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A family pet can be your child’s best friend. Pets can teach responsibility as your child feeds, walks or cleans up after Buddy or Fido. "Pets are great fun, but require a certain amount of work, care and caution," says veterinarian Karyn Collier, chief medical officer of St. Francis Veterinary Center in Woolwich Township, New Jersey. Choosing the safest pet for your child is key, since many animals may be too rough, tough and downright dangerous for children. You don't even have to choose some exotic rarity to run into trouble.
Small, slow-moving, and low-maintenance, turtles may seem like the ideal pet for a tiny tyke. But those little hands may pick up more than you bargained for when they clutch these petite reptiles. "Turtles can carry salmonella and at particular risk are small children that do not always wash their hands promptly or adequately," says Collier. Turtles will be a better pet for older children and teens than for younger kids, but you'll still want to take special care with cleaning.
Dogs are one of the most common household pets, but not all dogs are family friendly. Choosing the most appropriate breed is key to a happy match for both child and canine. A high energy, aggressive breed may pose danger to your children, says Collier. "If the situation is compounded with poor training, a dangerous situation may develop," she says. Don't assume that only big furry brutes are a danger to your child, either -- small, teacup-type breeds like Yorkies and Chihuahuas are typically the most inappropriate choices for children, says Amy Robinson, a dog trainer in Vero Beach, Florida. "These tiny pets are vulnerable to being dropped, stepped on and severely injured, so they begin to fear the approach of the children and show teeth when picked up," she says.
Even though ferrets have become a favorite pet for many families, the risks may outweigh the cuteness of these critters. According to Bruce Coston, a Virginia-based veterinarian and author of “The Gift of Pets,” children are at a significantly higher risk of being bitten by a ferret than by dogs and other species. “It appears that [ferrets] are more likely to attack when they smell milk on the breath of a youngster,” says Coston. “The increase in bite risk is significant.”
As much as your child longs to have a really unique pet, or wants to show mercy toward some abandoned baby critters in the yard, use caution when inviting outdoor animals in. Wild-animal species are never good pets, says Coston. "Raccoons can be carriers of intestinal parasites that are fatal in humans," he explains. "Wild species, such as wolf hybrids, can become aggressive without warning and can have personality changes as they mature." If you're looking for a safe household pet, you'll need to leave the cooing over wild things for the zoo.
Horses may not spring to mind when you think of dangerous pets. If you have acres of land and an available stable, providing your child with the experience of bonding with a prized pony is probably appealing. Yet ponies and horses are associated with more injuries than other pets, says Coston. "Even mild-mannered horses, due to their size, can inflict injuries on young children accidentally," he says. "Young children should never be allowed to interact unsupervised with horses."