Exotic pets pose risks to young children's health, but veterinarians can help parents improve safety, according to an article in the October issue of Pediatrics.
"As trusted sources of health care information, pediatricians and veterinarians are in a unique position to offer information and advice to families considering the purchase of a nontraditional pet or to families who already have a nontraditional pet in the household," the article states. "Informational brochures and posters available for display in physician and veterinarian offices could allow for parent education without significantly increasing time of a visit."
The Pediatrics article states that parents with young children should be discouraged from owning nontraditional pets and educated on risks from animals in public settings such as petting zoos. It states that people should be taught to wash their hands frequently, avoid contact with nontraditional pets and their environments, and supervise young children when they are in contact with animals in public settings.
The article is accompanied by a list of nontraditional pets and animals encountered in public settings. The list includes various species of amphibians, fish, wildlife mammals, livestock, equids, weasels, lagomorphs, rodents, and reptiles.
The AVMA responded to the article with a reminder that good hygiene reduces the spread of diseases among all age groups. The response also states that pets should not be abandoned or set free.
National news media reported on the Pediatrics article, and Dr. James Cook, president of the AVMA, said in the Oct. 7 response that it would be a shame if newspaper articles scared people away from pet ownership or caused them to abandon pets.
"Pets bring our children joy and companionship and teach them about animal welfare and responsibility," Dr. Cook said in the response. "If anything, these reports should remind people about the importance of washing their hands and other sanitary measures they can take when in contact with any animal."
The warning about nontraditional pets comes while members of Louisiana's turtle industry are suing the Food and Drug Administration in federal court over regulations barring sales of turtles with carapaces less than four inches in length. The ban began in 1975 because of reports linking turtle hatchlings to Salmonella infections in children.
Senators and representatives from the state have tried to end the FDA regulation through federal legislation.
The AVMA recently released information on pets and zoonotic disease at www.avma.org. Click on the Animal Health tab, follow the link to the AVMA FAQs section, and click on the link labeled "Pets and Zoonotic Diseases."
AVMA policy favors restrictions on private ownership of "indigenous and non-native wild animals that pose a significant risk to public health, domestic animal health, or the ecosystem, as well as those species whose welfare is unacceptably compromised."
"Except under special circumstances (such as recognized conservation and research programs), the AVMA especially supports regulatory efforts to prohibit private ownership, and the importation for the purpose of private ownership, of non-native animals that threaten public health, domestic animal health, indigenous wild animal health, agriculture, or the ecosystem, as well as those species whose welfare is unacceptably compromised," states the AVMA policy on Private Ownership of Wild Animals.
The AVMA has also endorsed the Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, promulgated by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians. The document is available through the Animal Contact Compendia section at www.nasphv.org.