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Exotic Pets and Children
Depending on your family's lifestyle, the responsibility of
taking care of a cat or dog may be too time consuming. Left with
the desire for a pet but time constraints that aren't conducive to
a cat or dog, some people think that getting a "pocket pet",
reptile, or another exotic animal might seem like the right
Unfortunately, if you have small children exotic pets can be
dangerous to your family's health.
"Pocket pets" are small animals, often rodents that can fit into
your pocket such as: hamsters, hedgehogs, mice, rats, and gerbils.
Though they are slight larger, guinea pigs also fall under the
"pocket pet" category. Other exotic pets that people often turn to
for companionship include baby chickens, baby ducks, and reptiles
such as lizards, snakes, iguanas, and turtles.
"If you have kids under the age of 5, you should be extremely
careful if you elect to have exotic pets in your home," states Dr.
Sharman Hoppes, an assistant clinical professor at the Texas
A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical
Sciences. "Reptiles, 'pocket pets', baby chicks and ducks are not
always in the best health when we acquire them, making these
animals more prone to be shedding Salmonella."
According to The Department of Human Health's website,
Salmonella is a bacteria that is passed from the feces of people or
animals to other people or animals. Symptoms of a Salmonella
infection include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72
hours after exposure. In severe cases, the infected individual may
be hospitalized for dehydration. Furthermore, if the infection
spreads from the intestines into the blood stream and is not
treated properly, Salmonella can cause death.
"As adults we tend to be more hygienic then children meaning we
are less likely to contract Salmonella from exotic pets," notes
Hoppes. "Children however, are constantly putting their hands in
their mouths and often do not was their hands after handling these
animals, which puts them at greater risk for infection."
In addition to lacking the proper hygiene practices of adults,
kids are also more likely to get scratched or bitten by exotic
"This is primarily due to the fact that children often do not
know how to properly handle exotic pets. Not using the proper
handling techniques for these animals can cause them stress, making
them more likely to bite or scratch. These wounds create a point of
entry for bacteria," explains Hoppes.
Because of the risk of contracting a Salmonella infection from
an exotic pet, it is important to make sure our animals are healthy
when we get them and that we maintain our pet's health.
"Anyone adopting exotic pets should take the animal to a
qualified veterinarian for a wellness examination," advises Hoppes.
"Make sure your animal is healthy and not under stress from lack of
proper care and poor nutrition. Stressed animals are more prone to
"Not all veterinarians are equipped to treat exotic pets," adds
Hoppes. "If your veterinarian is not able to care for your pet, ask
for a referral to one who can."
Once you find a veterinarian that treats exotic animals, Hoppes
recommends asking them about the proper husbandry and nutrition for
"Animal husbandry refers to the proper way to take care of your
species of animal. Animal husbandry includes how to house your pet
properly, and special needs they may have as far as temperature,
humidity, and lighting. Proper nutrition includes type of food or
diet, how frequently to feed, and the amount that should be fed,"
Making sure your pet maintains good health and employing proper
animal husbandry and nutrition can help reduce the risk of the
animal carrying an infection, and thus lessen you and your family's
chances of contracting an illness from your exotic pet.
To further reduce the chance of infection from exotic pets,
Hoppes recommends the following:
- Always wash your hands and your child's hands after handling an
- Children handling pets should be under constant
- Keep the animals out of your kitchen and bathroom. (Don't let
your iguana soak in the sink or bathtub)
- Do not let your exotic pet have free roam of your house; this
is dangerous for both you and them.
- Teach your children to avoid approaching exotic animals
outdoors and avoid bringing exotic animals found outdoors into your
If you have young children under five years of age, having
exotic pets can be risky to your child's health. If you choose to
have an exotic pet, make sure your animal maintains good health and
that you employ the proper precautions to reduce the risk of
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Angela G. Clendenin
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