Avoid Animal Diseases at Petting Zoos


Every year, Americans spend over $60 billion on their domestic pets. In fact, nearly three-fourths of us keep dogs, cats, or other small pets at home. While we usually have direct control over their health, the same cannot be said about the many animals often displayed in our communities.

Always take precautions so that educational opportunities extended to your children at petting zoos, state fair livestock shows – or local pet stores -- won't turn into high-risk encounters that will allow severe or life-threatening germs or diseases to be transmitted.

Infected cattle, pigs, chickens, goats, rabbits, birds, sheep, and other animals can pass serious germs to people who contact their skin, hair, feces, open sores, saliva, and non-pasteurized byproducts. These bacteria, viruses, and parasites are often labeled zoonotic diseases that can be spread from animals to humans (and from humans to animals).

Here's additional information about some of these germs and diseases, followed by general safety guidelines for interacting with less common animals.

Diseases and Germs from Unique Animals

While children and elderly people with compromised immune systems are most likely to catch certain germs from unusual animals – all adults are still at risk of catching some deadly diseases. Pregnant women, in particular, should also exercise extra caution and avoid all unnecessary contact.

  • Humans can pick up germs or infections from farm animals, such as the E.coli bacteria, anthrax, rabies, tuberculosis, brucellosis, Q fever, ringworm, listeriosis, and salmonellosis (among others). There are well-documented cases of children simply petting cows and then developing hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can cause critical and permanent kidney damage. Many animals can pass harmful E. coli bacteria to humans – including sheep, goats, backyard poultry, etc.
  • Infected pigs can sometimes transmit swine flu to humans and germs like salmonellatoxoplasmosis, and campylobacter. Careful personal hygiene habits like using gloves can often prevent many germ transfers.
  • Like sheep, horses, pigs, and cows, goats can also infect humans with the bacterial disease leptospirosis. It is usually transmitted when a person touches a goat's urine or other body fluids. Q fever is another type of disease people can contract when interacting with goats, sheep, and cattle.
  • Infected animals can pass listeriosis, Q fever, and ringworms to people
  • Donkeys can pass on various skin diseases due to ticks on their bodies.
  • Along with cattle and goats, these animals can pass tuberculosis to humans. People often pick up "TB" when they eat undercooked meat.
  • Humans can develop parrot fever from infected parakeets, parrots, and other birds. They can also pass on MAC or "avian TB" to humans;
  • If infected, horses can transmit salmonellosis and ringworm to people. Ticks on a horse can also transmit ehrlichiosis (which causes flu-like symptoms) and other germs to humans.

This list isn't intended to be fully comprehensive – it simply provides examples of the many germs and diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

Safety Tips for Feeding and Petting Non-Domesticated Animals
  • Wear covered shoes and long-sleeve shirts (slacks are also preferable). It's essential to minimize areas of your body exposed to animal saliva, hair, waste products, and any ground cover containing infected materials.
  • Put away and close all food containers. Never walk around of farm or other unusual animals with open food or drink containers because of the increased risk of contamination. It is best to keep these items safe, stop somewhere, and thoroughly wash your hands before eating anything. Always inquire whether there will be good places to wash your hands when choosing an animal exhibitor petting zoo.
  • Give thought to the safest way to feed the animals. If you're determined to feed one, consider carefully placing food down in front of it and not trying to place the food directly into the animal's mouth.
  • Never accept raw (unpasteurized) food or beverages produced by any live animal on exhibit or in a petting zooRemember to put away personal food and never try to share it with the animals.
  • Always carefully supervise your small children who are visiting animals. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) website advises parents and adults to warn kids to never try to put their fingers or thumbs in an animal's mouth. Younger children regularly place their fingers in their mouths often, so keeping those body parts clean can help them avoid picking up serious germs and infections.
  • Never take children's pacifiers, strollers, cups, or toys into areas near animals. They will almost certainly become contaminated and be hard to properly clean later.
  • Keep in mind that many sick animals may look healthy. Just looking at the animals can be a good learning experience – you don't need to touch them to enjoy seeing them.
  • Hand sanitizers are not a good substitute for washing your hands. While you may choose to use these, it's far better to only visit animals near full-service restrooms where you and your children can wash your hands with soap before heading home. Hand sanitizers should only be viewed as secondary clean-up materials.
Refrain from Petting Unknown Animals

Always tell your children that when they visit other kids' homes when you're not present, they should avoid touching or petting any animals, especially those that aren't dogs and cats that regularly live indoors. Too many people allow kids to adopt small animals and fail to keep them vaccinated and healthy.

Sacramento Premises Liability Lawyer

If you or your child have been seriously injured by an animal while visiting any petting zoo or other public places where animals are on display, contact our office immediately. Call our Sacramento premises liability lawyers at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free and friendly advice with no obligation, or contact us online. If the facts of your case support it, our office can file a lawsuit on your behalf to seek compensation for all your pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost earnings, and other expenses.

Please take a minute to read some of our verdicts and settlements.

Editor's Note: updated [cha 7.13.23] Photo by Wikimedia Commons, Little Kids by Robert Lawton eBs rey [cs 1030]

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