Contact with Animals in Public Settings

children feeding aminals

Contact with animals in public settings (for example, at fairs, educational farms, petting zoos, aquariums, and schools) can provide entertainment and education. Interacting with animals can help people learn about and experience animals they may not see in their daily lives. However, it is important to know that animals sometimes carry germs that could make people sick—even animals at exhibits that look clean and healthy can carry these harmful germs. There are outbreaks of illness in people every year after they visit animals in exhibits.  These outbreaks can have substantial medical, public health, legal, and economic effects.

State public health veterinarians are the local and state professionals who regularly work with physicians, emergency rooms,veterinarians, legislators, local officials, schools, health departments, and communities on preventing and controlling diseases that people can get from animals and animal products. CDC works closely with the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV)External to create guidance and recommendationsExternal for visitors to animal exhibits as well as people who manage or design exhibits.

If you visit an animal exhibit or have contact with animals in a public setting

An animal exhibit can be anything from a large zoo to a livestock show at the county fair. You might also encounter animals at schools, as part of local festivals, or just out and about. Wherever you are, it’s important to know ways to stay healthy while enjoying animals.

  • Wash your hands right after touching animals, anything they came in contact with, and after being around animals, even if you didn’t touch them.
  • Don’t eat or drink around animals, and keep food and drinks away from animal areas.
  • Always supervise children around animals. Children 5 years of age and younger should not have contact with reptiles, amphibians, or live poultry because these animals are more likely to make them sick.

If you work at, manage, or design animal exhibits

The Compendium of Measures to Prevent Diseases Associated with Animals in Public SettingsExternal provides standardized recommendations for  public health officials, veterinarians, animal venue operators, animal exhibitors, and others concerned with disease control and with minimizing risks associated with animals in public settings. NASPHV also provides a toolkitExternal with examples of regulations on animal exhibitions, printable posters with messages on how to stay safe while enjoying animals, and a check list of petting zoo best practices.

Design exhibits in ways that will help to prevent the spread of disease:

  • Provide stations for handwashing.
  • Educate staff and visitors on how to prevent illness after being around animals.
  • Keep dining and animal areas separate.