Are your clients' children too young for exotic pets?


Doctors warn that some pocket pets could cause illnesses and injuries.

Exotic pets like hamsters, lizards, and turtles can be wonderful additions to families, as well as a key source of revenue for your practice. But according to a group of the nation's leading pediatricians, they may not be appropriate for young children.

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says that animals like hamsters, hedgehogs, baby chicks, lizards and turtles carry dangerous and potentially deadly germs and are more likely than cats and dogs to bite, scratch, or claw. This puts children-particularly those under 5 years old-at risk due to their developing immune systems and tendency to put their hands in their mouths.

Salmonella infection is of particular concern. Reptiles, rodents, fish, and baby poultry are all capable of spreading the infection, which can cause severe diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.

Dr. Teresa Bradley Bays, owner of Belton Animal Clinic and Exotic Care Center in Belton, Mo., says young children should not handle exotic pets, especially reptiles and hamsters. Along with the possibility of bacteria spreading on their hands and clothing, children tend to be rough with small animals, creating a risk for the pet as well. Additionally, Dr. Bradley Bays says owners of exotic pets should be careful when cleaning cages or food and water bowls, as bacteria can easily spread to countertops and sinks.

To help ensure the safety of your clients, be sure to explain the risks involved with owning exotic pets and share advice for managing those risks. The CDC recommends families with exotics take the following measures:

> Always supervise children while they interact with animals.

> Ensure that children wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching animals.

> Supervise handwashing for children younger than 5.

> Do not allow children to kiss animals or put their hands or other objects in their mouth after handling animals.

> Keep family pets in good health and up to date on vaccinations.

> Never touch wild animals or bring them home as pets.

Click here to download a client handout about Salmonella infection from the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.

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