Lets talk BACTERIA

Yes, I do mean that. Odd topic perhaps, I know, but this is something I wonder if many keepers have thought about. Bear with me because this is a bit of a long one, but hopefully a good one.

Someone asked me today – What do you use to clean your enclosures? My answer surprised them. I use warm water and dish soap. No, I do not routinely sterilize my enclosures.

Let’s consider the world we live in today where the incorrect use of chemical compounds has created super bugs, and poor life choices have led to bad immune system function. Antibiotic resistance is a fairly well known topic. However, did you know that resistance also develops to house hold cleaners, antiseptic solutions, parasiticides, antifungals, and antivirals? It’s a scary world we live in today where so many individuals are colonized by super bugs and don’t even know it; OR have such poor immunity that even their own healthy normal flora can make them sick.

There is an alternative to using antiseptics to protect ourselves from disease. That alternative is to maintain normal good bacteria and a healthy immune system. This is true of us humans AND our pets.

By repeatedly sterilizing our environment with cleaners like Rocal, Nolvasan, and F10 we are killing all microbes, even the good ones. Our bodies need our normal flora alive and well for things like gastrointestinal health and immune system function. A population of healthy normal flora can OUT COMPETE the bad bacteria and help your immune system fight them off. However, if your immune system never has a chance to see those potential pathogens it cannot form a defense against them. Allowing ourselves exposure to small amounts of pathogens through normal healthy living is what keeps us strong and adaptable to new diseases.

Yes, I use antiseptic products when cleaning our ICU enclosures, quarantine, and surgery suites. No, I do not use them in the Snake Haus healthy animal areas. Instead, we use good husbandry and cleaning practices to ensure the amount of bacteria in the environment stays at an acceptable level. That means changing out dirty substrate and water much more often than most people do.

I cringe when I hear people say they like deep substrate because it helps absorb the urine and fecal material produced by the animal. Unfortunately, deep substrate soaked in excrement is an excellent environment for bacteria to grow. You may have seen that we use layers of brown paper and mats for our snakes rather than deep substrate. I do this because it makes it impossible to hide how dirty, or clean, each enclosure is. When it does get dirty simply roll the paper up and replace it – ta-dah! Clean enclosure in 30 seconds flat!

Another aspect of this is STRESS! We all know that too much stress causes us humans to have lower immune system health. That is true of our snakes as well. Simple things like appropriate hides, climbers, and cage furniture can lower your snake’s stress level so much that it gives them an immune boost!

Snakes are like us and benefit from having healthy normal flora and low stress living. May I suggest we strive to improve our husbandry to a high enough level that we don’t need our animals to live in a sterile environment?

Ok now go outside and play in dirt for your own health!

Salmonellosis in Snakes – not such a big deal after all

What is Salmonella anyway?

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause significant illness in some individuals. Unfortunately it has become quite common for people to blame snakes as a cause for spreading this organism. This bacteria, and many others like it, are much more common to be found in your FOOD, than on your pet snake.

I am a veterinarian. I have literally dedicated my life to animals. Everything I do, every day, revolves around caring for either, my own pets, or someone else’s pets. So you can imagine all the gross stuff I’ve come across in my work. Over the years I have worked closely with many species including large carnivores, like lion, cougars, and bears; water fowl like seagulls, pelicans, cormorants, and heron; marine mammals like sea otters and seals; birds of prey like eagles, owls, falcons, and vultures; agricultural animals like cows, goats, and horses; bats, rats, raccoons and coyotes, and yes, of course, REPTILES! No, I am not kidding. Yes, I have personally handled, trained, and treated every single type of animal I just named. Yes, I have been exposed to all sorts of pathogens, and been sick a few times, but I’m healthier now because of it.

Despite working in a profession where I am sometimes elbow deep in feces, blood, or who knows what else, I got Salmonella from food!

Bacteria is everywhere! Salmonella (eggs), Camphylobacter (raw chicken), Mycobacteria (turtles), Leptosporisis (rats), Corynebacteria (milk), E.coli (spinach!), Clostridium (our own GI tract).

Holy moly it’s a scary world out there. Did you know that many people are colonized by MRSA and don’t even know it? It doesn’t make them sick because their normal flora and their healthy immune systems keep it in check.

Using antibacterial soap and sterilizing our environments all the time can kill some of these organisms, but not all of them. In this day and age we have many people with weak immune systems from living in a sterile environment. We need a healthy, strong, active, and natural biome around us to keep us safe from these more dangerous organisms. If one of our animals does happen to carry Salmonella we, and they, are far safer if they also have a strong and varied population of normal flora to compete with it. Introducing a pathogenic bacteria into an environmental vacuum means it gets to grow unchecked and with no competition. The pathway to resistance is not only caused by antibiotics and sanitizers but our LACK of healthy normal flora.

I personally am thankful that I have had a chance to be exposed to many of these pathogens over the years because I have a very strong immune system now. What we need to help people understand is that SNAKEs specifically are NOT the most common source for these pathogens. They, you, WE are more likely to get sick handling and cooking raw food in the kitchen then from petting a healthy snake. Too many people are fearful of snakes when they should be more worried about their diet.

SO, nope! I do not use antibacterial soap. However, I would not let a child lick a turtle, eat a sunny side up duck egg, and no way am I going to drink raw milk. Washing our hands with regular soap and water is enough to remove these pathogens from our skin. And it’s enough to remove them from our snake enclosures. We do not need to kill every organism in the environment to keep us safe from just a few. When I get exposed to a resistant bacteria someday I sure hope my normal flora is there alive and well to help me fight it off because we are creating a world in which antibacterial agents are becoming ineffective.

Now, now, don’t get me wrong, I am not telling you to stop cleaning your enclosures but, might I suggest we stop scaring ourselves so much about the bacteria that our snakes carry and just start using good old soap and water to clean out their dirty enclosures? You don’t need to spritz your enclosures with bleach, or vinegar, or listerine, or whatever else the greater public has suggested. Just suds up with some soap and rinse the muck down the drain.

Stay strong, stay safe, and stay healthy out there everyone. Cheers!