How to Throw a Pet Party for Kids

Forget about Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Kids today are more likely to be riding the donkey as virtual zoos show up at birthday parties to entertain the cake-and-candy set. The animal kingdom – farm critters, reptiles and arthropods – has become a hot attraction in backyards and family rooms where clowns and magicians once reigned supreme.

But as petting-zoo parties gain popularity, animal lovers are less enthusiastic and are concerned about the health and safety of the animals – and the kids, too.

Animal Party Business Is Not Regulated

The animal party business "is not regulated at all," says Lawrence Carter-Long, Communications coordinator for the Animal Protection Institute (API) in Sacramento, Calif., an organization that campaigns for animal rights.

Should you invite, say, a traveling band of alligators, iguanas and pythons as the main event? No way, says Nicole Paquette, the organization's Government Affairs coordinator. "You should never have a pet party with reptiles," she says. Like other animal rights groups, the API believes exotic animals belong in the wild – not caged and carted from party to party.

But perhaps more alarming from a public health standpoint, 80 to 90 percent of reptiles carry the bacteria Salmonella in feces and on their skin. Children, along with the elderly and anyone with immune deficiency, are most at risk from this potentially fatal bacteria.

Furthermore, animals that are mistreated or frightened may lash out. A snake with a death grip on the guest of honor probably isn't the Kodak moment you had in mind.

Guidelines for a Safe Pet Party

So, if your kid is dead set on a pet party, limit it to domesticated animals and follow these guidelines for a safe and educational experience:

Her mission: "To expose children – many of whom never experience animals except on TV or through a fence – to a large variety of young farm animals." To that end, ducks, donkeys, guinea pigs, rabbits, goats, sheep and a pot-bellied pig are included in her entourage.

If, after checking on safety and levels of humane care, you finally wind up hosting a troupe of party animals, relax and enjoy the show. There's a real magic between animals and children that makes a pet party worth the trouble of organizing it.