Exotic Pets Risky for Kids


Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 06, 2008 From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 6, 2008 — Parents considering getting a “nontraditional” pet, such as an iguana, chick, or monkey, should weigh the risks those pets may pose to kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the CDC issued that advice today.

The AAP recommends that kids younger than 5 avoid contact with reptiles, amphibians, rodents, ferrets, chicks, and ducklings. And the CDC urges parents to talk to a veterinarian or pediatrician to ensure that kids have “safe and enjoyable” experiences with pets, either at home or at petting zoos.

Nontraditional pets are becoming increasingly popular, and they can carry health risks, including these noted in the AAP’s journal, Pediatrics:

  • Salmonella from reptiles and baby chicks. Salmonella are bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Life-threatening complications from salmonella infection are rare, but the risk is higher for kids, elders, and people with weak immune systems.
  • Herpes B virus, which macaque monkeys can carry
  • Bacteria in fish tank water
  • E. coli bacteria from animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats at petting zoos. Like salmonella, E. coli bacteria can cause diarrhea and are particularly risky for kids, older adults, and people with weak immune systems.

Then there’s the risk of getting bitten or injured, especially if an animal grows up to be bigger and more aggressive than the family expected.

“For example, iguanas sold shortly after birth measure less than 8 inches but grow to several feet in two to three years,” states the AAP.

The CDC, which has warned about those risks in the past, issued a fact sheet that includes these tips for keeping kids healthy around any animals:

  • Kids should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching animals.
  • Parents should supervise hand washing for kids younger than 5.
  • Never touch wild animals or bring them home as pets.
  • Always supervise children, especially those younger than 5, during interactions with animals.
  • Don’t let kids kiss animals or put their hands or other objects in their mouth after handling animals.
  • Pediatricians and veterinarians should advise parents about appropriate pet selection and how to avoid animal-transmitted illnesses.
  • Keep family pets in good health and vaccinate them appropriately.

If you do choose to get a reptile, amphibian, rodent, chick, or duckling, the AAP recommends not letting that pet roam freely throughout your home and keeping it out of the kitchen.

Show Sources


Pickering, L. Pediatrics, October 2008; vol 122: pp 876-886.

News release, CDC.

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