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kids and exotic pets: safety & everything else you need to know

Updated: Apr 15

As pet owners and animal lovers, we hope to pass that love on to our kids. That also means we need to teach them safety, best practices, and correct handling methods. It keeps our children and our pets safe and teaches our kids that animals deserve respect and proper care. Whether your kid has finally talked you into a leopard gecko and you’re new to exotics, or you’re new to kids and are figuring out how to integrate your human child with your pets, it can be hard to know where to start. We’ve put together a helpful list of things you should be aware of and precautions you should always take to keep everyone involved completely safe. 

kid with hamster

first, what is an exotic pet?

There is a big difference between a wild animal and an exotic pet. An exotic pet is simply any pet that is not a dog, cat, or farm animal. Fish, reptiles, pocket pets, rabbits, and birds all fall under the umbrella of exotics, while other animals like raccoons, foxes, and opossums are wild animals who may have become adjusted to humans. When we talk about exotic pets, we're talking about unique pets and not wild animals.

exotic pet safety for kids

Safe practices aren’t just about keeping your child safe from your pets. It’s also about keeping your pet safe from your kids. 

Your pet doesn't want to hurt your child, but if they’re startled, they may bite or scratch. Depending on the type of exotic pet you have, injuries from scratches and bites can easily lead to infections. This is especially true in very young children due to their immature immune systems. 

Your child might have the best intentions, but improper feeding, handling, or just being reckless can pose a danger to your pets. Rabbits especially can be severely injured in their spines due to improper handling. Similarly, tarantulas are very sensitive and can be very harmed with improper handling.

So how do you keep them safe from each other? 

  • Remember that reptiles are great, but they can pose a health risk. They famously carry Salmonella but can also carry E. coli, Campylobacter, Aeromonas, Klebsiella, and more. 

fur and feather pet care kid exotic pet safety

  • Do not allow your child to interact with your pet unsupervised. This really goes for non-exotic pets as well. You don’t want to risk injury to your pet from a curious child grabbing them by the tail… or dropping them.

  • Proper handling is important for your child's safety as well. Tarantulas, for example, have urticating hairs that are very sharp and prickly. When they feel threatened, they will shed these hairs and can cause severe skin and eye irritation. So handling with caution (or ideally, not at all) is essential. Whatever exotic pet you have, make sure to research and understand any dangers posed when handling them.

  • Teach your child to wash their hands before and after handling pets and their equipment. Reptiles and birds are natural carriers of Salmonella. Hand washing should become automatic after interacting with any animal… especially the feathered and scaly ones.

  • No kissing animals or putting them around their faces. It’s not just germs. You want your kid to avoid bites and scratches from a startled animal… especially around the eyes. 

  • Keep your pet's enclosure out of reach of children. A locked room is a great location for your exotic pets. Otherwise, consider putting the enclosure at a height your child cannot reach. Continuously emphasize that they can only be in the pet room or interact with the pet when you are around.

  • But… don’t try to keep your child from interacting with your animals. Instead, demonstrate the proper way to touch and handle them. The earlier you begin to teach your child appropriate behavior around your animals, the better they will be at respecting them and following rules. 

  • Don’t try to teach your child responsibility by putting them in charge of an exotic pet. These animals often have complicated needs that a child may not understand. Even “simple” pets like rats should not be in the sole care of a child. Allow your older child to help with cleaning and feeding, but always be sure to double-check their work to keep your pets safe and healthy. 

  • For rabbit owners, don’t allow young children to pick up your rabbit. Teach children to only pet the rabbit when they’re on the ground and to remain calm when interacting with them.

kids with bunny rabbit

  • Don’t allow your exotic pets to roam freely. Your child could accidentally step on them. If your pets need exercise, create a safe enclosure for them to stretch their legs. 

  • Prevent accidental scratches by keeping your pet’s nails trimmed. 

picking an exotic pet when you have kids

If you are just now starting on your exotic pet journey, sit down with your kids and decide the type that will work the best for your family. If you have a child under 5, either consider exotics that are not reptiles, or wait until your child is older and has a more developed immune system.

kid with snake fur and feather pet care oakland ca

Guinea pigs, leopard geckos, rats, and rabbits are great family pets for homes with older kids. Many specialty rescues offer classes in caring for these pets… which is a huge bonus if you've never owned an exotic pet before. 

Here are some questions you should ask yourself and your family members before committing to a pet. 

  • Can you afford their basic maintenance?

  • How much specialized care do they need, and what is your experience?

  • What do they eat, and are you prepared to handle insects or frozen feeder mice?

  • How old are your children, and do they follow rules?

  • How much time do you have? Some birds do best with frequent social interaction, while some reptiles are fine not being handled at all.

It’s so important to be honest with yourself and with your family when selecting a new pet. Any pet requires lots of responsibility and attention. Ensure that you are up for the level of care that the specific pet needs.

In doubt? You can always reach out to Fur and Feather Pet Care! We’d be happy to shed some light on specific species habits and routines to help you make the best selection for your family.


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