Cute, fuzzy and… infected? Live pets can bring unexpected “gifts”

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baby chicks easter giftsEaster and the spring season typically bring up thoughts of new life and baby animals. But ducklings, chicks or bunnies, need a significant amount of care and are not suitable pets for children.

“Baby animals can be a great teaching tool for children, but it may be more appropriate to take a family trip to the zoo rather than bringing an animal home as a pet. A duckling, chick, or bunny might be cute today, but caring for an animal is a long-term commitment,” said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Director of Public Health and Health Officer. “All of these types of animals could potentially live ten years or longer, so it’s important to be aware of these living creatures’ special needs, proper care and handling.”

Every year around this season, many children and adults become ill after contact with a duckling or chick, as these animals naturally shed bacteria called Salmonella. These bacteria can cause serious and occasionally fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Symptoms of infection in otherwise healthy individuals often include fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, and abdominal cramps.

Health Concerns aren’t the only reason to avoid giving chicks and bunnies as Easter Gifts. Did you know that a rabbit you give your child on Easter may still be around long after they have grown into a teen?

baby rabbits as easter giftsRabbits can live as long as small dogs and baby rabbits require as much care, feeding and veterinary services as a dog or cat. If the rabbit is very young, it will require costly milk-replacer formula and feedings every three hours during the day and night. If not properly cared for, the bunny may die quickly. Additionally, rabbits are often frightened when moved into a new home and may kick, bite, and scratch children who are anxious to play with them. Visit MakeMineChocolate.org to find out about the realities of owning and caring for a pet rabbit.

Animal Services receives abandoned ducks, chickens, roosters and rabbits every year when parents find themselves unable to care for these animals as they grow. Unfortunately, many must be euthanized due to lack of available homes. Some animals given as gifts are released into the wild when people tire of them. However, the animals are unable to fend for themselves and usually die of starvation or exposure to the elements, or are preyed upon by other animals. It’s not easy breaking the news to a child that their new pet is being given away.

Parents who want to teach their children about spring babies or responsible pet ownership are urged to give non-living presents, such as stuffed animals, art supplies, books or other educational materials.

If your family’s set on getting a rabbit, start by giving a chocolate bunny or a stuffed toy for Easter and, if your young children are really serious about it, a book on rabbit care. If they’re still begging for a bunny after the holiday has passed, then find out how to adopt a rabbit (or even better, a bonded pair).

Long Beach families that want to adopt a bunny can look into adopting a rabbit from Long Beach City College. Contact Jacque Olson at jolson@lbcc.edu for information.

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