Ways to Stay Healthy Around Animals

What to know

  • Pets come with many health benefits.
  • Pets and other animals can sometimes carry germs that can make people sick.
  • Young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to get sick from these germs.
  • Practice healthy habits to stay healthy while enjoying pets and other animals.
A man and woman sit in front of a lake watching a sunset with two dogs


There are many health benefits of owning a pet. They can increase opportunities to exercise, get outside, and socialize. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Pets can help manage loneliness and depression by providing companionship.

Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets is linked to several health benefits, including:

  • Decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride (fat) levels, feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, better cognitive function in older adults, and more opportunities to socialize.

However, pets can sometimes carry harmful germs that can make us sick even when the pet appears healthy. The diseases people get from animals are called zoonotic diseases. Below are some tips to help you and your family stay healthy while enjoying pets.

Pick the right pet

Girl holding lizard in her hands
Different pets require different time commitments and forms of care.

Before adopting a new pet, make sure it is the right one for you and your family.

Do some research beforehand about the specific needs of the animal. Think about the animal's

  • lifespan
  • size
  • food, housing, and exercise needs
  • veterinary care costs

Also consider your household members and who will be caring for the pet.

Keep wildlife wild‎

Don't touch or adopt wild animals to reduce the risk of illness and injury. If you're concerned about the safety of a wild animal, contact a local wildlife rehabilitation facility

Know who is at higher risk for diseases animals can carry

Older adult couple walking pet dog on a leash and holding hands.
Talk to a veterinarian to determine the best pet for your household.

Some groups of people are more likely to get diseases spread between animals and people. These groups include children younger than 5, people with weakened immune systems, and people 65 years and older. Pregnant people are also at a higher risk for certain animal-related diseases from cats and rodents.

Wash your hands

Family washing their hands together as the mom supervises her children.
Adults should supervise children while they wash their hands.

Washing your hands is one of the best ways to stay healthy around animals.

Always wash hands after:

  • Touching or playing with your pet.
  • Feeding your pet or handling pet food.
  • Handling pet habitats or equipment (cages, tanks, toys, food and water dishes).
  • Cleaning up after pets.
  • Leaving areas where animals live (coops, barns, stalls), even if you didn't touch an animal.
  • Removing soiled clothes or shoes.

Running water and soap are best for hand washing. However, you can use hand sanitizer until running water and soap are available.

Keep Reading: About Handwashing

Keep your pet healthy

Regular veterinary visits are essential to keeping your pet and family healthy. Keep up with your pet’s vaccines, deworming, and flea and tick control. Talk to a veterinarian about how to keep your pet healthy.

By keeping your pet healthy, you help to keep yourself and your family healthy.

Practice good pet hygiene

Practicing good pet hygiene can help prevent the spread of germs between pets and people.

Clean and disinfect

Pets can contaminate surfaces in your home with germs. You don't have touch pets to get sick from their germs.

Keep pets and their supplies out of the kitchen. Disinfect pet habitats and supplies outside the house when possible. Never clean supplies in the kitchen sink, food preparation areas, or the bathroom sink.

Pick up after your pet

Pet owner picks up dog's poop cleaning up mess
Use bags to pick up and dispose of dog poop.

Dog and cat poop can contain parasites and germs that can be harmful to people. Always remove your dog's feces (poop) from your yard and public places. Use a bag and dispose of it in proper areas.

Keep children away from areas that might contain dog or cat poop to prevent them from getting roundworms and hookworms. Cover sand boxes so cats don't use them as a litter box.

Litter boxes

Clean the cat's litter box daily to lower the chances of exposure to harmful parasites. Pregnant people should avoid changing a cat's litter box if possible.

Teach children how to interact with animals

Boy sitting on couch and petting his cat in sunny living room.
Teach children how to handle pets with care.

Pets can teach children compassion and responsibility. However, children younger than 5 years old should be supervised while interacting with animals. This ensures the safety of the child and the pet.

Teach children to wash their hands right after playing with animals or anything in the animals' environment. This includes cages, beds, and food or water dishes. Don't let children kiss pets or put their hands or other objects in their mouths after handling animals.

Farm animals

Adults should supervise and be extra cautious when children younger than 5 years old have direct contact with farm animals. This includes animals at petting zoos and fairs.