Hidden Dangers of Unusual Pets

What to know about guinea pigs, snakes, ferrets, iguanas and more
gerbil Photo: Camilo Torres/Shutterstock
boy holding guinea pig
gerbil
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green iguana
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Guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils

These “pocket pets” often draw lots of “awws” from the pet store crowds. But rodents may not be the perfect pets for kids under 5, whose immune systems are immature. They can carry salmonella bacteria. Some pocket pets, especially hamsters, may carry the Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) virus. It causes a viral infection of the brain, which starts with flu-like symptoms, according to the Humane Society of the United States. People can become infected if they inhale dried, airborne particles of the animal’s urine, feces or saliva, according to healthychildren.org, or if they’re bitten, according to the CDC. Encourage hand washing after every playtime or handling of the animal. Pregnant women should stay away from these pets. Rat bites can transmit rat bite fever, a type of strep bacteria, according to Michael San Filippo, spokesperson for the American Medical Veterinary Association (AMVA).