Rabbits are often a great pet for children. Soft, cuddly and sweet, they typically get along well with other pets and can often be given free reign to run the house. But rabbits can also also create health issues for humans, so parents need to be cautious and aware.
Rabbits can produce an allergen on their skin or in their urine that causes an allergic reaction in kids. Symptoms are similar to cat allergies -- sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, congestion and itchy skin that can develop a rash. Kids can come into contact with allergens by touching the rabbit, but it's also an airborne problem. If you keep the rabbit, there are ways to minimize the uncomfortable side effects. Have your child wash his hands after touching the rabbit; do not let him touch his face while he's handling his pet; contain the rabbit to certain rooms to prevent a wider spread of allergens; invest in air filters that pull allergens out of the air; and ask your pediatrician about allergy medication for your child.
Bites and Scratches
Rabbits can scratch when kicking out with their back legs or bite if they feel threatened. In extreme cases, rabbits carrying rabies can transmit the disease through their saliva. Although the wounds they inflict are usually minor, rabbits carry bacteria on their skin, feet and teeth that can cause a secondary infection. It's important to wash a wound with soap and water. Apply a cream or gel disinfectant -- such as Neosporin -- to protect the site further, and cover with a dressing or bandage for up to 24 hours.
Urine and Feces
Besides the ick factor -- your kid inadvertently touches the rabbit's droppings and then food or his mouth -- diseases can be transmitted. Encephalitozoonosis is a parasite passed in urine that can attack kids who already have a weakened immune system. Salmonella is a bacteria that causes bloody diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and fever. Have your children wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling their pet, and never let them eat while they're playing with him. Do not let them pick up rabbit droppings with bare hands, and if they come into contact with droppings have them wash right away.
Your cute little bunny can pass skin mites that burrow into the skin and cause mange. Usually transmitted to family pets, they can cause skin irritations and rashes in humans. He can also pass dermatophytosis, a fungus that causes a patchy, raised area of skin with a ring around it. Also called tinnea or ringworm, nails and hair can be affected as well as skin. Topical treatments can be prescribed by your doctor to eradicate the problem in your child; your rabbit will need to be treated as well.
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Lori Lapierre holds a Bachelor of Arts and Science in public relations/communications. For 17 years, she worked for a Fortune 500 company before purchasing a business and starting a family. She is a regular freelancer for "Living Light News," an award-winning national publication. Her past writing experience includes school news reporting, church drama, in-house business articles and a self-published mystery, "Duty Free Murder."