The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Axolotls are becoming increasingly popular pets among lovers of exotic animals. People are drawn to their unique appearance, particularly the smiling expression they have all the time.
However, other people are afraid of axolotls. Sometimes, this is due to a distaste for amphibians—axolotls are salamanders, and their appearance can be off-putting for people who don’t like cold-blooded animals.
Others are afraid of the dangers that might come with keeping an axolotl as a pet. They think that an axolotl might attack its owners since it is an exotic animal or that it could carry disease.
In truth, an axolotl is no more dangerous than any other pet. As long as you take a few necessary precautions to protect your safety and your pet, you and your axolotl can peacefully live together for as long as 20 years.
What Is an Axolotl?
An axolotl is also called a “Mexican walking fish.” They are a type of salamander that lives in the water at all times and is known for walking along the bottom, which is where its colloquial name comes from.
Axolotls in the wild only live in Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City. Unfortunately, wild axolotls are nearly extinct because of the introduction of predators into their lake, environmental degradation, and overfishing because they are prized as pets and food.
However, all is not lost for the axolotls as many are still alive in captivity, in aquariums, labs, and people’s homes. Albino varieties are more common than in other species and particularly popular as pets, although some people also keep black or speckled axolotls.
Many axolotls also live in medical labs. They have a unique ability to regenerate missing limbs or organs, which makes them attractive to scientists.
What Dangers Could an Axolotl Pose?
Axolotls are sensitive creatures, which means that often humans are more dangerous to them than they are to us. However, that does not mean they are completely safe.
Axolotls cannot seriously injure people, but they can still hurt you or members of your family. They are adorable, but they are still animals and should be treated with respect and necessary precautions.
Axolotls are known to bite their owners. However, they do not do this because they are aggressive but because they are very food-motivated and sometimes mistake people’s hands for food.
An axolotl bite does not hurt too much and will not cause serious damage. Axolotls have small teeth and rarely break through the skin, although they can scrape your skin with a feeling some have compared to sandpaper.
If your axolotl does bite you, be careful how you disengage with its mouth. Pulling your hand away too rapidly could hurt its fragile teeth, so just wait for it to inevitably realize that you’re not food and it will let you go.
After an axolotl bite, make sure to clean your hand properly just like you would after any injury. Keep the injured area away from the tank until you have healed so that the water does not contaminate the bite site and your axolotl does not bite you again.
The most dangerous aspect of having an axolotl is the fact that many are carriers of salmonella. Salmonella is usually just an unpleasant experience for adults but can be deadly for people with weak immune systems, such as young children.
Other amphibians and reptiles also tend to carry salmonella, so this is not a problem unique to axolotls. Salmonella lives in these animals’ digestive tracts, and they shed the bacteria in their feces. However, it is not harmful to them at all.
You may have salmonella if you start feeling symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, or even fever. You should begin to worry if an immunocompromised member of your household starts experiencing salmonella symptoms or someone experiences severe symptoms.
To prevent getting salmonella from your axolotl, all you have to do is to practice good hygiene. Make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly after touching your axolotl, do not touch your mouth or face immediately afterward, and be careful where you wash their tank to avoid contamination with dishes.
Dangerous for Other Pets
Axolotls are not very dangerous to humans but can seriously hurt other animals that they are around. They are used to being the predators in their ecosystem, and that instinct does not just go away.
If you try to make your axolotl share their tank with fish, chances are that they will eat the fish. However, do not think that live fish is a way to feed your axolotl without making an effort on your part—fish contaminate the axolotl’s tank and can make it seriously ill.
Axolotls will even attack other members of their own species. They have cannibalistic tendencies and tend to bite off each other’s limbs, particularly younger, more aggressive animals.
Older, more mature axolotls can have another axolotl as a friend. However, be prepared to monitor their behavior unless you wake up one day and realize one axolotl has one fewer leg than it had last night!
Axolotls and Kids
Overall, axolotls are very safe pets for humans to keep. They can also be safe for children. However, you should be particularly cautious if you have young children and are thinking of getting an axolotl.
Children are not at risk of axolotl bites because chances are, they will not come into physical contact with the animals at all. Axolotls do not like human contact and should be kept in their tanks at all times.
However, you should consider if your child is old enough to understand that an axolotl is a pet they can look at but should not touch. Handling is very stressful for axolotls, and someone with a heavy touch, such as an overexcited child, could seriously hurt them.
The biggest danger that an axolotl poses to your child is salmonella, which can be fatal for very young children. Although you can avoid passing salmonella from your axolotl to your child by being diligent about handwashing, sometimes it is best to wait until a child develops a stronger immune system before getting a reptile or an amphibian.
How to Stay Safe Around Axolotls
Axolotls can hurt you somewhat, but overall they are not very dangerous for humans. With a few precautions, you can protect yourself and make sure that your axolotl is safe and happy.
If your axolotl is in a clean, healthy environment, it will be healthier as well and less likely to bite you. Axolotl tanks need some equipment and setup to be perfect for your pet.
Axolotls should have tanks that are at least 15 to 20 gallons large, with more than enough water to cover their bodies. Make sure to test the water regularly for toxicity and, if you install gravel, make sure that it is bigger than the axolotl’s head, so it does not swallow it by accident.
Be sure to clean the tank regularly as this decreases the number of salmonella bacteria that stays on surfaces. However, when cleaning the tank, do not use your kitchen sink or any surface that comes in contact with your dishes as this can pass on salmonella.
Axolotl bites are most common when owners are feeding their pets. The hungry axolotl sometimes mistakes wriggling fingers for food.
Most axolotls like eating bait worms, bloodworm cubes, or some frozen meat as an occasional treat. They can go several days without food, so you do not need to risk your fingers every day.
To protect your fingers, do not hold the food as you put it in the water. Instead, drop it near your axolotl or hold it using a pair of forceps that you use only for feeding your pet.
To protect yourself and your pet, wash your hands before and after you need to handle your axolotl.
Bacteria that you carry can be even more dangerous to an axolotl’s sensitive skin than salmonella is to you. That is why you should avoid touching your axolotl as much as possible, and if you absolutely must, wash your hands thoroughly before coming into contact with their habitat.
You also need to wash your hands directly after touching anything belonging to your axolotl to avoid contaminating your home with salmonella.
Axolotls may look like little alien invaders, but in reality, they are calm and low-maintenance pets. Despite their exotic provenance, they are not a danger to most humans, although they like to take a chomp out of any tank mates.
The biggest danger from axolotls comes from salmonella and potential bites. However, these can be easily avoided with the necessary precautions that will help you and your pet coexist happily.
Axolotls are even safe for older children to live with, as long as they are properly supervised when interacting. Just make sure that everybody washes their hands thoroughly after touching them.
Axolotls can be a wonderful addition to your home, as long as you appreciate them for what they are instead of expecting them to behave like cuddlier pets. They can be pleasant companions for several decades.