The Weird Ways Your Pets Could Kill or Disable You

Pets of all kinds — some familiar, some bizarre — are treasured companions and curiosities for animal aficionados. Yet living with other species poses risks. Pets can kill or maim in bizarre and unexpected ways. We’re not talking dog bites; we are talking lethal lizards, arthropod attacks, hamster hazards, freak fish tank infections, parasite rampages, and chlamydia death by cockatiel.

10. Parrot Fever

Cockatiels and other small parrot family members are popular pets. But birds kept as pets can carry nasty diseases, and in one notorious case a death alleged to have come from a pet store-purchased cockatiel led to a lawsuit. The cause? A type of chlamydia (albeit an avian one) transmissible to humans and, in rarer cases, from an infected human to a non-infected human. Transmission may take place by “kissing” a bird, breathing dropping-derived particles, or from simply handling the bird. Parrot Fever is rare, with less than 10 cases of the disease occurring in the United States annually from 2010 onward.

The disease-causing organism is genetically related to the common type of chlamydia notorious as a sexually transmitted disease passable between humans, but is a different organism, known as Chlamydia psittaciSymptoms of parrot fever in affected humans include fever, coughing, chills, muscle weakness, diarrhea, nausea, and exhaustion. Bird symptoms include weight loss, discharges, dropping color changes and lethargy. While parrots are famous as potential transmitters of the disease, other types of birds may also carry the infection including ducks, chickens, turkeys, pigeons and songbirds. Cases mostly occurring where large numbers of birds are being reared for food, eggs or kept as pets. The disease is known from countries as far apart as Australia and England, but is more common in the tropics.

9. Fish Tank Infections

Doing some maintenance on an aquarium? Nicked yourself on the tank frame in the process? Might be up for losing a finger or worse, in extreme cases. Fish tanks can contain a wide variety of pathogens, and open cuts or scratches can be cause for a nasty infection. Mycobacterium marinum infections can cause horrific symptoms, as one teen discovered after cutting her hand in a fish tank. Chronic infection, surgery, and spread of infection into deep tissue resulted. Amputations may result in the worst cases. The bacteria can be best avoided by first making sure there is no open wound or cut on your hand, and second, washing your hands very well after any aquarium maintenance or contact with the fish.

Furthermore, be sure as a fishkeeper to never mix household utensils with aquarium maintenance gear, or to suck on a siphon when changing the water. Another threat posed to the careless aquarist is the chance of salmonella exposure from actual fish and also other popular aquatic life, such as newts or aquatic reptiles. The disease can lead to severe gastrointestinal symptoms and even death in severe cases.

8. Tarantula Hair Shooting

Are you thinking a tarantula would look cool? Well, it’s not about just avoiding a bite. The enormous arachnids may constitute the spider world’s answer to King Kong, but their venomous capabilities are often overrated while a more insidious danger posed by the animals is frequently overlooked. You might even have trouble looking at the tarantula after an attack of flying hair. No, porcupines do not “shoot” their quills, but tarantulas can shoot their sharp hairs, potentially causing serious eye injuries. Tarantula bodies are covered in fine hairs, with the hairs on their huge, bulbous abdomens known as setae being tipped with pain-inducing barbs.

Upon an encounter with an adversary, which could simply be an insufficiently trained animal handler, the irate tarantula can use its legs to flick the abdomen hairs into the “victim” in one of the most dextrous types of combat used by any animals. Alternatively, tarantulas may simply rub their belly up against the target, pushing the harpoon-like hairs into the flesh of the enemy. Handlers may suffer pain in the hands, but the worst cases involve some nasty eye symptoms arising from the presence of multiple mini-harpoons being jabbed into the eyeballs, having to be removed by doctors using tweezers.

7. Hamster Bites

Hamsters are incredibly popular small pets, resembling a small bear but related closely to mouse and gerbil species. Syrian Hamsters, a larger species, are the most popular, while Russian Dwarf Hamsters and Chinese Hamsters are also sometimes kept. When disturbed, hamsters can inflict a nasty bite with their incisor teeth, potentially leading to numerous medical complications. Hamster bites have been known to trigger fatal allergic reactions in the form of anaphylaxis, a problem facing a small but still concerning number of hamster owners.

In one especially sad case, a former policewoman and mother of three children from Singapore died when one of two fighting hamsters bit her as she tried to break up the conflict. She quickly experienced pain and numbness, then lapsed into a coma and later died despite six days of medical attention. Additionally, cases of the infectious disease Tularemia, alternatively called rabbit fever or deer fly fever, have been reported from exposure to hamsters carrying the infectious bacteria species Francisella tularensis. Symptoms include eye inflammation, lymph node swelling, skin irritation, and lung problems. Clearly, the ability of hamsters to bite and the risk of either allergy or infection warrants care, not complacency when dealing with these pets.

6. Pet Primate Horrors

Granted, monkeys and apes are our closest living relatives, given that us humans ourselves count as a primate species. One might therefore be forgiven for assuming that other species of primates would make ideal companion animals. You know, instead of a dog, something even more like us. However, not only are many species of primates endangered, they pose catastrophic risks of infection and physically violent conflicts with humans in home care, or rather, captivity. Macaques, a popular smaller monkey type, may carry Herpes B, a terrifying cousin of the familiar cold sore virus that is able to kill a human. Infection may set in after a macaque bite, or even a mere scratch from a monkey.

Scarier yet is you cannot know for sure if your macaque is a carrier of the deadly Herpes B virus, as negative test results are sometimes inaccurate. Zoos have to treat all macaques as potential carriers. Due to the dangers posed by primates to humans, the United States has banned primate imports for the pet trade since 1975. Still, that doesn’t mean people have stopped sourcing animals already imported or bred in captivity for other purposes at their own risk. Physical attacks by monkeys may cause owners to inhumanely remove the animal’s teeth, while aggression from non-human apes like Chimpanzees, the larger relatives of monkeys, has led to horrendous incidents like the attack on Charla Nash by her friend’s chimpanzee in 2002.

5. Stabbed, Sliced, and Diced

Goldfish, guppies, and betta fish may all be extremely safe pets, but did you know that quite a few of the little fish you see in aquarium shops and home tanks could never come close to biting you but still leave you running for the emergency room? That is because a number of the most beautiful small tropical fish available are concealed-carry dagger masters. They hide their razor sharp bony knives in the strangest places, while other fish surreptitiously swim around with a venom-bearing hypodermic needle of sorts on their back, ready to sting like a wasp or scorpion.

Clown Loaches are ever popular freshwater aquarium fish but beneath their eyes lie folding, extremely sharp, knife-like bony blades. If provoked, the animals can slice into your hand and cause a nasty injury. In the case of tangs — the colorful, roughly disk-shaped tropical fish — they can inflict a nasty cut with sharp bony blades located near their tail fins. If that wasn’t enough, a wide variety of aquarium catfish possess venom-bearing spines in their fins that may inflict a nasty sting should you be careless enough to pick them up without a fish net.

4. Cat Scratch Fever

Cat scratches may be painful, but the resulting infection could send you to the hospital. These popular tiny relatives of tigers and lions are carriers of Bartonella henselae bacteria, which causes the illness popularly termed “cat scratch fever.” The affliction presents as a cluster of symptoms that may include blistering, exhaustion, headaches, lymphatic swelling, fever, weight loss, and a sore throat. The disease is far from harmless and it is surprisingly prevalent. The Centers for Disease Control states that around 12,000 people are estimated to contract the condition yearly. Of those 12,000, about 500 sufferers end up in the hospital. Antibiotics may be required in cases prone to complications, while lymphatic swelling may take a year to go down.

Severe complications, while less common, are nonetheless horrendous. These scary problems include encephalopathy, which can bring about permanent damage to the brain or death following a bacterial invasion of the brain, neuroretinitis, which blurs vision, but subsides in most cases with time, and osteomyelitis. This horrible complication consists of bacterial bone infection, which may require amputation of affected parts. Parinaud oculoglandular syndrome may result from Bartonella henselae bacteria entry into the eyes, requiring surgical removal of infected eye tissue on occasion.

3. Pet Snail Perils

Snails may be slow, but their popularity is quickly rising. The slow snail is also a pet that may land you in a sticky medical situation not-so-slowly. When choosing a pet snail, you have your choice of marine, terrestrial, or freshwater gastropods, as snails are technically called. Snails can range from the minute to the enormous, just like the diverse array of parasites they can carry. Eating freshwater snails can cause schistosomiasis, an exceptionally dangerous disease also known as snail fever, caused when humans are parasitized by flatworms, or flukes in the genus schistosoma.

Large outbreaks worldwide are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, making it the second deadliest tropical disease after malaria. Infection occurs when infectious larvae enter human skin, then cause internal damage. Many cases have occurred in China following Yangtze River flooding. Terrestrial snails like Giant African Land Snails or Roman Snails may be viewed as good, easy starter pets for children or curious hobbyists, but if a child ingests a small snail — an easy occurrence — rat lungworm infection may result as the mollusks are hosts for these grotesque parasites. Perhaps most terrifying of all, the rat lungworms can burrow into the spinal cord and brain, potentially causing paralysis or death.

2. Amphibian Bites

OK. We get it. The unusual, the strange. In the search for something truly different, you opt not for a reptile, but an amphibian as an exotic pet. What could be more harmless and cute than a salamander or frog? Actually, while these creatures are indeed soft and fragile to the touch, many of the most popular pet species grow to a substantial size and are armed to the teeth, literally. Take the Pacman Frog, a popular and cartoonish little terrarium pet easily picked up at a pet shop near you. Though it can go in a 20-gallon tank, this creature is toothy, may bite your finger, and when it does, expect blood. Scientists have discovered that this mere frog bites down with 30 Newtons, or 6.6 pounds of force when it clamps its target.

Moving on to salamanders, the deceptively eel-like Two-Toed Amphiuma — a huge, aquatic salamander sometimes mistakenly called a Congo Eel — poses a threat to the careless aquarist. Actually of American origin, native to the Southwestern States, the creature is the third largest salamander and capable of inflicting some very painful gashes when provoked. You would think a snake had gotten you. The same goes for species like the beautiful and renowned Tiger Salamander. The striped amphibian also packs quite a bite. If bitten, watch out for infections, and always be aware of salmonella when near amphibians.

1. Oh Deer

Deer are herbivores. So what could go wrong if you decided not to have a friendly but potentially bite-inflicting dog on your property, opting instead for a small member of the Cervidae? A lot, it turns out. Deer won’t eat meat, but are aggressive for other reasons and may leave a naïve keeper as a ready meal for a scavenger. In a tragic Australian incident that happened in Wangaratta, close to Melbourne, a 47-year-old man named Paul McDonald was fatally roughed up by his pet deer, which he kept on the property he shared with his wife, who was also attacked after she came with her son in response to her husband’s screams.

Police officers responded and shot the deer, which was described as a hybrid deer, the result of the mating of a Red Deer and a larger deer species, an Elk, also known as a Wapiti. The main dangers from a deer attack do not come from bites, instead being presented by the mass of the animal and concentrated force delivered by blows from the hoofs and sharply-pointed antler racks. The territorial nature of deer and unpredictable behavior of these animals makes them questionable choices as a pet.

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