Having successfully answered the tricky conundrum of which foodstuff is most likely to result in penetration of the oral mucosa by parasite-like sperm bags (spoiler alert: it’s squid), it’s traditionally about this time of year that the question of which pets are best at causing chronic inflammatory eye disease always crops up and, to be honest, previously, we here at 6000 miles… have occasionally struggled to give you a definitive answer.
Not so this year though, thanks to the efforts of Blaikie et al. in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Yes, we’ve drafted in the big names of Scottish Opthalmology and they’ve told us that if it’s chronic inflammatory eye disease you’re after (with the potential added benefits of reduced visual acuity and raised intraocular pressure, multiple foci of inflammation at all levels within the globe, corneal granulomas, iritis, peripheral anterior synechiae, cataract, vitritis, and chorioretinitis), then you’ll be wanting to get a tarantula.
I know, I know. Many of you will be disputing these findings, probably suggesting instead that the obvious choice would be a porcupine. But with a porcupine, aside obviously from a lot of love and affection, you’re really only going to get the dangers of acute ocular trauma, with none of the awkward side-effects of ongoing discomfort and requirement for long-term systemic steroid use. Not so with your average tarantula – especially if you’re going to grab the bull by the metaphorical horns and plump for the Chilean Rose (Grammastola cala) tarantula, everyone’s favourite choice when hoping for devastating ocular inflammation. Beginners may want to start with the Thailand Black (Haplopelma minax) tarantula though, just to see if agonising keratoconjunctivitis is for them.
It’s the hairs, see? Tiny little hairs from the back of your furry friend that get onto your hand and from there, get into your eye – note the singular form here: most patients presented with far worse problems in one eye, always on the side of their dominant hand – and then irritate the hell out of you for several years (and counting) afterwards.
It was also interesting to note that of the three case studies presented in the paper:
Initially a similar clinical picture was seen in the three patients. The main findings were of multiple fine intracorneal hairs with an associated keratoconjunctivitis. Two patients associated the onset of symptoms with the handling of a tarantula, and the third case was recognised only by astute history taking.
Which is basically like the doctors asking:
We’ve found some tiny little hairs in your eye, and that’s what seems to be causing your problems. We’re not sure where they’ve come from though. Have you been handling anything with tiny little hairs on prior to the onset of your symptoms?
And two of the patients saying:
Of course. Yes. I was handling a tarantula spider. They must have come from there.
And the third going:
Nope. Nothing springs to mind.
I mean, there’s my porcupine, but obviously I’m always really careful around him.
Tiny little hairs… tiny little hairs… I really can’t think what it could possibly be.
Tiny little hairs… No. Sorry. I’ve got nothing.
Maybe my girlfriend might be able to think of something? I’ll give her a call. I hope she hears her phone. Sometimes she doesn’t hear it when it’s in her handbag. You know how it is, haha. Yeah no, she was popping out to Spiders R Us to get some food in for our forty-seven tarantulas.
So yes, if you’re thinking of getting a pet for the little ones, maybe steer clear of the tarantula route (I’d also probably not recommend a porcupine either), because even though the Chilean Rose is “the most popular and widely available spider on the market because of their hardiness, docility, and apparently harmless, non-venomous nature”, they will possibly, inadvertently, try to blind you.
If you must (and how “must” would be the case, I really don’t know, save perhaps from Oregon’s Mandatory Arachnid Ownership Programme) get a tarantula as a pet, then the authors advise that you:
…wear gloves, avoid rubbing the eyes during handling, and thoroughly wash your hands after handling to minimise the transfer of hairs.
Safety first, eh?
The doctor will see you now. Which is more than you’ll be able to do with him.