Are Tiger Salamanders Poisonous to Humans or Pets?

Tiger Salamanders are one of the largest terrestrial salamanders in the world. These beautiful amphibians can grow to be over 13 inches long and make great pets. Though a popular pet, many still wonder if tiger salamanders are poisonous.

 Tiger salamanders produce mildly poisonous secretions from special glands on their tail, which makes them taste bad to predators. These secretions are merely irritating to humans but can be fatal to other small animals, such as mice and other amphibians.

Despite their toxin, tiger salamanders are generally safe and unlikely to ever cause you any problems provided they are handled carefully and gently.

As a safety precaution, always wash your hands both before and after handling any salamanders. Before washing your hands, be sure not to rub your eyes, touch your face or put anything in your mouth.

Tiger Salamanders Only Produce a Mild Toxin

Tiger salamanders only produce a mild toxin, which has no serious effect on most predators apart from leaving a terrible taste in the mouth. However, it can make smaller animals sick. If you ever ingest this toxin, it may lead to some irritation or discomfort but probably nothing more serious.

The secretion may also have the added benefit of making the salamander somewhat sticky; while the predator is trying to remove the sticky residue, the salamander can slip away unnoticed.

That being said, you should note that there is a difference between a poisonous animal and a venomous one. Sure, they both possess toxins that can be harmful to us, but the difference lies in how those toxins are delivered.

Generally:

  • Venomous animals actively inject their toxins, usually through bites or stings, into their victims; for example, rattlesnakes or scorpions.
  • Poisonous animals, on the other hand, administer their toxins more passively, usually by secreting them through their skin. When another animal eats or touches them or touches their skin, it can ingest the toxins; for example, poison dart frogs.

Tiger salamanders are poisonous but not venomous

Since tiger salamanders secrete the toxin on their skin, and it is only harmful when ingested, they are poisonous but not venomous.

Poisonous animals are not aggressive and are usually harmless if you don’t touch them. They only use their toxins to deter animals from trying to eat them.

Are Tiger Salamanders Dangerous to Humans?

Although poisonous, tiger salamanders typically aren’t dangerous to humans provided they are handled carefully. The only danger comes when their toxins are ingested.

The toxin is not absorbed through your skin but can be absorbed through breaks or cuts on the skin, and the mucous membranes in your eyes, nose, or mouth.

This can happen when you pick up a tiger salamander with your bare hands, then rub your eyes or mouth without first washing your hands.

What Would Happen if You Ingested a Tiger Salamanders Toxin?

There are many ways one can ingest tiger salamanders toxin, the most obvious one being through the mouth.

Since most people won’t try to eat or lick a tiger salamander, the most likely way you would ingest toxins this way would be by handling a tiger salamander with your bare hands, then sticking your fingers in your mouth, without first washing your hands.

In most cases, this will lead to irritation or discomfort, but nothing more serious. However, ingesting significant quantities of the toxin could make you vomit or fall sick. While not fatal, it is a good idea to seek medical attention right away.

Another way you can ingest the toxin is through the eyes or mucous membranes in the nose. Ingesting the toxin this way would likely cause an intense burning sensation at the point of contact, and could lead to swelling.

In most cases, this will subside with time, but it is always a good idea to seek medical attention.

A third way the toxin could make its way into your body is through cuts and scratches on your skin. This would most likely lead to a burning sensation and a feeling of numbness, but nothing more serious.

Salamanders Can Carry Salmonella

The other concern for tiger salamanders is; like most amphibians, they often carry salmonella, and while not all do, you shouldn’t take the chance.

A salamander with Salmonella may not look sick in any way but can pass the bacteria to humans who come in contact with it.

Salmonella bacteria
Salmonella bacteria

You can be exposed to salmonella if you do not wash your hands after touching a salamander, its feces, or objects that have come in contact with the feces of the salamander (including water or equipment in its enclosure).

Exposure to salmonella can lead to an infection called salmonellosis which has symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain.

The infection is usually mild and but it can spread to other organs in your body, leading to severe, sometimes even fatal illness.

Fortunately, you will not catch salmonella by simply touching or handing a tiger salamander. The bacteria can only cause illness when it is ingested into your body.

For this reason, always wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap after any contact with salamanders, their equipment, or anything in their enclosure.

Younger kids, particularly those under the age of five, are more prone to catching and being affected by Salmonella, so you should ensure that children do not handle any salamanders, be they wild or captive.

Are Tiger Salamanders Dangerous to Dogs, Cats, or Other Pets?

Since tiger salamanders secrete a toxin when threatened; a dog, cat, or any other animal that attacks one will get a mouthful of bitter toxin and most likely let go right away.

If a dog (or other pet) ingests enough of this toxin, it may slobber, spit, and possibly even foam at the mouth (link to are salamanders poisonous to dogs). The toxin may not be fatal, but it can make a dog sick.

Also, much like humans, dogs can contract a Salmonella infection through contact with salamanders. However, this is quite rare because dogs have very strong digestive acids that usually kill the bacteria before they can cause any harm.

How to Safely Handle a Tiger Salamander

Generally, it’s not a good idea to handle salamanders too frequently. This is because they have very delicate skin which contains a network of blood vessels, which they use to absorb oxygen and water that comes in contact with their skin.

Not just water though, anything that touches their skin can be absorbed; Including chemicals on your hands.

This means handling a salamander with unclean hands, can harm the salamander. Anything that is on your hands can pass right through its skin and end up inside of its body. For this reason, you should keep your salamander handling to a minimum.

If you do have to handle a tiger salamander, take the following precautions to protect both you and the animal:

Before Handling

  • Wash your hands EXTREMELY well so you don’t harm the salamander with any substances on your hands. Make sure to completely wash off any residue of soap so it does not remain on your skin.
  • Dry your hands with paper towels, then re-moisten them with dechlorinated water.
Even better, you could wear protective gloves (powder-free vinyl gloves or nitrile gloves) so your skin does not come in direct contact with the salamander. The gloves also have to be moistened with dechlorinated water.

How to Safely Handle

  • Very gently pick the salamander up with your hands
  • Allow the salamander to walk on your hand without restraining or putting any pressure on it. (You may have to do a little bit of treadmilling so the salamander does not fall off your hands).
  • Do not use force as you handle it. Salamanders only secrete their toxins when they are under stress and feel threatened. Handling a salamander with too much force can stress it out and cause it to secrete its toxin all over your hands.
  • Handle the salamander for a very short period. Handling a salamander for too long can dry and damage its skin.

What to Do After Handling

After handling, thoroughly wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap. Remember, salamanders can secrete toxins and may carry salmonella so you better protect yourself!

Even if you wore gloves, it’s still a good idea to go the extra mile and wash your hands. Before washing your hands, do not touch your face, rub your eyes, or put anything in your mouth.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Question: Can a Tiger Salamander Kill a Human?

Answer: The toxin produced by a tiger salamander is not potent enough to be of any serious harm to humans, provided the salamander is not eaten. Eating or licking a tiger salamander could make you severely ill, and could be fatal without medical attention.

Question: Do Tiger Salamanders Bite?

Answer: Tiger salamanders can bite. However, you shouldn’t be too worried about being bitten by one. They are very docile creatures that will rarely intentionally bite a human.

The only time a tiger salamander may bite is during aggressive feeding when it mistakes your hand or finger for food. A bite from a tiger salamander is nothing to be worried about because its tiny teeth are very unlikely to hurt or penetrate your skin.

Conclusion

Tiger salamanders make awesome pets due to their non-aggressive and docile nature. Although poisonous, you are unlikely to ever be harmed provided you practice hygiene sufficient to prevent you from ingesting any toxins or bacteria on the salamander’s body.

The risk of poisoning can be significantly reduced by simply wearing gloves, so it is a good idea to do so before you handle any salamanders.

Consider the welfare of the salamander too! Salamanders do not like to be handled by humans, or anything bigger than them. Only handle salamanders when you really have to.