Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Pet that Keeps on Giving


by Stephen Tang, M.D.
August 2008

The contents of this web site are provided as an informational tool.  This is not intended to replace medical advice or care administered by a healthcare professional.  Common sense should always be used when referencing this site.  If, at any time, you feel your child is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.

Recently, our 6-year-old son convinced us to purchase a hermit crab as a pet.  Realizing that there are many benefits to pet ownership such as fostering responsibility, patience and companionship….but, a hermit crab!!!  Go figure… a pet that only a 6-year-old boy would find interesting.  In doing my research into the safety of a hermit crab, I came across some information that may be useful to a family considering the addition of a pet to their household:

It is estimated that approximately 63% of households in the United States contain one or more pets.  Of these households, 3% are comprised of exotic or non-traditional pets.

Exposure to parrots, parakeets and cockatiels can lead to Chlamydia pssittaci, a bacterial infection that can lead to pneumonia and fever.  Although rare, all birds have the potential of spreading this infection.   If your child develops pneumonia, it would be advisable to inform your physician that there is a bird in your household.

Baby poultry (chicks, duckling, goslings and turkeys) are not commonly found in Southern California but worth mentioning.   These animals can transmit Salmonella and will grow into large and often undesirable pets.

Things that slither such as lizards, snakes, turtles and other reptiles can carry Salmonella as well.  It is estimated that 11% of the Salmonella infections in the pediatric population can be attributed to these slippery creatures.

Cats may harbor some diseases that can potentially be passed to their human family members–Cat scratch disease, toxoplasmosis and rabies to name a few.   To minimize the chances of contracting cat-related illnesses, it is recommended that the pet handler adopt the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water after touching cat feces (stools).  Pregnant women should not have contact with cat feces.
  • Avoid cat scratches and bites.
  • If you are scratched or bitten by a cat, wash the area with soap and running water immediately.
  • Vaccinate your cat against rabies.

Dogs may infrequently be responsible for diseases in humans–most notably campylobacter, which may cause crampy abdominal pain and diarrhea in the human host.  Dogs may also carry rabies, a deadly viral disease. Thankfully, the incidence of rabies from dogs is a rare occurrence in the United States.  To minimize the risk of these illnesses, it is recommended that the pet handler have their pet vaccinated against rabies and wash his/her hands after caring for the pet.

Lastly, the chances of a child acquiring an infection from a public zoo are very low, as most zoos are well maintained and there is limited contact.  Petting zoos, however, may pose a different risk to children as participants are encouraged to handle the animals and there are often no hand-washing facilities.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises washing hands after contact with animals, animal products, or their environment, and supervising children younger than 5 years while interacting with animals.

To access additional information on pet safety, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has an excellent section on this topic at

Helpful tips on choosing a pet can also be viewed on the American Academy of Pediatrics website:

By the way, hermit crabs are safe and do not carry any specific pathogen other than the rarely dangerous but common pathogen of genus.extremelyboringitis.