The Zoological Medicine Service at CSU's Veterinary Teaching Hospital cares for all types of animals that don't fall into the "traditional pet" category. Exotic pets – like the T-Bird, a the lilac crowned Amazon parrot, pictured here – can make great friends, and children can be particularly drawn to these pint-sized pals.
While the benefits of owning pets of any kind are well-documented, when your child wants to play parent to an exotic pet it is wise to speak to your veterinarian and do some research in order to make an educated decision.
Although small and seemingly less demanding, many exotic pets require a great deal of husbandry that is beyond what a child can provide. Pets being cared for by children can suffer from neglect and malnourishment. Rarely are these intentional, but exotic pets are often being cared for by children with little oversight from the parents.
Additionally, many exotic pets can carry diseases that can make children, whose immune systems are still developing, very sick. Reptiles should be avoided in households with children less than three years of age due to the risk of Salmonellosis, a nasty disease that can be fatal in young children. Anyone handling reptiles should follow excellent hygiene practices: wash hands and/or use hand sanitizers immediately after handling the pet or any of its cage furnishings.
Rodents such as rats, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils and hamsters, which are commonly recommended as "good first pets for kids", may carry lymphochoriomeningitis virus, which can cause severe neurological disease in immune-suppressed individuals (including kids!). Rodents and rabbits may also cause severe allergic reactions, especially in asthmatic children or children with familial allergies.
Whether it's the guinea pig that gets forgotten about for a day or two and ends up sick from lack of food and water or the snake that escapes because the cage lid was not put on correctly, most young children lack the mental and emotional capabilities to care for a pet properly and need significant aid from parents.
So, if you find yourself faced with the question, "Hey Daddy/Mommy, can I get one of those?", please think about the welfare of the child and the animal, speak to your physician and veterinarian, and then answer wisely.
Article courtesy of Matthew S. Johnston, VMD, DABVP – Avian