You may have used gloves when working with your reptiles to keep from getting any feces on you or to try to keep your reptile husbandry as sterile as possible. Have you considered what happens when go from handling one reptile to another? Or have you ever thought twice about what risks can occur when using the same equipment between cages?
Reptile Cross Contamination and Disease Misconceptions
As a pet owner that may only have a couple reptiles, one may think that they do not need to worry about cross contamination since they do not have a facility or room with various reptiles. However, a safe practice to avoid cross contamination is important for every and all caliber of reptile keepers. Of course there's always a worry of passing on internal parasites like worms and external parasites like reptile mites. As well as ailments like respiratory illnesses and Nido virus. To develop a safe practice to avoid cross contamination the first step may be to understand what can transfer over to other reptiles and even to humans.
Common Reptile Ailments
We have discussed external parasites like reptile mites in a previous blog that goes into detail about their life cycle and eradicating them. Click here to read that article. Roundworm, Pinworms, and Hookworms are internal parasites that can cause your reptile to regurgitate and even have diarrhea. When you combine this with a poor appetite, your reptile will noticeably lose weight. These parasites are more common in wild caught or imported animals, but can still be found in captive-bred reptiles. A vet will run fecal testing to check for these parasites and will recommend anthelmintics or dewormers to remove them.
Respiratory Infection in reptiles can be caused by a variety of reasons like stress, improper heating, and incorrect humidity levels. Tell tale signs of an RI can be lethargic behavior, issues breathing, crackling / wheezing / and other strange noises, discharge from nostrils and/or mouth, and loss of appetite. RI's are usually treatable by medications recommended by your vet. Nido virus, on the other hand, is a very serious issue. This respiratory illness has been known to destroy reptile collections.
Other ailments to consider are Stomatitis, Salmonella, E. coli, Pseudomonas, Aeromonas, Serratia, Mycobacteria, Provencia, and Klebsiella. These range from bacterial infections affecting the oral cavities, lungs, stomach, and more! This may seem worrisome to new reptile keepers, but do not fret! With proper husbandry and care, your reptile will remain in good health.
Diseases Spreading to Human's
We have all heard "stories" about someone getting "Salmonella from a turtle." Of all ailments, I believe this is the most common that people worry about. It's understandable as we humans can get potential ailments from our pet reptiles, however it's not as common as one may think. These ailments that were named above that can be transferred from reptiles and other ailments from feeders like insects and rodents can be easily avoided with good hygiene. It's important to not only keep your reptiles clean, but also yourself when working with your reptiles. Remember to always WASH YOUR HANDS with antibacterial soap and also use hand sanitizer when needed.
What can you do?
In your care you may consider using gloves during maintenance and cleaning them in between cages. This can also be a good practice with your tools unless you plan on having separate tools per cage. E.g. reptile hooks and reptile tongs. Don't forget to stock up on a good veterinary grade disinfectant that you may use to not only clean enclosures, hides, water bowls and other decorations, but also for your reptile tools. It may also help to discard uneaten feeders instead of offering them to the next cage over. And always make sure that you trust your feeder source and your reptile seller.
As stated above, it's mainly important to keep a clean environment and make sure your reptile husbandry is up to par with your pet reptiles necessities. However, in the end of the day we are dealing with live animals so we cannot expect clean enclosures at all times. Make sure to have regular wellness checks and visit the vet when necessary if you have any concerns.