My preschooler really wants a pet, preferably something small. Right now, we're trying to decide between a turtle and a hamster. Are these OK pet options for young kids?
Good for you for checking before buying! Actually, turtles and hamsters aren't wise pet choices for young children. What many parents don't realize is that reptiles (like turtles) and rodents (like hamsters) can transmit the bacteria salmonella through their feces (or poop).
So, whenever kids touch the animals or anything else that came in contact with the critters, they can be exposed to illness-inducing salmonella. Salmonella infection causes a gastrointestinal illness that can cause fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea (sometimes bloody) which can lead to dehydration.
Babies and young kids, who are notorious for putting their little hands in their mouths, are at the highest risk of getting salmonella infections. In fact, about a third of the estimated 50,000 cases reported in the United States each year are in kids age 4 and under. And when all of the vomiting and runny bowel movements lead to dehydration, salmonella infections can be downright dangerous for the littlest kids.
But salmonella is just one reason why some animals are not suitable pets for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. They can carry other infections, and children are often at highest risk because they're often in closest contact with the pets.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), all of these are bad pet options for kids under age 5:
These animals may bite, trigger allergies, or spread disease and infection, says the AAP.
Still, kids may get up close and personal with these kinds of animals at places like zoos, petting zoos, pet stores, and county fairs on family or school outings. But caution and precautions are key to keeping little ones safe as they explore and observe. Whenever young children interact with these animals — as well as other common bacteria-transmitting ones like cattle, sheep, and goats — it's extremely important to:
Of course, no pet is perfectly safe. Even beloved cats and dogs can still bite, scratch, trigger allergies, and carry infections, too — they're simply considered better choices than other animals.
Before buying or adopting a pet for kids of any age, be sure to do your research (on the type of animal, the facility you're getting it from, and the kind of care the critter would require). Be informed and aware of potential infections the pets can carry and how such infections can be prevented. And be aware of how to keep your pet immunized against infections like rabies.
Teach your kids how to properly handle and be safe around any pet. Look at pet guides and talk to a local veterinarian as well as friends and neighbors about their pet-raising experiences, too.
Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: January 2012
|The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) The HSUS educates the public about the humane treatment of all animals, and how to find and care for different kinds of pets.|
|The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) The ASPCA provides education about the humane treatment of animals (including finding and caring for a pet) and pet adoption opportunities nationwide.|
|How to Stay Safe Around Animals Do you love animals? Lots of kids do. Find out how to stay safe around them in this article for kids.|
|If I Have Asthma, Can I Keep My Pet? Uh-oh. Your pet might be making your asthma worse. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|If I Have Asthma, Can I Keep My Pet? If you have asthma, you're more likely to be allergic to a pet than someone who doesn't have asthma. Find out what you can do if you're allergic to your pet.|
|Selecting Safe Pets Selecting the right pet is a serious decision that your family should make together. Before you choose a pet, check out these tips and suggestions.|
|Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands? Washing your hands is the best way to stop germs from spreading. Learn all about the best way to wash your hands in this article for kids.|
|Why Is Hand Washing So Important? Did you know that proper hand washing is the best way to keep from getting sick? Here's how to teach this all-important habit to your kids.|
|Preventing Dog Bites Teaching kids a few basic dog manners will help them enjoy safe encounters with Fido.|
|Infections That Pets Carry Kids can benefit from the companionship, affection, and relationships they share with pets. But it's important to know how to protect your family from infections carried by pets and other animals.|
|Bites and Scratches Animal bites and scratches, even minor ones, can become infected and spread bacteria to other parts of the body, regardless of whether the animal is a family pet or a wild animal.|
|Animal Bites Instruction Sheet Animal bites and scratches that break the skin can cause infection. Rarely, animal bites can cause rabies, a dangerous, life-threatening disease.|
|Pets and Your Health Like people, pets can carry infections - and some of these can be transmitted to people. Find out how you and your pet can stay infection free.|
|Hand Washing Did you know that the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands? If you don't wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself.|
|My Pet Died - How Can I Feel Better? Losing a pet can feel like losing a good friend. Read this article to learn what to do during this sad time.|
|My Pet Died. How Can I Feel Better? Even if you're having a bad day, you don't feel popular, or you're having trouble at school, your pet loves you. So losing a pet can be heartbreaking. This article outlines some ways to cope.|
|When a Pet Dies For most kids, pets are more than just animals – they're members of the family. So it can be heartbreaking to lose one. Here's how to help kids cope.|
|If My Child Has Asthma, Can We Keep Our Pet? At least 30% of people with asthma are allergic to animals. So if your child has asthma, consider whether your pet could be producing allergens that trigger asthma symptoms.|
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