Animals Hoarding: Health Hazards of Living With Exotic Pets


Animal hoarding, which has become prevalent enough to warrant its own reality TV show, took a turn for the truly bizarre this week in Shirley, New York, near the eastern end of Long Island, where an elderly woman was found to be harboring more than 100 animals in her home. But instead of the usual mix of cats, dogs, and birds, she appeared to be assembling her own ark, complete with chinchillas, deer, pigs, and even a cow. Which would be fine if this woman lived on a farm, but these poor animals were residing inside her house. Just like the song “The Circle of Life” – the Marilyn Manson version, that is.

Just when we were getting over the potential safety issues of letting our cats and dogs share our beds at night, now we need to face the potential health hazards of snuggling up with pigs, goats, and deer. What hath Paris Hilton wrought?

While the Shirley case is extreme, there are plenty of even-keeled people with a yen for exotic pets. Anteaters, foxes, pigs, even slow lorises have found homes (and viral video infamy) as domestic pets. But aside from the obvious risks associated with owning an exotic animal (when was the last time you needed major facial reconstruction after your cat went berserk?), officials say there are other good reasons to stick with more traditional pets like Fido and Mittens.

“We of course do not support the keeping of exotic animals as pets,” says Adam Goldfarb, director of the Pets at Risk Program for the Humane Society. He says that the risks that come with owning certain animals – “like a tiger, or a chimpanzee” – are obvious. Yes, we’ve all seen The Hangover. But there are also less obvious health hazards. “For example, reptiles carry salmonella,” Goldfarb says. And that oh-so-trendy pet pig might give you scabies.

“We don’t have a problem with people who have the space and expertise having these kinds of animals, but pigs and goats haven’t been designed to live indoors as pets. Certainly those animals can have wonderful temperaments, they can be very friendly, but they don’t have the same kind of domestication as, say, dogs.”

If you do decide to go the exotic route with your pets, you should follow the rules of good hygiene and always wash your hands after playing with or touching your animal and before eating. But, hey, that advice also holds true for dogs and cats. And have you seen what those creatures have a tendency to roll around in?

Which brings us back to that niggling question: Can Rover and Garfield share our beds without giving us the plague or not? “You know, I don’t think we’ve taken a position on that,” Goldfarb says. “I can tell you, there are probably a lot of employees here with pets who share the bed with them at night.”

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    • Kelly

      “…but pigs and goats haven’t been designed to live indoors as pets. ”
      Um, no animals have been “designed” to live indoors as pets, unless by design, you mean something supernatural. Just sayin’.