Salmonella is a bacterium that causes salmonellosis. This is a bacterial infection that manifests as diarrhea, bloody stools, nausea, abdominal cramps, and fever 12-72 hours after being infected.
Most snakes carry salmonella (salmonella bongori) in their intestinal tracts without any signs of illness. But, even if you don’t touch your snake, you can become infected. This is because salmonella in snake excrement can contaminate anything it comes into contact with. This includes the enclosure, food, water dishes, hides, and décor.
The risk of being infected by salmonella from a snake can be vastly reduced by taking the right precautions. This includes always washing your hands after handling your snake or cleaning its enclosure. Spot cleaning your snake’s feces and urates, and disinfecting the cage once a week can also help prevent salmonella from being passed from reptiles to humans.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Is Salmonellosis in Snakes?
- 1.1 What Causes Salmonella in Reptiles?
- 1.2 How to Tell If Your Snake Has Salmonella
- 1.3 Who Is Most at Risk of Salmonella?
- 1.4 Salmonella Prevention and Precautions
What Is Salmonellosis in Snakes?
Salmonellosis is an infection caused by the bacterium, salmonella. The infection typically affects the intestines, but it can occur in the bloodstream as well. It is among the most common causes of diarrheal illness in humans, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, causes nearly 20,000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths in the U.S. annually.
The bacteria can spread from snake to human when an object contaminated with snake droppings is placed in the mouth. Children can get infected by drinking from bottles contaminated with snake feces. In 2008, 15 out of 448 salmonellosis cases were caused by recent contact with reptiles, out of which 9 were less than 1 year of age.
Salmonella is one of the most common germs carried by reptiles and amphibians. Pathogens stated that the increasing demand for exotic pets, such as snakes, may also increase the incidence of salmonellosis in humans.
What Causes Salmonella in Reptiles?
Almost all reptiles carry salmonella in their intestinal tract.
In a study in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 100% of snakes from a pet store in Japan were tested positive for salmonella. Animals get infected with salmonella from their mothers before they are born, either through their environment or by consuming contaminated food.
In snakes, raw or frozen mice may be the reason for bacterial transmission. Mice that carry salmonella also present a risk to individuals handling them.
Snakes carrying salmonella shed the bacteria when they defecate, contaminating their body and any other area where the animal roams and lives in. However, note that animals that carry salmonella still appear healthy and don’t show any signs of illness.
How to Tell If Your Snake Has Salmonella
Even though most reptiles carry salmonella in their gut, it’s almost impossible to tell if a snake has been infected with salmonellosis as most show no obvious physical signs of illness.
There are over 2,000 strains of salmonella that can infect most animals. The bacteria will not cause any symptoms to its host, but can cause illness in the species it has been passed on to.
Therefore, even if salmonellosis is asymptomatic in your snake, the bacterium can cause unpleasant symptoms in humans when transferred.
A vet will test for salmonella in your snake through fecal samples, rectal swabs, and environmental swabs. However, it is possible for these tests to give false positives as the bacteria may not always be present in your snake’s feces.
Therefore, your vet will have to obtain further samples at different times to determine whether your snake has salmonella.
What Are the Symptoms of Salmonella Infection?
Salmonella infection may result in the following symptoms:
- Painful stomach cramps
- Diarrhea, which can also be bloody
Other illnesses can also lead to the same symptoms. Therefore, it is important that you consult a vet.
Who Is Most at Risk of Salmonella?
Babies and children under the age of 5 are especially at risk of salmonella infections. Children don’t have fully developed immune systems, so they’re at higher risk of getting severely sick after being exposed to salmonella.
The Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians advise snake owners with children to discuss the precautions necessary to minimize the risk linked to owners handling their reptiles.
Make sure you supervise your children while they’re handling reptiles and never allow them to bring a snake too close to their face. They must never place an object that your reptile came into contact with into their mouths.
Pregnant women, elderly or frail individuals, and people with immunosuppressing conditions, such as HIV or cancer also have a high risk of salmonella infection.
There is a risk of complications of salmonellosis as their immune systems aren’t functioning optimally enough to ward off or cope with an infection.
Salmonella Prevention and Precautions
With all snakes, including ball pythons and corn snakes, avoiding a salmonella infection is easy. Ensuring that the sanitation in and around your snake’s enclosure is maintained will reduce the risk of infection.
1) Spot Clean
Inspect your snake’s enclosure regularly for feces and urates. You should remove snake poop and pee as soon as possible with a reptile scoop.
Removing your snake’s feces swiftly will prevent the bacteria from being transferred to the bedding and the rest of the enclosure. As a precautionary method to keep your vivarium clean, you should also scoop out some of the substrate surrounding the droppings.
2) Wear Gloves
Wear gloves and a face mask (if you can) while cleaning your snake’s enclosure. This will prevent the bacteria from getting into your mouth.
Once you’ve finished cleaning or handling your snake, remove your gloves and wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water. You must also wash your hands after touching your snake’s feed, water bowl, or any other object inside the snake enclosure.
3) Prevent Food Contamination
Avoid letting snakes have access to your dining room, kitchen, or any other area of the house where food is prepared, served, or eaten.
Never use kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks, bathtubs, and kitchen counters to clean your snake, its water dish or aquarium.
4) Disinfect Regularly
Disinfect water dishes, vivarium décor and the aquarium with a household bleach solution (1 tablespoon of bleach to 4 cups of water) or chlorhexidine at least once in 1-2 weeks.
Clean the outside of the snake’s enclosure. Avoid cleaning the habitat near sources of food, including vegetable patches.
Rinse all disinfected equipment with clean water to remove the odor and chemicals before placing them back in your snake’s cage.
You must launder all your clothes and your children’s clothes after handling your snake or cleaning its cage.
5) Defrost Snake Food Properly
If you’re feeding your snake pre-killed frozen mice, make sure you defrost them on layers of newspaper or kitchen towels overnight.
Avoid defrosting mice in your microwave oven to reduce the risk of cross-contamination from snake to human.
The presence of salmonella in snakes is a health risk that we must all be mindful of, and takes steps to avoid. Understanding how humans get salmonella from reptiles enables you to be prepared in advance.