Jeff Horner/AP

Exotic Pets Could Infect Children, Doctors Caution

October 07, 2008 09:47 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Nontraditional pets such as rodents, reptiles and even sea monkeys are increasingly popular, but doctors warn that they may spread fatal diseases among children.

Exotic Pets a Danger

Exposure to possibly life-threatening infections and injuries is a danger of which more pet-owning parents need to become aware, reports U.S. News & World Report.

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published in this month’s issue of Pediatrics warns parents that nontraditional pets such as rodents, reptiles, monkeys, hedgehogs, sea monkeys and other animals can directly or indirectly, by infecting other animals, pose risks from salmonella infection to monkey pox.

“Nontraditional pets are becoming more traditional, and nontraditional pets can expose kids to disease they otherwise might not be exposed to,” Dr. Robert Frenck, a pediatrics professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, told U.S. News & World Report. “If parents are thinking about having these nontraditional pets, they may want to talk to a veterinarian and/or pediatrician first to see if there is any real concern.”

Children under the age of five are particularly at risk of infection due to their still-developing immune systems, as are the elderly, pregnant women, and other adults with weak immune systems.

Background: Pets causing illness

According to the AAP report, reptiles, turtles, poultry and hamsters often carry strains of salmonella, while wild rodents carrying the plague can infect other animals.

The report also says that in the second half of last year, pet turtles caused 103 cases of salmonella infection in young children. In 2003, there was a human monkey pox outbreak blamed on imported African Gambian rats that had infected pet prairie dogs.

And in April of this year, the deaths of three organ transplant recipients were blamed on a pet hamster, which had been infected with the rare choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) and had been purchased by the organ donor from a PetSmart store in Rhode Island.

According to the American Pet Products Association, more than 15 percent of U.S. households hold snakes, lizards, spiders and hedgehogs as pets, with more than 11 million reptiles, 17 million birds and more than 18 million small mammals nationwide. According to the AAP report, more than 40,000 households hold hedgehogs and the number of exotic animals in the nation has doubled since 2002.

But the nation’s recent financial woes are forcing some to give up their exotic pets. In South Florida, animal abandonment is becoming an increasing issue as people unload unwanted pets including parrots, potbellied pigs, horses, snakes and tarantulas, often into the wild. In response, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is offering an amnesty for Florida residents so that they can give up their exotic pets without penalty.

Related Topic: Pet custody

Reference: Web Guide to Pet Care


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