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When searching for a pet, consider the lowly rock

October 6, 2008 |  2:32 pm

Having trouble deciding on just the right animal to stop the endless chorus of "Please, can we get a pet? Please, please?" Think a dog or cat is too much trouble? Add the journal Pediatrics to your consult-before-buying reading list.

A report in the October issue acknowledges that being around animals can be good for kids -- providing educational opportunities and all that -- and then details the many, many ways such exposures can go horribly wrong. The authors focus specifically on what it terms nontraditional pets (various rodents, reptiles, nonhuman primates and the like) and those animals found in public settings such as petting zoos and parks.

The potential problems, in short:

Reptiles: salmonella infection.

Rodents: salmonella, plague, anthrax, tularemia, ringworm and assorted parasites. The hedgehog comes in for special criticism -- Beatrix Potter be hanged -- because of those spines. Turns out, they can break skin, allowing microbes to enter more easily.

Nonhuman primates: herpes B infections that can cause fatal meningoencephalitis. Don't get hung up on the "meningoencephalitis." "Fatal" is the operative word.

Then there are the petting zoos and exhibits. The related risks include injuries of various stripes, allergies and sure, rabies.

The authors, who clearly are not fans of nontraditional pets and don't pretend to be, refer to various guidelines and safety measures. They also conclude that pediatricians and veterinarians should weigh in on pet selection. Perhaps carelessly, however, they neglect to recommend the merits of a pet rock -- usually only a danger if large and owned by an older sibling.

-- Tami Dennis