People love owning weird and wonderful pets – although what might seem weird to some people may be completely normal to others! Snakes are part of the ever growing list of popular exotic pets to share your home with. You may have heard that some pets carry diseases that can be passed on to humans, which is absolutely correct! The more “normal” pets, such as cats and dogs, can carry diseases that their owners can catch from them. However, what about snakes?
Table of contents
- What is a zoonotic disease?
- Can my snake infect me?
- Who is at risk of zoonotic diseases?
- How to prevent catching a zoonotic disease from your snake
- What to do if you think you have a zoonotic disease
- Final thoughts on zoonosis in snakes
- Further reading:
Let’s have a look at snakes specifically to see if they can infect humans with a disease.
What is a zoonotic disease?
A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be passed from an animal to a human and from a human to an animal. If a disease has been passed from an animal to a human, the infected human can then pass this disease onto another human.
One of the most dangerous examples of a zoonotic disease is rabies. Rabies is passed through direct contact, usually by the passage of saliva. If an infected animal was to bite a human, then rabies would be passed into the bloodstream from the saliva, and infect the human.
However, it is impossible for snakes to carry rabies. So, what zoonotic risks are associated with snakes?
Can my snake infect me?
In short – yes, you can catch a zoonotic disease from your snake, contrary to the myth that snakes do not carry zoonotic diseases. However, keep in mind that all animals can carry zoonotic diseases, so there is no reason to suddenly rehome your snake out of panic.
Zoonotic diseases can be spread through bacteria, viruses and fungi that can enter your body through the air, into your mouth or through broken skin. Some of the most common zoonotic diseases that you could catch from a snake include:
Salmonella poisoning is a rather common infection. It can be contracted in numerous ways, but with reptiles it is shed through their faeces. Unfortunately, the infection is passed to a human when salmonella from the faeces finds its way into a persons mouth – lovely!
Salmonella can cause symptoms in humans such as diarrhoea, headaches and a fever.
Snakes have been found to carry the Campylobacter bacteria, although it is most commonly contracted by a human ingesting undercooked meat. Similar to salmonella, campylobacter is shed through the animal’s faeces.
Common symptoms in humans include fever, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
Even though leptospirosis is more commonly seen in unvaccinated dogs, snakes have been known to carry the bacteria. The infection is spread through an infected animal’s urine. Leptospirosis can be contracted when the infected urine comes into contact with a human’s broken skin, mucous membranes or even your eyes!
Symptoms of leptospirosis in humans include a fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and muscle aches.
Who is at risk of zoonotic diseases?
Everyone is at risk from catching a zoonotic disease. There is no pet that poses less of a risk than another. No matter what animal you keep, there is always a risk of contracting a zoonotic disease from them.
However, some people are more at risk of catching a zoonotic disease and having more severe symptoms. This vulnerable group includes:
- Immunocompromised people
- The elderly
- Young children and infants
- Pregnant women
People who fall into this category should take extra care and precautions when they are interacting with any animal.
How to prevent catching a zoonotic disease from your snake
There are a number of simple ways that you can reduce your risk of catching a zoonotic disease from your snake.
Handle with care:
If your snake is aggressive or dislikes being handled, it’s probably best to just avoid touching them altogether. This will minimise the risk of being bitten and will eliminate the risk of being urinated or defecated on.
Have good hand hygiene:
One of the easiest ways to avoid getting ill from your snake is to always wash your hands after you have handled them. Make sure to also wash your hands after you have touched anything that they have been in contact with, including water and food bowls.
Keep their enclosure clean:
You should regularly clean their enclosures, taking extra care to remove faeces. By reducing the amount of possibly infected areas of their enclosure, you will minimise the risk of accidentally coming into contact with a zoonotic disease.
What to do if you think you have a zoonotic disease
If you are feeling unwell after handling your snake, or any other pet, always speak to your doctor. If you have severe or a sudden onset of symptoms, it may be worth seeking medical attention as soon as possible.
Final thoughts on zoonosis in snakes
After that enlightening horror story regarding zoonosis in snakes, it’s safe to say that it’s probably best to wash your hands after handling your snake! Regardless of what pet you own, there is always a risk that you could catch a disease from them. If you are worried about your pet’s health, always book an appointment with your veterinary surgeon.