Published 2 May 2024

Be careful of close contact of children, at home, with non-traditional pets (NTP)

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Be careful of close contact of children, at home, with non-traditional pets (NTP)1

Press release from the French National Academy of Medicine

May 2, 2024

Apart from dogs or cats, “non-traditional pets” (NTP), domestic (rabbit, goat, pig, etc.) or non-domestic animals [rodents (rats, mice, etc.), hedgehogs, reptiles, amphibians, birds…] may be kept at home. To hold them is subject to declaration or possession of a certificate of capacity, or is even prohibited (1), due to the risks incurred by the most vulnerable people, including children under 5, an age at which recommending hand washing is not always effective.

The trauma (bite, scratch, constriction, etc.) that may occur is generally sporadic and left ignored by the victim. Biting is the most common means of inoculation of a pathogen present naturally in the animal’s saliva and which can cause fatal septicemia.

Since the animal is most often asymptomatic, any close contact also presents a risk of transmission of an infectious agent, particularly when this animal sleeps with the child in the bedroom (2).

With NTP, the risk of zoonotic disease is significant and varies depending on the animal kept: salmonellosis (wild rats or mice, birds (particularly through consumption of contaminated eggs from pet chickens), lizards, frogs (after a film for children encouraging them to kiss these animals), small aquatic turtles (3) (hence their ban on sale in the United States in 1975), reptiles (especially in young children) (4); salmonellosis resistant to fluoroquinolones, linked to the use of these antibiotics in reptiles (5); lymphocytic choriomeningitis (wild mice (6), psittacosis (birds); enterohemorrhagic colibacillosis (ruminants); (7) or rat reservoirs of the “cow pox” virus (8)]; leptospirosis (rats, mice, etc.) (9); hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome due to Seoul hantavirus (rat) (10).

In the United States, these risks were identified from 1996 to 2017 and mainly concern children under 5 (11). They can be lethal, and the disease the most frequently transmitted by NTP is salmonellosis (81% of cases). In Europe, underestimation of these risks is linked to several factors: 1) non-reporting of isolated cases; 2) absence of an alert system capable, as in the United States, of collecting sporadic cases; 3) ignorance of some zoonoses, whether emerging or linked to some NTP species.


Given the underestimation of these risks, the National Academy of Medicine recommends to (12) : 

– inform the public about the risks linked to the presence at home of some NTP whose detention is authorized;

– advise against, when children under 5 are present at home, ownership of NTPs that can bite (ferret, rat, iguana), or transmit infectious agents (rodents, snakes, turtles, amphibians, birds, small ruminants, etc.);

– remind parents of the importance, in the event of any illness in a child under 5, of notifying their doctor if an NTP is present at home;

– strengthen health controls in animal stores housing marketed NTPs, depending on the zoonotic risks specific to each species;

– create an epidemiological surveillance platform for zoonoses observed in children in contact with an NTP, mobilizing all the stakeholders concerned (medical and veterinary laboratories, etc.), and allowing data sharing for detection, early treatment and prevention of these diseases.



– Arrêté 8 octobre 2018 fixant les règles générales de détention d’animaux d’espèces non domestiques (Order of October 8, 2018 from the French Ministère de la transition écologique et solidaire, setting the general rules for keeping non-domestic animals)

– Chomel B.B., Sun B., Zoonoses in the Bedroom. Emerg Infect Dis., 2011;17(2):167‑72.

– Basler C., Bottichio L., Higa J., et al., Multistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella Poona Infections Associated with Pet Turtle Exposure, MMWR, 2015; 64(29):804

– The European Surveillance System (TESSy) de l’ECDC /29 mai 2012

– Karp B.E., Campbell D., Chen J.C., et al., Plasmid‐mediated quinolone resistance in human non‐typhoidal Salmonella infections: An emerging public health problem in the United States. Zoonoses and Public Health. 2018;65(7):838‑49.

– Knust B., Ströher U., Edison L., et al., Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus in Employees and Mice at Multipremises Feeder-Rodent Operation, Emerg Infect Dis., 2014; 20(2): 240‑7.

– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Update: multistate outbreak of monkeypox, MMWR, 2003;52(27):642‑

– Campe H., Zimmermann P., Glos K., et al., Cowpox Virus Transmission from Pet Rats to Humans, Emerg Infect Dis.2009;15(5):777‑80)

– Mori M., Bourhy P., Guyader M.L., et al., Pet rodents as possible risk for leptospirosis, Eurosurveillance. 2017 : 22(43):16

– Taori S.K., Jameson L.J., Campbell A., et al. UK hantavirus, renal failure, and pet rats. Lancet. 2013 ;381(9871) :1070.

– Varela K., Brown J.A., Lipton B., Dunn J, et al. A Review of Zoonotic Disease Threats to Pet Owners: A Compendium of Measures to Prevent Zoonotic Diseases Associated with Non-Traditional Pets: Rodents and Other Small Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Backyard Poultry, and Other Selected Animals. Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases. 2022 ;22(6):303‑60.

– Brugère-Picoux J., Rosolen S., Hascoet J.M., Zoonotic and traumatic risks linked to children’s contact with non-traditional pets (NTP) Opinion of the French National Academy of Medicine, 12 March 2024


[1] Press release from the Academy’s Rapid Communication Platform.


PRESS CONTAC T: Virginie Gustin +33 (0)6 62 52 43 42 ACADÉMIE NATIONALE DE MÉDECINE, 16 rue Bonaparte – 75272 Paris cedex 06 Site : / Twitter : @Acadmed