Tag Archives: Reptiles

Salmonella and Reptiles

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

chickensThe Center for Disease Control (CDC) collects data nationally on salmonella infections (salmonellosis).  Salmonella infections are zoonotic and can be transferred between humans and nonhuman animals. Many infections are due to ingestion of contaminated food.

Salmonellosis comes from multiple sources, including infected food, lack of kitchen hygiene, excretions from either sick or infected but apparently clinically healthy people and animals , polluted surface water and standing water, improperly thawed poultry, and from direct contact with animals, including, but rarely, reptiles.  Salmonella bacteria can survive for some time without a host and are frequently found in polluted water.

The CDC web site contains wildly conflicting information on salmonella infection.  Although the CDC claims that there are approximately 40,000 reported cases of salmonella infection per year in the United States, it also claims that “it is estimated” that 70,000 people get salmonella infection from reptiles each year.  Obviously, both statements cannot be true.

The most recent published data from the CDC for salmonella are from 2009.  According to these data, in 2009, there were 48,699 cases of laboratory confirmed salmonellosis. Of these, 40,828 (84%) cases came from human sources and 7,871 (16%) cases from non-human sources. The breakdown of the non-human sources are perhaps the most telling:

  • Chicken:  4,464
  • Turkey:  914
  • Porcine:  339
  • Bovine:  336
  • Other Birds / Wild Animals:  136
  • Equine:  74
  • Reptile:  19
  • Other Domestic Animals:   6
  • All Other Sources:  1,583

Only 0.2% of non-human sources of salmonellosis came from reptiles.  Of all salmonella infections in 2009 (both human and non-human sources), 0.03% came from reptiles.

Chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows and horses all much greater causes of non-human source salmonella than reptiles.  According to the 2011-2012 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 4.6 million American households own reptiles and there are 13 million reptiles living as pets in this country.

APPA’s 2009 survey indicated that there were approximately 11,000,000 reptiles living as pets in the U.S.  Nineteen cases of salmonellosis.  Eleven million reptiles.  That means that less than one thousandth of one percent of the pet reptiles in this country were a source of laboratory confirmed salmonellosis in 2009.

Herpetoculturists need to understand this data.  Although dry, zoonosis is a favorite topic of the animal rights industry and those seeking to restrict the ownership of reptiles and amphibians.  The risk of salmonella infection from reptiles is miniscule as compared to multiple other species of animals and can be nearly completely eliminated through proper hygiene.

Nutritional Problems in Reptiles

By Joerg Mayer, M.Sc.

tortoise-sickWithout a doubt, health problems arising from an inadequate diet are one of the major concerns in herpetological medicine. The key to managing nutritionally related diseases is to be familiar with the natural history of specific species. In ectothermic animals the metabolic processes governing digestion are dependent on environmental factors, mainly temperature. If these environmental factors are not optimal, even a perfectly balanced meal could go to waste because of inadequate digestion.

The class reptilia can roughly be divided into three nutritional groups: herbivores, omnivores and carnivores. Each of the groups has their own set of typical problems with different manifestations. Knowing to which nutritional category the affected species belongs, will help establish the differential diagnosis. Discussion of the following diseases will be organized according to the nutritional group of reptiles in which the disease is most likely to be seen. However, any disease may be found in nearly any species.

Generally, the diseases related to nutrition can be roughly divided into two groups: either caused by a deficiency or a toxic overdose of a certain nutrient.

Anorexia, Starvation
Anorexia is probably one of the most common presentations of an affected reptile to the clinician. In assessing the patient’s anorexia,starving-gecko it has to be determined whether the reason for an anorexic period is of physiological origin or related to improper management.

A thorough assessment of the captive conditions is essential in the clinical workup of an anorectic reptile to rule out improper management as the cause of the anorexia. A detailed description of the reptile’s husbandry must be provided by the owner.

Common reasons for a reptile to become anorectic include both infectious and non-infectious diseases. Certain normal physiological states will make the animal refuse to eat (e.g. just before shedding, egg laying or hibernation, brumation, etc.).

As a general rule, a reptile going through a normal physiological phase of anorexia should not lose more than 10 percent body weight. To monitor this accurately, it is a good husbandry practice to weigh the individual animal on a routine basis (e.g. once a month).

Common Herbivore Diseases
Common species: most terrestrial tortoises, green iguana, prehensile-tailed skink and chuckwalla.

Calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D3 imbalance: Multiple different diseases affecting the bone are usually lumped into “metabolic bone disease.” As more and more insight is gained into the specific pathophysiology of disease in reptiles, this term becomes too general to be useful and should be avoided. The following diseases are the most common:

Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (NSHP): The causes for NSHP can be multiple, but it is mostly due to a severe imbalance of the Ca:P ration in the diet, no access to a full spectrum (UV-B) light source and a lack of activated vitamin D3 or a combination of the above. If not enough Ca is provided in the diet or if no vitamin D3 is available, demineralization of the skeleton (osteomalacia in adults and rickets in juveniles) occurs. Pathological fractures and chronic abscesses, especially around the jaw, are common findings.

If insectivorous reptiles are being fed invertebrates without Ca supplementation (e.g. gut loading the insects, dusting with powder) NSHP is triggered by the inverted ratio of the Ca:P ratio of the insect body’s nutritional content.

Renal secondary hyperparathyriodism (RSHP): This disease is characterized by calcification of soft tissue and hypocalcemia. Chronic renal disease is the underlying pathology. This causes a hyperphosphatemia from decreased phosphate filtration in the diseased kidney. The elevated phosphate level in the blood decreases the hydroxylase activity due to negative feedback, leading to a decreased calcitriol (active form of vitamin D) level in the blood. The low calcitriol level fails to provide the negative feedback on PTH and a hyperphosphatemia is the result.

Common Carnivore and Insectivore Diseases
Common species: most chameleons (I), agamid lizards (I), all snakes, all adult amphibians, juvenile box turtles and aquatic turtles.

The primary energy sources for these reptiles is fat and protein. It appears that protein derived from animal sources is needed, and nonanimal product derived protein is inadequate for long-term nutrition.

Hypovitaminosis B1: This disease can be seen primarily in reptiles, which are being fed a large quantity of fish (e.g. garter snakes, aquatic turtles). The diagnosis, usually established by the clinical signs, will be primarily neurological in character (e.g. opisthotonos, blindness, torticollis), in combination with the feeding history (feeding fish species with high thiaminase activity).

This disease can be avoided by feeding fish that have been gutted, because most thiaminase is present in the gut, or by pre-cooking the fish, which will inactivate the thiaminase enzyme. Supplementation of B vitamins is also recommended; however, the deficiency can also occur even when fish are fed together with a vitamin B supplement because relatively small amounts of the enzyme thiaminase are able to deactivate very large amounts of thiamin.

Biotin deficiency: A biotin deficiency can only be induced if the reptile’s diet consists 100 percent of raw eggs. Even though this seems very unlikely, cases have been reported in species like monitors (Varanus sp.) and gila monsters, which have received a diet consisting of only raw eggs. The raw egg contains the anti-nutritive factor avidin, which binds the biotin in the egg, making it unavailable to the body.

In the wild, most eggs consumed by reptiles are already fertile or have been incubated for a period of time, which in turn decreases the avidin content.

Clinical signs usually manifest themselves as cutaneous lesions and generalized weakness.

A change in the diet and vitamin supplementation is usually enough to reverse the damage.

Hypovitaminosis E: Reptiles that have been fed mainly obese rats can develop steatits because of the increased fat content of the prey animal. This disease should also be included in the differential diagnosis of aquatic reptilian species (e.g. crocodiles, turtles) that have been fed a diet consisting mainly of fish with a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

If the food animals were not stored appropriately, the fatty acids in the carcass can become rancid, contributing significantly to the disease.

Clinical signs can be subtle, from anorexia to more specific signs, such as hardened fat pads. Supplementation with vitamin E and correct feeding techniques help prevent this disease.

Common Omnivore Diseases
Common species: Uromastyx lizards, box turtles, Asian turtles, bearded dragons, some aquatic turtles.

Bearded Dragon with MealHypovitaminosis A: Hypovitaminosis A is a common presentation in box turtles and aquatic turtles. Vitamin A is essential in the health of the mucus membranes, which will show immediate pathological changes when faced with a shortage of vitamin A or beta carotene in the diet.

The mucous membranes will harden and thicken as a consequence of the deficiency. Swelling of the eyelids is a common presentation in turtles, and a “parrot beak” and/or aural abscesses in box turtles should make the clinician suspicious of a diet deficient in vitamin A or beta carotene.

Vitamin A/beta carotene supplementation can reverse the signs in most cases. I prefer the beta carotene supplementation because of the toxicity potential of concentrated vitamin A preparations.

Hypervitaminosis A: Hypervitaminiosis A is a true toxicity and is usually caused iatrogenicly by an overdose injection of concentrated vitamin A preparation by the veterinarian. Clinical signs mimic a dermal burn and include sloughing of the skin. Treatment resembles burn wound therapy, including antibiotics, addressing the open wound and administering parenteral fluid.

Injections with highly concentrated vitamin A (e.g. 500,000 IU/ml) should be avoided and this preparation given only orally. Aquasol A (by Astra) is a good alternative for injection because it contains only 50,000 IU/ml.

Nutritional disorders should be considered in the differential diagnosis of every sick reptile. A thorough analysis of the husbandry protocols and physical examination will often reveal malnutrition as at least one of the underlying causes for the clinical presentation.


Reprinted from Veterinary Practice News, 2009

HSUS Dangerous Animal Legislation 2013

US Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc.
US Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc.

By Andrew Wyatt

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has launched an aggressive campaign to ban the ownership of exotic animals at the state level. On the heels of Zanesville, where HSUS put intense pressure on Ohio’s Governor Kasich and Senator Balderson to pass a draconian new law that not only bans multiple species of reptiles, it further restricts many more, and can be changed easily without public input. Wayne Pacelle’s blog called the victory in Ohio, one of the “Biggest success stories of 2012”. HSUS has coined the catchphrase ‘Dangerous Wild Animal’ or DWA in order to impose onerous restrictions on the private keeping of these animals, including many species of reptiles, or to create outright bans on their ownership. HSUS has plans to export DWA legislation around the country.

HSUS has used exaggeration and inflammatory rhetoric in trying to paint a picture of pythons as “high maintenance deadly predators.” Debbie Leahy, Captive Wildlife Regulatory Specialist for HSUS said, “Escaped pythons are springing out of toilets, attacking people in gardens and ambushing children playing in their yards.”. These outrageous statements are a veiled attempt to scare legislators and the public into passing unwarranted and unneeded legislation in knee-jerk fear of Dangerous Wild Animals on the attack.

Now they are aggressively attempting to introduce new DWA legislation in a number of states. Some of the states being targeted by the HSUS 2013 DWA legislative initiative are:

Dangerous Wild Animal Initiative 2013
Dangerous Wild Animal Initiative 2013

1. Illinois,

2. Indiana,

3. Missouri,

4. Nevada,

5. Virginia,

6. West Virginia, and

7. Wisconsin

Initiatives in Pennsylvania and South Carolina may be promoted as well. HSUS will attempt to pass this legislation in every state in which they are able to get a foothold.

The Herp Alliance seeks to activate herp societies and herp clubs across the battleground states of the Herp Nation, and rally them to organize and prepare to take action when the time is right. The Herp Alliance will provide the information and tools necessary for coordinated grass roots action. Herp Alliance’s experienced legislative experts ensure strong leadership on the ground, and a powerful focused message in the statehouse. We are appealing to the leaders of the clubs and societies to share news and information as events develop.

Working together we will employ a powerful plan of action. Together we can meet these threats posed out of ignorance and misinformation. Together we will defend the animals that are our passion and livelihoods. It is time to put differences to the side and get to work!

“There is no substitute for experience.” Stay tuned for more news as it happens on the Herp Alliance facebook page, the Herp Alliance blog, and the Herp Alliance web site

Send Questions to: info@usherp.org

“Working together for the Future of Herpetoculture”

HSUS Position on Keeping Reptiles

The article below is HSUS’s written, published opinion that no reptiles should be kept as pets and is from the HSUS web site.

September 25, 2009

Live Reptile Trade
The reptile trade puts human health, the environment, and the animals at risk
The Humane Society of the United States

The recent explosion in the popularity of pet reptiles—the number topped 13 million in 2009, according to the American Pet Products Association—is bad news for people, reptiles, and the environment.

Hazardous pets

People who buy reptiles as pets get more than they bargained for. Virtually all reptiles (even healthy ones) carry Salmonella bacteria. This doesn’t cause a problem for the animals, but for humans, it can be deadly. In humans, salmonellosis causes diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, and may develop into invasive illnesses such as meningitis and sepsis. Children and the elderly are especially at risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 74,000 people each year get salmonellosis from reptiles and amphibians, which means 6% of Salmonellacases in the United States can be linked to these animals.

For the sake of human health, the CDC recommends that reptiles be kept out of households that include children and people with compromised immune systems, and that children and immunocompromised people avoid all contact with reptiles and items the animals have touched. Direct contact with a reptile is not necessary to become sick; Salmonella bacteria can live for days on surfaces.

Because of the health risk, it is illegal to sell small turtles (those with a shell length of less than 4 inches) as pets in the United States. The CDC reports that this ban prevents an additional 100,000 cases of salmonellosis among children each year.

Reptiles pose a threat beyond disease transmission. Snakes and lizards, often sold as hatchlings, can reach six feet or more—posing a physical threat to humans and companion animals. Even small turtles can outgrow their tanks, and their welcome.

A hazardous trade

While many pet reptiles are bred in captivity, many are still taken from the wild or born of wild-caught parents. Each year nearly 2 million live reptiles are imported into the United States, and about 9 million are exported. This poorly regulated trade leaves behind depleted wild populations and damaged habitats. Brute force or gasoline may be used to rouse reptiles from their burrows.

Harsh capture techniques, compounded by poor shipping methods and inadequate care, kill many reptiles before they reach the pet store or dealer. An estimated 90 percent of wild-caught reptiles die in their first year of captivity because of physical trauma prior to purchase or because their owners cannot meet their complex dietary and habitat needs.

Marketed as low-maintenance pets, reptiles are often taken home by families who become overwhelmed by the level of care required. Some reptiles will be abandoned to the wild, where many of them will die from starvation, exposure, or predation. Those who survive often compete with native wildlife for food and habitat, damaging the balance of the ecosystem. Others will be relinquished to shelters, which are not usually equipped to handle these unique animals and which have few options for placing them.

For public health, conservation, and humane reasons, The HSUS recommends that the general public forgo pet reptiles. Wild animals are best left in the wild where they belong.