meant for, an infant.
- Do not eat, smoke or drink around your bearded dragon or perform any other activity that will involve hand to mouth.
- Always use a tub or other suitable container devoted to bath your reptile in, do not use your bath or sink.
- Keep devoted cleaning buckets, sponges, scrubbing brushes and other equipment for cleaning the enclosure.
- Wear disposable gloves when cleaning your bearded dragons enclosure.
- Salmonella can also be on your clothes, take precautions.
- Do not let your bearded dragon run around the house.
- Never kiss your bearded dragon.
- Wash your hands thoroughly.
References and further information
1 A Multistate Investigation of Antibiotic-Resistant Salmonella enterica Serotype I 4,,12:i:- Infections as Part of an International Outbreak Associated with Frozen Feeder Rodents. Zoonoses and Public Health, 63: 62–71. Cartwright, E. J., Nguyen, T., Melluso, C., Ayers, T., Lane, C., Hodges, A., Li, X., Quammen, J., Yendell, S. J., Adams, J., Mitchell, J., Rickert, R., Klos, R., Williams, I. T., Barton Behravesh, C. and Wright, J. (2016), doi: 10.1111/zph.12205
2 Reptile Associated Salmonellosis December 12, 2003 52(40);1206-1209 – Child contracts Salmonella from fathers clothes
3Salmonella Rubislaw gastoenteritis linked to pet lizard. The Medical Journal of Australia 2010; 193
Reptiles pose a risk of salmonella infection. Public Health England, London, 2015
Turtles and other reptiles are risky pets. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA
Reducing the risks of Salmonella infection from Reptiles. Public Health England in association with the Department of Health and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. November 2014