Reducing the risks of Salmonella infection from reptiles

Updated 17 September 2021

It is well established that there is a risk of Salmonella associated with pet reptiles. Most reptiles, including those kept as pets, carry Salmonella in their intestines without showing any signs of infection.

Salmonella can pass from reptiles to people and cause infection.

Salmonella infection can have serious consequences, particularly for babies, small children, the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and in rare cases the infection can be fatal.

Families with children under the age of 5, people with a weakened immune system, pregnant women or adults over the age of 65 should consider carefully whether a reptile is the right pet for the household and be aware of the potential risks of Salmonella infection before bringing a reptile into their home.

If you decide that a reptile is the right pet for you or you already own a reptile, with the correct care and some simple hygiene and habits, you can reduce the risk of getting sick.

Salmonella infection

Salmonella are bacteria found in the intestines of many animals especially reptiles. The bacteria can spread from carrier animals to cause illness in people. Although Salmonella infection in people usually causes a relatively short term illness with diarrhoea, fever, vomiting and abdominal pain, more severe illness requiring hospitalisation can occur. Babies and children under 5 years old are more likely to develop serious illness.

Most reptiles carry Salmonella in their intestines and shed bacteria in their droppings. These bacteria can then quickly spread over the vivarium, particularly in water baths and onto the reptile’s skin. Any surface or object that the reptile comes into contact with can be contaminated with Salmonella – including your hands.

Handling frozen feeder rodents

Just as for handling raw human food, there is an inherent risk of Salmonella when handling raw or frozen and defrosted pet food such as mice, rats or chicks, as freezing does not kill Salmonella. Below are some ways you can reduce your risk.


Frozen pet food should not be allowed to defrost between purchase and return to the home.

Frozen reptile food should not come into contact with frozen human food or its packaging.

Place the reptile food in the freezer immediately once you arrive home after purchasing the food or when the food is delivered. Do not refreeze any defrosted feeder rodents. Frozen rodents (and other frozen reptile food) should be securely ‘double bagged’, for example wrapped in a polythene bag, within a rigid airtight plastic box.

If possible, reptile food should be kept in a dedicated storage compartment or freezer.

Defrosting reptile feed and hygiene measures

Always defrost frozen pet food naturally at room temperature on newspaper or paper towels away from human food, food preparation surfaces and equipment and do not leave them for long after defrosting before feeding to your reptile.

Do not defrost reptile food in warm water or in the microwave and do not use other equipment such as hair-dryers as all these methods could lead to increased risk of contamination of your hands and other items and surfaces.

Feeding feeder rodents to cats and other pets may lead them to contract Salmonella and potentially pass the infection on to you – it is best to discuss this first with a veterinary professional. Feeder rodents should only be fed to animals for which this food is an accepted part of their diet.

Thoroughly disinfect any surfaces and equipment used, such as bowls, which may have come into contact with the frozen feed after every use. Household bleach, or boiling of smaller items, is suitable for this – disinfectant sprays are not sufficient. Do not use disinfectants on reptiles or other animals.

Carefully dispose of the newspaper or kitchen towels and packaging after use out of reach of children and other pets.


Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling the frozen food and feeding your reptile.

Minimise handling of feeder rodents with your hands, for example by using long tweezers or forceps, and gloves.

Thoroughly disinfect any feeding equipment, such as long tweezers, tongs or bowls, which has come into contact with the feeder rodents after every use and in between feeds if feeding more than one reptile to avoid cross-contamination.

Safely dispose of any uneaten rodents as soon as possible to avoid contamination.

Reducing the risk

Always supervise children to ensure they do not put your reptile, or objects that the reptile has been in contact with, near their mouths.

Do not eat, drink or smoke while handling your reptile or its food and associated equipment.

Keep your reptile out of rooms where food is prepared and eaten, and limit the parts of the house where your reptile is allowed to roam freely.

Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling your reptile, cleaning their vivarium or any other equipment such as soaking pools. If children handle these, they should be supervised to ensure they wash their hands properly.

If good hygiene measures are not followed, people who had no direct contact with reptiles can also get infected indirectly through the reptile handler or by contamination of the environment.

Use a dedicated bin or container to bathe your reptile or to wash their vivarium or equipment; do not use the kitchen sink. If you use the bathroom sink or tub, it must be cleaned thoroughly with a disinfectant such as bleach afterwards.

Dispose of waste water and droppings from your reptile down the toilet instead of a sink or bathtub.

Reptiles are exotic animals and cannot regulate their body temperature as well as mammals, and therefore have stricter requirements for proper care than many other pets. Ensure you follow your veterinary professional’s advice as there are many factors related to the management and welfare of your reptile, especially their housing that can result in stress. Stressed reptiles (even though the reptile may appear completely well) shed more Salmonella, potentially up to several million bacteria per day, which can also multiply in water baths and moist areas.

What to do if you become unwell

If you or other family members become ill with symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever, consult your doctor and inform them that you own or keep a reptile. If you have symptoms, make sure you wash your hands regularly and avoid preparing food for others. Do not go to work or school until 48 hours after symptoms have passed in order to reduce the chances of passing on the infection.

Produced in partnership with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Animal & Plant Health Agency and Food Standards Agency