A report about the health risks in children associated with nontraditional pets was recently published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The report also discusses diseases associated with animals in public settings such as petting zoos and pet stores. Although contact with pets and animals can be beneficial to growth and development in children, it is very important to be aware of the risks associated with certain kinds of animals. Physicians, veterinarians and public health personnel can help parents select appropriate pets in order to maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks to children.
One of the most important pathogens discussed in the report is Salmonella. Although Salmonella can be transmitted by many animal species, including traditional pets like dogs and cats, it is a particularly high risk with certain other kinds of pets, including reptiles, amphibians and baby poultry (chicks and ducklings). It has been estimated that direct or indirect contact with reptiles or amphibians is responsible for 6% of all sporadic Salmonella infections in the US, and 11% of cases among people younger than 21 years. There is also a relatively high risk of Salmonella transmission associated with animal-derived pet treats, such as pig ears, and raw meat.
The report makes several recommendations about how to reduce the risk of infection, injury and allergies from nontraditional pets, many of which you may have seen before on the Worms & Germs website. Just a few of these are:
- Always wash your hands after contact with animals, animal products or their environment, and after contact with animal-derived pet treats.
- Supervise hand washing for children less than five years old
Children less than five years of age and individuals with weakened immune systems should avoid contact with reptiles, amphibians, rodents, ferrets and baby poultry. These animals:
- Should not be kept as pets in households where children less than five years of age or individuals with a weakened immune system live.
- Should not be brought to childcare centres.
- Should not be allowed to roam freely in ANY house or living area.
- Should not be permitted in kitchens or anywhere food is prepared.
More information about Salmonella in pets and the risks associated with feeding raw meat and animal-derived treats to pets can now be found on the Worms & Germs Resources page.