Proper Hygiene When Around Animals

father and son looking at lizard

Contact with animals has many positive effects for people. However, appropriate hygiene should be practiced at all times after handling animals. To decrease the possibility of contracting a zoonotic disease (a disease transmitted between animals and humans), it is essential to wash hands with soap and water after petting, feeding, handling, or having any other contact with animals, their living quarters, or their waste. Germs that may be spread from contact with animals include: E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, Coxiella burnetii, Campylobacter, Yersinia enterocolitica, and ringworm.

Parents and teachers should supervise children to ensure they are using appropriate handwashing techniques, especially after playing with pets at home or visiting fairs, pet stores, nature parks, circuses, educational farms, petting zoos, and exhibits.

When visiting animal areas, parents should discourage:

  • Eating or drinking
  • The use of strollers, toys, pacifiers, baby bottles, or spill-proof cups
  • Hand-to-mouth behaviors, such as thumb-sucking and nail-biting
  • Sitting or playing on the ground
  • Feeding the animals, unless the contact is controlled with barriers
  • Any contact with animals if an individual has open wounds
  • Contact with any animal waste

Contact with some animals, such as turtles and chicks, has been shown to increase the risk of disease in small children and other special populations, such as the immunocompromised.

Page last reviewed: August 2, 2016