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January 11, 2010

Salmonella Outbreak Tied to Pet Frogs

Children are especially at risk

The Humane Society of the United States

Frog in Pet Store

Beth Preiss/The HSUS

By Beth Preiss

It wasn't the cheese-flavored crackers, even though all of the first 11 sick patients interviewed had eaten them.

A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked their Salmonella infections to pet frogs.

By the end of 2009, at least 85 people in 31 states had contracted the same strain of Salmonella. Most were younger than 10 years old. Among cases where the outcome was reported, one-third of the patients had to be hospitalized.

Water spreads the bacteria

According to the CDC, the children probably didn't even touch the frogs. "The most likely source of transmission in this outbreak was contact with water from the frogs' aquariums," the agency said. The CDC reports that about 6 percent of Salmonella cases in the United States are due to reptiles and amphibians, and 11 percent of cases in people under 21 years old. 

African dwarf frogs

All 14 of the patients who knew the type of frog were exposed to African dwarf frogs. The frogs were obtained at various venues including a department store, pet shop, and carnival.

Frogs sold in some surprising places

Some specialty stores known for gadgets or greeting cards have begun selling African dwarf frogs in small habitats. One woman contacted The Humane Society of the United States after ordering a pair of the frogs by mail as a gift. The animals had arrived dead.

People don't go to these stores to buy a pet, but they may end up buying one on the spur of the moment. Pets should not be impulse purchases, and frogs are complex wild animals who don't make good pets. If released into the environment, these little critters may not survive, and they can carry fungus that kills native species.

Adopt, don't buy

If you want a pet, take time to determine which animal is right for your family and whether you can provide a lifetime of proper care. Then visit a local animal shelter and adopt.

What you can do

  • Don't get a frog as a pet.
  • Ask retailers to stop selling frogs.
  • If you already have a frog, have an adult clean the habitat (and don't use the kitchen sink).
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with the frog or the water.
  • If you can no longer care for a pet frog, contact a local animal shelter.
  • Never release frogs or any other pet outdoors. It can be cruel to the pet and is bad for the ecosystem.

Additional information

Learn more about the outbreak from the CDC.

Beth Preiss is The HSUS's captive wildlife regulatory specialist.

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