Reptiles, especially bearded dragons 😊, are some of the easiest to care for pets you can own. There are a lot of positives and very few negatives.
However, one negative, the possibility of contracting salmonella from pet reptiles, is a concern many beardie owners have. This is especially true for households with children in them.
While salmonella is a serious problem in adults, it is even more concerning with children where, if untreated, it can lead to hospitalization or worse. (source)
Can You Get Salmonella From a Bearded Dragon?
Yes, if proper handling and care are not present, you can contract salmonella from pet reptiles, including bearded dragons. Regular handwashing, providing fresh, unspoiled food, weekly baths, and a clean enclosure are just a few of the easy steps that can prevent salmonella from being a problem.
Before I go any further, I want to stress a couple of very important points.
First, we have never contracted salmonella from a bearded dragon or other reptile and have absolutely no worries about doing so. We handle our beardie multiple times daily, every day, and have done so for many years.
Second, the care we recommend here on Beardie Bungalow will not only help your bearded dragon live its best life but will virtually eliminate the possibility of you or your children contracting salmonella from your little scaly friend!
I get really upset when I see sensationalist articles like this. The instances of salmonella are exceedingly rare across all reptiles, and they only happen when owners are not adequately caring for their pets. Full stop.
How Do Bearded Dragons Get Salmonella?
There’s a myth that salmonella is inherent in certain reptile species. That they all have it all the time, and there’s nothing that can be done. This is false.
Just like humans, beardies contract salmonella from outside sources. It can come from three primary places—their food, the people that handle them, or their tank.
It’s critical to understand this point because if you keep your beardie from ever being exposed to salmonella, it will never be an issue!!!
How Do Bearded Dragons Transmit Salmonella to People?
According to the CDC, bearded dragons with salmonella in their systems carry it in their poop (source). Anything the infected poop comes in contact with will now also have salmonella bacteria on it.
Transmission of salmonella to humans happens via the “fecal-oral root” (source). In other words, it has to get into your or your children’s mouths to cause infection.
So, as with most diseases:
Simply washing your hands will protect you 99% of the time.
8 Ways to Prevent Salmonella in Bearded Dragons
If you follow proper care guidelines for your bearded dragon, none of these steps will be new to you. Avoiding salmonella doesn’t require anything extra on your part.
This guide isn’t meant to give you new tasks to do with your beardie. Instead, it’s meant to highlight which of the regular care steps you should already be doing that also contribute to eliminating salmonella as a potential problem.
Wash Your Hands Before Handling Your Bearded Dragon
Remember that salmonella comes to your bearded dragon from the outside. It doesn’t just appear out of nowhere!
One of the largest sources of outside germs and bacteria for a bearded dragon is humans. We go out into the world and come back home with an unknowable amount of germs, parasites, and bacteria on our clothes, skin, and hands.
The best way to prevent bringing anything bad into your bearded dragon’s world (including salmonella) is to wash your hands thoroughly before ever handling them.
We recommend following the CDC’s guidelines on handwashing.
Wash Your Hands After Handling Your Bearded Dragon
Remembering that salmonella has to get into your mouth to cause a problem. It’s critical that we wash our hands thoroughly after handling our beardies.
Make sure and instill this habit in your children too. Kids constantly have their hands in or near their mouths. Instilling this habit in them will keep them from ever contracting anything from their pet bearded dragon and keep them healthier throughout their entire life!
Keeps Hands and Beardies Away From Your Face
That means no kissing them! Look, we all love our beardies. And many of us want to hold them and pet them and give them a kiss on the head. We get it!
But if they have salmonella on them (we’ll cover how this happens next), you just rubbed it on your face or lips! That brings you that much closer to getting sick and going to the hospital.
One tip we’ve heard from our readers is to have your kids wear a mask (we all have them lying around now, right?!) while handling their bearded dragon. It’s easy for kids (especially younger ones) to forget simple rules like not touching their faces. With a mask, this gets easier to manage.
Pick Up Your Beardie’s Poop ASAP
The best time to do this is when it happens. The next best time is as soon as you see it. Never let poop sit in your bearded dragon’s enclosure for any length of time.
We see too many people (including reptile stores) leave poop in the enclosure for days or even weeks. DO NOT DO THIS!
If you want to go the extra mile, you can train your beardie to always go in a specific spot. This can be helpful if you aren’t able to clean up quickly.
Use Loose, Absorbent Substrate
In our article covering every substrate option for your bearded dragon, we recommend using aspen wood Repti Chips as a substrate. This substrate was recommended to us by two vets and a breeder.
The most common substrate recommendation is either tile or reptile carpet. We don’t recommend either one. While those two options are less work for the owner, they are not better for your beardie in several ways.
One of those ways is that they don’t soak up your beardie’s poop. On tile or carpet, it just sits there. And your beardie will walk through and over it.
With Repti Chips, most of the moisture is locked into the substrate. The loose nature of Repti Chips also allows them to cover and stick to the surface of the poop.
While it’s still possible for your beardie to walk through their feces with this loose substrate option, they come away with far less poop than if they live on tile or carpet.
When cleaning up after your bearded dragon, we recommend picking up a good amount of substrate around their poop to ensure you get all contaminated material removed. We also recommend a complete substrate change every three months.
Remember that we do not recommend any other type of loose substrate, as it can harm your bearded dragon’s health. See our complete guide here, or head to Amazon to see the exact substrate we recommend!
Bathe Your Bearded Dragon 2-3 Times Per Week
One of the most popular articles on Beardie Bungalow is our complete guide to beardie bath time (with lots of pictures!). In it, we recommend bathing your beardie 2-3 times per week.
While there are many benefits to this, one is removing unwanted germs, bacteria, and parasites from your pet. This includes salmonella. No matter how careful you are, your beardie will still walk through its feces. That makes regular baths a must!
Remember to wash your hands before and after. Also, clean the bathing container you use after each use.
Feed Them Dubia Roaches, NOT Crickets!
A lot of the questions we get have something to do with what bearded dragons can and can’t eat. Because of that, many articles on the site cover different aspects of feeding bearded dragons.
Whether it’s a complete food list, a guide to what worms you can feed, or a highlight of specific foods like carrots or lettuce, we’ve covered it here!
The first article we wrote about food compares the two most common live insect protein sources you can feed a bearded dragon: Crickets and Dubia Roaches.
The short version is that crickets are vile, smelly, noisy, biting little demons that should never be allowed in your house.
One of the many reasons we point out is the propensity for crickets to carry diseases and parasites (source). This is not unusual for crickets. In fact, it’s more common that they have something unwanted than not!
Feed Them Fresh, Clean Greens
Over the last few years, the number one source of salmonella outbreaks in humans has been produce, especially different types of lettuce.
Since fresh greens are something we should give our beardie daily, this can be a problem. Not only can they contract salmonella bacteria through infected produce, but they can also get it from produce left to sit too long in your fridge.
Make sure that any veggies you give your beardie are fresh and have been washed. This will help with salmonella and a host of other things like pesticides and herbicides.
Nothing we’ve recommended above is new. Those eight points are the standard of care for raising healthy bearded dragons.
If you follow them, the odds of getting any health issues, including salmonella, from your pet bearded dragon are slim to none.
In other words, don’t be alarmed by the sensationalist news stories that pop up every 6-12 months regarding bearded dragons and salmonella. Understand that every reported case came from owners not doing one or more of the above things.
You have nothing to worry about if you are a loving, caring, beardie parent!
Do beardies get sick from salmonella?
No. Salmonella does not affect bearded dragons in the same way it does humans. A bearded dragon can appear to be in perfect health while at the same time carrying salmonella bacteria.
Can I tell if my beardie has salmonella by looking at her?
No. Since they carry the bacteria but aren’t affected by it, you cannot tell whether or not they have the bacteria by looking at them.
What should I do if I contract salmonella?
We are not doctors and cannot give medical advice. If you are sick, please see your doctor.