Exotic pets can be cute, even if they’re not always cuddly, like lizards, turtles, and pygmy hedgehogs, but be careful! Because salmonella infections from exactly those types of pets have sickened dozens of people across North America, and half of them were younger than 10. 

What’s the deal here? Well, a lot of animals have salmonella bacteria in their digestive tracts, but those that walk or swim through their droppings, or sleep on them, can become covered with salmonella bacteria, and go on to contaminate everything they touch, including your hands. And all it takes is one finger-swipe across your eyes, nose or mouth, and you’re infected! 

Experts say you can get salmonella from turtles, chicks, ducklings, lizards, and snake, as well as rats, hamsters, gerbils, and hedgehogs. And little kids are the most susceptible.

Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and chills. Most people get better without treatment, but chronic diarrhea and dehydration may require hospitalization. Even worse: It can take several months for your bowel habits return to normal. 

So, how can you protect yourself and your family? 

  • Keep your pets, and their enclosures, beds, crates or aquariums clean.

  • Change the water in fish bowls and turtle ponds once a week.  

  • And wash your hands in hot water and soap after touching or cleaning your pets, or their habitats.