Chicks, Ducklings: Cute, But Risky Easter Gifts For Children

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Missouri health officials warned that parents who give their children chicks or ducklings for Easter could be putting their families at risk.

Those fuzzy chicks and ducklings that look so adorable are also frequent carriers of Salmonella bacteria and pose a risk of illness for anyone handling the birds, said Dr. Howard Pue, Missouri’s state public health veterinarian. That makes them inappropriate as Easter gifts for young children. Salmonella illness outbreaks in Missouri, Kansas, and other states have been traced to baby poultry.

“Although illness related to Salmonella usually goes away without treatment, it can become life-threatening,” Pue said. “Those who are more likely to get seriously ill with Salmonella infection include infants, children younger than five years old, organ transplant patients, people with HIV or AIDS and people receiving treatment for cancer.”


Salmonella are microscopic bacteria that can be passed through fecal matter to other animals or people. If the bacteria are ingested, the infection can cause diarrhea, fever, nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting and headache. Symptoms usually begin within 12 to 72 hours after exposure, and last three to seven days. Most people recover without treatment. But children, the elderly, and people who are already sick are most vulnerable and more likely to experience severe illness requiring treatment or even hospitalization, Pue said.

Pue said infants and toddlers are at higher risk of salmonella infection because they commonly put their fingers and toys in their mouths. Therefore, children five years old and younger should not be allowed to handle wildlife or domesticated baby animals such as chicks and ducks. Further, adults should supervise older children if they handle these and other animals and ensure that they thoroughly wash their hands before moving on to other activities.

“While all this sounds serious, and it can be, it’s also very easy to prevent the spread of disease from these animals,” said Pue. “Proper hand washing after handling any pet is the key to preventing the spread of Salmonella bacteria from pets to people.”

After handling the birds or cleaning up after them, hands should be thoroughly washed with soap and warm water. The animals should be kept away from food preparation areas and children’s play areas. Animal feed and water bowls should not be cleaned or filled in food preparation areas or where small children are bathed.

Pue said day care providers and schools should take note of these risks as well. People sometimes bring baby animals to day care centers for children to pet and many schools do science projects involving hatching and raising chicks in the classroom. Parents should ensure that day care providers and teachers prevent children age five and younger from handling wildlife and domesticated baby animals. Because thorough hand washing is critical to preventing the spread of Salmonella, it is a good personal health practice to teach all children to wash their hands with soap and warm water after handling any animal, even the family pet.