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Staying healthy - pet reptiles, amphibians and fish

Reptiles (such as turtles, lizards and snakes), amphibians (such as frogs and toads) and fish (such as goldfish and tropical fish) can carry micro-organisms which may make you very sick. Of particular concern is a bacterium called Salmonella.

Many domestic and wild animals, including reptiles, amphibians and fish, can become infected with Salmonella and may intermittently shed Salmonella in their droppings (or faeces). Reptiles, amphibians and fish that are infected with Salmonella usually do not appear sick.

Salmonella can contaminate the pet and its surroundings, such as the pet enclosure, tank water and pebbles. Salmonella is able to survive in the environment for long periods (up to months or years).

People may become infected with Salmonella if they transfer animal droppings containing Salmonella bacteria from their hands to their mouths, for example, if eating after touching animals and failing to wash their hands.

If you, or a household member, become ill and need to visit your doctor, remember to tell your doctor about your contact with reptiles, amphibians and fish.

Salmonella infection

Salmonella infection in humans may cause gastroenteritis (infection in the gut), septicaemia (infection in the blood) and infection in other sites.

Symptoms may include:

  • headaches
  • diarrhoea
  • fever
  • stomach pains
  • nausea and sometimes vomiting.

Infection can be serious and may require hospitalisation.

In South Australia, Salmonella infection is a notifiable condition. Your doctor and the laboratory diagnosing this disease are required by law under the  South Australian Public Health Act 2011 to inform SA Health's Communicable Disease Control Branch. This ensures that appropriate steps are taken to minimise the spread of an infectious disease in the community.

People with Salmonella infection should stay away from childcare, preschool, school or work until there has been no diarrhoea for at least 24 hours.

For more information on Salmonella infection, see the Salmonella infection - symptoms, treatment and prevention page. 

Handling your pet reptile, amphibian or fish

  • Always wash thoroughly with soap and water, your hands and any skin that was exposed to the pet, their food, their environment or their droppings.
  • Do not allow your pet reptile or amphibian to roam the house. Salmonella infection has occurred in people who have only indirect contact with pet reptiles, amphibians and fish.
  • Avoid kissing your pet or bringing your pet close to or in your mouth.
  • Avoid eating or drinking whilst handling your pet.

Considerations for people at an increased risk

Salmonella infection can occur in anyone, however the following groups of people are at an increased risk of severe Salmonella infection (or complications from infection), include:

  • pregnant women
  • children under five years of age
  • elderly people
  • people with a weakened immune system, for example people with poorly controlled diabetes, cancer, advanced HIV infection or organ transplant.

People at an increased risk:

  • should not handle reptiles or amphibians
  • should not handle equipment used with pet reptiles, amphibians or fish
  • always supervise children closely when around pet reptiles, amphibians or fish
  • do not allow children to play in the pet’s enclosure or tank or with the pet’s equipment
  • if someone at risk handles or touches pets, ensure he or she washes their hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Caring for your pet reptile, amphibian or fish

  • Where possible, avoid keeping your pet, pet food, food containers or pet housing in the kitchen, or in any food storage or preparation areas.
  • If pet food must be kept in the refrigerator or freezer, keep it separated from food for human consumption. Always wash your hands with soap and water after feeding your pet.
  • Dispose of tank water and clean pet enclosures, tanks and pet food containers outside or use the laundry sink. Do not use the kitchen sink.
  • Wash down the sink and surrounding area afterwards with detergent and water.
  • Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling any equipment related to your pet.

Sick pet reptiles, amphibians or fish

  • Check your pet for signs of illness and seek advice from a veterinarian (vet) if they become sick
  • sick or dead animals may be infectious
  • always remember to wash your hands after handling pets, pet tanks or enclosures or pet equipment.

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