October 6, 2008 / 4:18 AM / 11 years ago

Kids want an exotic pet? Ask your doctor first

An iguana in a file photo. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Reptiles, monkeys, rodents and other exotic pets are growing in popularity but should be discouraged in homes with small children or people with immune system problems, according to a report published on Monday.

While pediatricians know about pet-related hazards, only 5 percent say they regularly educate parents and children about such dangers, an attitude that should change, Dr. Larry Pickering of Emory University Medical School in Atlanta said in report for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Most nontraditional pets pose a risk to the health of young children, and their acquisition and ownership should be discouraged in households with young children,” they said in a report published in the October issue of Pediatrics.

Most reptiles carry salmonella bacteria, for example.

The report said parents need to be educated about the increased risks of exposure to nontraditional pets and animals in public settings for infants and for children under 5, such as petting zoos, and for people with immune system problems.

Potential problems range from allergies to the spread of infectious diseases, they said. For instance, in 2003 an outbreak of monkeypox affected around 20 people in the U.S. midwest, traced to imported Gambian pouched rats.

The report said the number of exotic pets in the United States has increased by 75 percent since 1992. In 2005 there were nearly 88,000 mammals, 1.3 million reptiles and 203 million fish imported illegally into the United States.

“This illegal trade subverts rules established by regulatory agencies to reduce the introduction of disease ...” the report said.

Reporting by Michael Conlon; Editing by Maggie Fox and Patrick Markey

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