Exotic Pets and Child Safety

A photo of a pet raccoon looking up with big, sad eyes with bold white text over it that says "Exotic Pets and Child Safety

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Are exotic pets safe around children?

As someone with over fifty animals on my property–raccoons, bobcats, foxes, etc–I frequently get asked how my kids do with the animals. This question is generally followed by “What exotic pets can you recommend for households with children?” These are both complex questions, but I’ll try to break it down and explain.  

I got my first fox–an arctic–when my youngest son was four and my oldest was six. Does that mean I recommend others do the same? Not necessarily. While it is possible to have exotic pets and children at the same time, exotic pets can be a danger to your children, so you must take some serious precautions. 

Things to consider when you have children and want a wild animal as a pet

Right off the bat, there are two things you need to consider when you have kids and want to keep wildlife as a pet. The first question is “What exotic pet do I want?” and the second is “what role will my children play in this animal’s life?” In the case of my pet arctic fox and my small children, I understood I had to be careful. My kids were too young to interact with him much, and could not do so without intense supervision. Once my pet fox was an adult, I knew that allowing him around my small children was off the table. He would play way too rough for my kids, and I could not risk my children being hurt. This meant making sure I had time to spend with my arctic fox one on one, without the kids. It also meant having an enclosure set up so he wasn’t housed in their space.

 That same principle applies to most exotics, not just foxes. An important note should you chose to allow your child to interact with an animal under supervision: you must be prepared to jump between your child and an upset animal should the need arise. Even people who work with captive wildlife professionally get bitten. Frequently.

A photo of a blonde woman with a blue shirt and black glasses frowning as she shows off a raccoon bite
A lovely bite from our raccoon Ralph, who was upset I smelled like another animal.

When is a child old enough to interact with an exotic pet?

Now what if you want your kids to be able to care for and interact with the exotic pet of your choice? In that case, it is best to wait until your youngest child is closer to 12 or 13. Your child must understand there is a high chance of getting hurt by the animal, and have the maturity to consent to that. Even then you’ll have to constantly supervise your child and teach them to respect the animal. Your child should be trained in what to do should they get bitten by your exotic pet. Exotic pets and captive bred wildlife aren’t as tolerant as domestic animals when it comes to handling and kids. With this in mind, it’s important that your children don’t do anything to provoke them in order to avoid injury.

Keep in mind, these recommendations are just my experience with our animals and our children. Depending on the individual animal and child, you may be able to allow them to interact at a different age or not at all. 

Are pet raccoons safe around children?

No, pet raccoons are not safe around children. While children shouldn’t have unsupervised access to exotic pets in general, raccoons pose a risk much higher than something like a pet fox. A child under the age of 12 should never have access to a raccoon without the supervision of an experienced professional. Under no circumstances should a young child be allowed to hold a raccoon. Even baby raccoons can severely injure your child. One pet raccoon we know ended up being rehomed as it severely hurt the toddler who was snuggling with it, which leads to the next point…

Do not allow your child to get bit or scratched

 I am not here to tell you what to do if your child gets bit by your pet raccoon or fox–I am here to tell you not to let it happen in the first place. Do not allow your exotic pet to bite your child. In addition to the fact a child should not be hurt by an animal bites they aren’t old enough to consent to, you also risk legal issues and having your exotic pet killed. If your child gets bit by a wild animal you are keeping as a pet, even if the animal was born in captivity, you chance CPS taking away your child. Additionally, if your child ends up needing medical treatment for a bite or a scratch, your pet will have to be euthanized and tested for rabies. It does not matter if your raccoon, fox, etc has its rabies shot or not, these animals are not considered domestic and will not be quarantined like cats or dogs. 

A photo of a human hand showing four red puncture wounds from a raccoon bite showing the physical damage exotic pets can do
A bite from a pet raccoon on one of our board members
A photo of a woman's knee cap showing a large laceration from a pet fox bite. A photo showing the physical damage exotic pets can do
A bite from a pet fox on another board member

Are foxes good pets for children?

This question seems to be asked quite frequently on google, so allow me to answer. No, foxes are not good pets for children. Foxes are rarely even good pets for adults. 


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