Are certain pets better than others for young kids?
Are certain pets better than others, especially for young kids?
Q: My preschooler really wants a pet, preferably something small. Right now, we're trying to decide between a turtle and a hamster. Are these okay pet options for young kids?
A: 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. The nasty gastrointestinal infection can cause fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea (sometimes bloody).
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 of the reasons why some animals are just no good for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. According to a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), all of these are bad pet options for kids under age 5:
* reptiles (turtles, snakes, lizards, iguanas)
* rodents (hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, chinchillas, hedgehogs, prairie dogs, mice, rats)
* amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders)
* baby poultry (chicks, ducklings, goslings, turkeys)
* illegal exotic animals
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:
* closely supervise
* encourage kids not to kiss the animals or put their hands in their mouths after touching them or being in or near their enclosures
* make sure they wash their hands really well and/or use hand sanitizer afterward, whether they actually touch the animals or not
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). Look at pet guides and talk to a local veterinarian as well as friends and neighbors about their pet-raising experiences, too.