Germ Illustration

Petting Zoos

While petting zoos are popular attractions, they can also be a source of infection. Zoonotic infections – those that can be passed from animals to humans – present a small, but real, risk. All animals, including all domestic, wild and exotic animals can be sources of zoonotic infections.

Children under five should not come in contact with reptiles, amphibians (frogs and toads), birds, young ruminants (hoofed mammals under six months old) or their immediate environment, because these animals shed more disease-causing agents.

Note: Immunocompromised persons and infants under 12 months should avoid any animal contact.

Prior To Going To A Zoo

Child care staff should:

  • Consult with parents to determine if there are children in the school who have allergies/asthma, phobias, or are immunocompromised.
  • Find out which animals are being displayed at the event, which may be touched, what hand hygiene facilities are available, and whether the hand hygiene facilities are accessible to small children or children with disabilities.
  • Discuss supervision with accompanying staff to ensure these recommendations are followed.
  • Instruct children not to tease, hit or chase the animals, not to get too close to or get between an animal and its food or its young, not to make loud noises or sudden movements.
  • Keep food and animals separate. Eat and drink before going to the zoo.

Infection Prevention and Control While At The Zoo

  • Supervise human-animal contact, particularly for children under five. Risks can be reduced if young children are closely supervised or if adults carry them when in animal areas.
  • Ensure children wash their hands – under adult supervision – after contact with animals, animal products, or animal environments, and before eating or drinking.
  • Cover children’s open wounds to avoid contamination of the wound with disease causing agents.
  • Wash and disinfect pacifiers, toys or other objects that have fallen to the ground, or have been in contact with animals, before giving them back to children.
  • Objects such as clothing, shoes, and stroller wheels can become soiled and serve as a source of germs after leaving an animal area so should be cleaned and disinfected.
  • Discourage children from: sucking fingers or objects, kissing the animals, touching own mouth with hands, eating any food, including food intended for animals, or wiping their hands on clothing when in animal areas.
  • Be sure children avoid animal manure. E. coli and other dangerous organisms can be shed in animal feces and remain active for long periods of time. There have been well-documented E. coli outbreaks that have occurred from petting zoos.
  • Immediately report any injuries from displayed animals to the zoo operator and child care centre operator.

After Visiting The Zoo

  • Children who are injured by a display animal or begin to suffer from diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting within a month of contacting a display animal should be taken to their health care provider as soon as possible. Tell the health care provider about recent exposure to animals.
  • Inform staff and the health unit if children have been bitten or scratched by displayed animals.

Note: Active surveillance of the children that attended the zoo should be done for at least one month following the event to monitor for diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.

Last modified: February 19, 2020