“Nice pets” can make your children SICK (Article)



According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 74 million families in the U.S. own at least one pet, many exotic or collected in the wild. There are many benefits to having a pet, but it is important for parents to note that there are also risks. For example, recently there has been an unfortunate increase in the number of illnesses linked to pet ownership and animal contact in children.

Enteric, or intestinal, illnesses such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter (food poisoning) are examples of the many zoonotic pathogens that pets and other animals can spread to people.  Some animals are therefore not appropriate pets for people that are at high-risk of disease, such as children less than 5 years old.  Animals that can spread these diseases include turtles and other reptiles, amphibians, chicks, ducklings, and rodents among others. Here is some basic information that all parents need to know;

Salmonella spread by:

  • Turtles and other reptiles
  • Frogs and other amphibians
  • Live poultry
  • Hedgehogs
  • Rodents such as mice, hamsters and guinea pigs.

Food poisoning spread by:

  • Farm animals
    • Such as cattle and poultry
    • Cats and dogs
      • Particularly puppies and kittens.



  • Pet ownership
  • Animal exhibits
  • Farms
  • Stores
  • Schools and childcare facilities
  • Petting zoos


  • Infected animals can appear clean and healthy and still spread disease-causing pathogens
  • The environments where animals live can also result in illness


People of any age can become ill with enteric zoonoses, but the pediatric population, is at higher risk for serious illness. Young children’s immune systems are still developing, they are less likely to wash their hands after handling animals, and they are more likely to put their fingers in their mouths.



  • Washing hands with soap and water immediately after handling:
    • Pets/other animals
    • Their food
    • Anything in the area where animals live/roam
    • Pets should be kept out of kitchens and other areas where food and drink is prepared, served, stored, consumed

Being aware of these possibilities can help prevent illness! We all want our children to have a chance to explore nature but let’s keep them safe while they do.


Your comments and stories are welcome at my blog, www.docsmo.com.  While you are there, take some time to check out other topics you may find interesting.  Until next time.


Smo Notes:


Written collaboratively by Abbie Doelger and Paul Smolen M.D.