Pet reptile food - a cause of allergy

2 September 2015

pet reptiles spawn new allergy risk

THE growing popularity of reptiles as pets is spawning a new source of allergens in the home — the grasshoppers used to feed them.

Allergy researchers warn that parents may buy snakes or bearded dragons for children in a bid to avoid allergies from furry pets such as cats and dogs, but to no avail.

While the reptiles themselves may pose a risk of Salmonella and other infection, their diet, such as grasshoppers, locusts and crickets, has been associated with sensitisation and disease including asthma.

They give the case of an 8-year-old boy in Vienna who developed wheeze and swelling in his throat, apparently arising from handling a pet bearded dragon which was fed live grasshoppers.

Four years after the dragon was given away, the boy had a severe asthma attack when re-exposed to the substances that caused the allergy.

Textiles and furniture in the home can become contaminated with leftovers from the insect feed, including from the reptiles’ faeces, the researchers say.

There is also evidence of people having cross-reactivity to different species of insects. Cross-reactivity happens when someone reacts to a substance similar to one they are allergic to, because it has a similar chemical structure. For example, someone allergic to cow's milk may react to goat's milk. 

Last Reviewed: 2 September 2015
Reproduced with kind permission from Medical Observer Weekly.

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References

Jensen-Jarolim E, et al. Caution: Reptile pets shuttle grasshopper allergy and asthma into homes. World Allergy Organ J 2015; 8:24 doi:10.1186/s40413-015-0072-1
Rada Rouse

Rada Rouse

Rada is an award-winning medical journalist and a former president of the Australasian Medical Writers Association.