Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Kids, Reptiles and Salmonella

Melissa Kaplan, 1997


Parents and parents-to-be who have reptiles and learn about reptile-related salmonellosis often become understandably concerned. The most common question they ask is "should I keep my reptile?" Funny how they never ask if they should keep the kids! All joking aside, however, it is a very serious question and one with no easy answer. What parents need to do is to look at as much of the information on the subject as possible, discussing amongst themselves their commitment to the reptiles and the children. One common concern is, is the male really willing to take care of all the cleaning and feeding during the pregnancy and for several years thereafter...or is this something that will all too rapidly fall back on the mother's shoulders. I'm not slamming dads here, just being realistic based on what I've seen and heard through the years.

Asking people who do not have children may result in interesting answers and insights, but in the long run, it is best to talk to people who have already made their decision, one way or the other, and talk to them about why they made the decisions they made and how they have implemented them.

A couple of women I know have both made the same decision (keep the reptiles) but have some different feelings about it. They have kindly permitted me to post their stories here in the hopes that it will provide information to help others make their decisions.

Laurie Pierce
Laurie wrote this on July 17, 1996 in response to a discussion on the risks of expectant mothers and mothers of young children due to family reptile pets.

Since I do have three children and was still nursing the baby (who just turned one) when Sammy came our way, I also have experience with a baby in the house and the igs. I was not aware of the potential harm at the time of Sammy's purchase - and would not have bought an iguana at that time if I had been aware.

With the knowledge I have now, I have very serious doubts that I would keep the igs if I planned on having another baby. There is a person in town who needs a volunteer to watch her ten month old so she can take an older child to therapy and I wish I could do it - but I refuse to take the chance of having a baby in the house on a regular basis with the igs (who do roam part time).

I have heard from someone I respect very much that spontaneous abortion is quite possible simply because of the Salmonella which may be in a woman's bloodstream that you may have received from contact with your igs now [before getting pregnant]. I think I would insist on a blood test for the strain of Salmonella iguana's carry prior to conceiving a child (just as you would start on the vitamins, stop drinking etc.). [Note: there are potentially dozens of strains of Salmonella carried by reptiles and they are not strains normally tested for, so the actual strains would need to looked for by the lab. In addition, tests would have to be repeated many times over a several month period to make sure that a negative result was truly negative.] I would discuss this issue with medical professionals, and with more than one OB/GYN in order to receive more than one opinion. I would also discuss this with more than one pediatrician.

Until you have had your very own baby in your arms, you really can only imagine how it will feel, and what it will be like. I understand Pam has had much success in her home with her reptiles and children and I am happy for her. I don't believe this is always the case. Iguanas who are free-roamed prior to an infant in the house are used to having your attention - and climbing around all over whatever area it is that you allow them. Are you planning on suddenly locking them in a cage when the baby comes along? They are also spreading germs around the house now that may well still be there when the baby is born or when you are pregnant....

Another issue parents to be should consider is (oh, boy...) whether you're going to bottle feed which takes just about no time or nurse the baby (stop making faces ;) ). A newborn infant will be attached to mommy every hour - hour and half in most cases in the beginning. This is not just my experience but that of several moms I have talked with. How can you take care of your igs and have a baby attached to you? If you think you're doing laundry now - imagine what it's like after the baby is born ;) - regular laundry, baby laundry, more mom and dad laundry from those lovely gifts of spit-up and, on top of that , clean clothes every time you have contact with the igs? Maybe I'm too lazy [LOL!] - but I found having new babies in the house too exhausting to deal with anything more than humans and dialing for take-out (for the first couple of weeks anyway! ). Life is totally different after you have children. I suppose it all depends on where your priorities are (Pam - I am sure you're very organized; this is not meant at all as a shot at you, honest!!! - I'm not an organized person and doubt I ever will be!).

I think some people are looking at this situation with blinders on. If you have a difficult childbirth (I had three C-sections), you will be a long time recuperating and it's easy to say "I can"- but things come up. Sleepless nights will tend to give you loss of memory and you may discover it's easier to forget those iggies are waiting to eat, bathe, etc. All of my boys have been different in sleeping, etc. - but, I'll tell you, those precious moments that you have to yourself are wonderful and being a new mom, who at times can't go to the bathroom until an hour after the urge hits you, just may decide those iggies have to go.

As always there are two sides to every story. This is my opinion. I am not a person who will let a baby cry for two minutes - it's just not in me. Do I have spoiled kids? No, I don't think so. Could I have taken care of my babies and iggies - No I could not.

I admire the for thought you are giving this. Having pets is a serious commitment - however having children is more. I think you'll make a wonderful mommy - just by the care and love you've shown to Emerald and Bruno. Please talk to several medical professional's before deciding what to do. Pam has obviously done very well; I would not have. We are all individuals and you have to search in your heart as well as your mind in making a decision.

The reason I say several professionals in the medical field is because this is not a well-studied field. I don't think it would be fair of me to say that since, traditionally, herpers have been male, I wonder if this is the reason it has not been researched more. A friend of mine discussed this with her doctors - who where not aware of the strain[s] of [reptile-related] Salmonella or ways of contracting the disease from the igs and they ended up doing more checking around. She did end up giving up her much loved ig in favor of trying to have another child (and the health of her toddler). This is something that no one can really answer for you, only you can decide. Try not to get upset with all of this - but please research it a lot more (even if it's just talking to some moms who've recently had babies and it's fresh in their minds as to how much time there is for them to do things).

Igs are wonderful - motherhood is ??? There are no words for motherhood :-) It's the most wonderful feeling in the world. Those feelings you have for your iggy will multiply one hundred fold for your newborn :-)

P.S. I grew up with race horses and you don't find infants out in the stable or horse poop in the house (least not of people we knew) shoes were always left at the door....

This was posted on August 5, 1997 in AOL's Iguana folder in response to a new iguana keeper who just found out about reptile salmonellosis, and is thinking ahead to having children.

Hmm, let's see. We have a son who turned one last week. We also have, living in our house at this point in time, 17 snakes, a South American caiman, an iguana, 2 cats and a dog. All of our herps, except for the iguana, are kept in our basement since their enclosures are just too large to be practical anywhere else in the house. The iguana's, while still large, can still be maneuvered around fairly well if need be. Our iguana is not free roaming any area of the house as it is still in the process of being socialized.

However, just with the amount of animals in our home, we take several cleaning precautions that over time have become almost second nature.

Our son never comes in direct contact with our herps.

We have anti bacterial soap at every sink in the house.

We do not bath any of the herps in the bathtub if it can be avoided, and if we do, we clean it thoroughly with bleach afterwards.

I clean the outside of all the enclosures with bleach water or a disinfectant, germ -killing cleaner, just in case.

I only handle the herps when Soren is down for a nap; that way, he doesn't think they are to play with and is less likely to try to get in the one enclosure that he is ever in any kind of contact with (although at this point, he is far from tall enough to be able to anyway).

When he is older, I will introduce him to the reptiles and snakes, teach him that he has to wash his hands if he touches them, but right now, that is not feasible, so I ensure that there is virtually no way he can come in contact with them.

As long as they are thoroughly cleaned up after, not allowed in areas where small children will be (if any reptile that you have would be free roaming), and good judgment is used, it's not hard for herps and children to co exist.

If you have thought through this issue and come to a decision and would like to share it with others, please write it up and I will be happy to post it here.

Additional Reading:

Salmonella: What it is, Who is At Risk, How To Protect Yourself

Read up on proper cleaning and disinfecting procedures and check out the other Salmonella-related documents in the Zoonoses page.

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