Dog floating on raft

Looking over sand bags at EMS workers dragging a raft

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Interim Guidance on Health and Safety Hazards When Working with Displaced Domestic Animals

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides the following interim guidelines for preventing injury and illness among workers performing animal rescue and recovery efforts in the response to hurricanes. This guidance was originally developed in 2005 for hurricanes Katrina and Rita; however, it is updated when additional information becomes available. Currently, it is based on the best available information as of February 2018.

Only workers who have received proper training in animal restraint, handling, and care should work directly with displaced animals. Employers, response leaders, and volunteer coordinators should ensure that only trained, properly equipped workers are assigned to tasks involving direct animal handling and care.

Evacuations due to natural disasters and other emergencies may result in a large number of displaced domestic animals. Animals may be abandoned in residences, facilities, or outdoors. Many disaster shelters cannot accept pets because of state health and safety regulations. Displaced animals may be without food, water, supervision, and medical care for days or even weeks. Fear, panic, separation anxiety, and other behavioral disorders are common in displaced animals. They may exhibit unpredictable or aggressive behavior.

Displaced domestic animals can present a number of occupational safety and health hazards to emergency response and animal rescue workers. Workers at greatest risk include emergency responders (firefighters, police, and military personnel) and animal rescue workers including animal handlers, animal shelter workers, veterinarians, and veterinary technicians and assistants. However, all workers involved in the evacuation process and early clean-up and remediation efforts are at risk.

Potential Health and Safety Hazards When Working with Displaced Domestic Animals

Though these hazards will be more commonly experienced by workers who are working directly with displaced domestic animals, any emergency responder who has contact with domestic animals is at risk for exposure to these hazards. Most bite, scratch, kick, and crush injuries from animals can be prevented by using appropriate restraint and following established procedures. However, significant injuries and medical emergencies might result if proper procedures are not followed or precautions are not taken. For additional resources regarding animal handling and restraint, please refer NIOSH’s Veterinary Safety and Health( website.

Animal bites and scratches can result in significant worker injury. Bite and scratch wounds should receive immediate medical evaluation and care due to risks of infection and rabies exposure. Serious bite wounds may require surgical repair. Secondary infections are a significant hazard from bite wounds; they can result in serious joint or systemic infection. Even minor skin damage can result in infections and illnesses. Scratches and injuries from contaminated equipment are also of concern. Bites from dogs, cats, ferrets, and other mammals may present a risk for rabies (see rabies information below). Information and Resources on bite preventionExternal.

Zoonoses are infectious diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. Rabies is the primary zoonosis of concern. It is a potentially fatal viral disease; once a person begins to exhibit signs of the disease, survival is rare. The virus is contained in saliva and is most often transmitted by the bite of an infected mammal. Rabies is preventable by vaccination. Information on the prevention and control of rabies.

Domestic animals may transmit other zoonoses to workers. Animal feces, and contaminated skin, fur, surfaces, equipment, bedding, and cages present a risk of infection. Dogs and especially cats may pose a risk for ringworm which is a skin infection caused by a fungus. Cat feces pose a risk of transmission of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection. Some pet rodents (such as mice, hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs) can transmit lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). LCMV may be transmitted from exposure to urine, droppings, saliva, or nesting material of infected rodents. Toxoplasma and LCMV may cause birth defects in an unborn child if a pregnant woman becomes infected. Information on the prevention of sharps-related injuries(

Workers may be at risk of sharps-related injuries from needles, syringes, broken glass, and scalpels. Information on the prevention of sharps-related injuries.

Animal rescue and handling involve tasks that require lifting and moving heavy, awkward loads. Workers may lift large animals, and supplies and equipment such as carriers, kennels, cages, food, and bedding material. Heavy lifting may result in sprains, strains, tears, and other lifting injuries. Information on musculoskeletal injuries and their prevention.

Eye safety concerns include contamination with dust or other airborne contaminants and penetration wounds from animals, tools, equipment, and debris. Information on eye injuries and their prevention(

Frequent hand washing, bathing of animals, or exposure to substances on animals’ fur may result in a variety of dermatologic rashes, lesions, and other conditions. Information on skin exposure and effects.

Exposure to animals or animal products can cause asthma and allergies. Animals or animal products such as dander, hair, scales, fur, saliva, and body wastes contain allergens that can cause both respiratory and skin disorders. Information on the prevention of asthma in animal handlers.

Cleaners and disinfectants similar to those used in veterinary settings have been associated with asthma in a variety of settings, including human healthcare. Additionally, Dust can be an irritant or an allergen, and is generated from feed, bedding, manure, and many other sources. Information on respiratory hazards and prevention for cleaners, disinfectants(, and dust(

For some workers, exposures to latex and latex products may result in skin rashes; hives; flushing; itching; nasal, eye, or sinus symptoms; asthma; and (rarely) shock. Information on the prevention of latex allergies.

Excessive noise levels that damage hearing may be generated by large numbers of crated, barking animals in enclosed spaces or loud equipment. Information on general noise and hearing loss prevention( and information specific to noise and hearing lost prevention in an animal shelter setting(

Heat stress is a concern, because workers and volunteers are often exposed to hot and humid temperatures, required to wear protective clothing and equipment, and can be asked to conduct physically difficult tasks. Information on heat stress and the prevention of heat-related illnesses(

Displaced animals may be treated with pesticides to reduce and prevent flea and tick infestations. Health and safety information on pesticidesExternal.

For information and resources regarding other topics that are important to recovery and response work, such as pre-deployment medical clearance, carbon monoxide, stress associated with traumatic incidents and emergency response,work hours and fatigue,motor vehicle hazards, and more, please consult NIOSH.

Recommendations for Workers: Workers can reduce their risk of the occupational hazards associated with displaced domestic animals by taking the following steps:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water:
    • Before and after handling animals;
    • After coming into contact with animal saliva, urine, feces, or blood;
    • After cleaning cages or equipment;
    • Before eating, drinking, smoking, taking breaks, or leaving work; and
    • After removing gloves.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contains at least 60% alcohol for cleaning hands when soap and water are not available (hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy, do not eliminate all types of germs, and might not remove harmful chemicals).
  • Wear disposable outerwear or clothing that can be removed before leaving the workplace if clean clothing or laundry facilities are not available.
  • Change into clean clothing before leaving the workplace.
  • Wear medical examination gloves that provide your skin with a protective barrier when handling animals, animal waste, cages, equipment, and pesticides:
    • Wear two pairs of gloves if one pair alone might tear.
    • Make sure that latex gloves are reduced-protein, powder-free gloves to reduce your exposure to allergy-causing proteins.
    • Use non-latex gloves if you need or want to avoid latex.
    • Wear cotton or leather work gloves as the outer pair when heavy work gloves are needed.
    • Remember that cotton, leather, and other absorbent gloves are not protective when worn alone.
  • Wear protective eyewear (safety glasses with side shields) or face shields if there is a risk of spitting or splashing of contaminated material or if there is a risk of penetrating wounds or contamination from dust or other airborne debris.
  • Wear sturdy clothing and protective footwear with non-slip soles; tennis shoes or sneakers do not provide protection from bite, puncture, or crushing injuries.
  • Wear hearing protection if you must raise your voice to talk to someone an arm’s length away (for example, when working in enclosed spaces with barking dogs).
  • Complete the rabies preexposure vaccination series before directly handling dogs, cats, ferrets, or other mammals that may be infected with rabies.
  • Thoroughly clean all bite wounds and scratches with soap and water.
  • Report any bite injury to your supervisor.
  • Immediately receive medical evaluation of any bite wound and the need for possible rabies postexposure treatment and vaccination.

All bites or scratches should be monitored for infection and receive a repeat medical evaluation should infection occur, especially if redness, inflammation, or swelling progresses rapidly.

  • Take precautions when using scalpels, forceps, and other sharp instruments:
    • Dispose of sharp devices in labeled, puncture-resistant, leak proof sharps disposal containers immediately after use;
    • Do not recap, bend, or remove contaminated needles and sharps; and
    • Do not shear or break contaminated needles
  • Take precautions when lifting heavy or awkward loads:
    • Use proper lifting techniques;
    • Reduce the weight of loads when possible; and
    • Work together to lift loads that are unsafe for one person to handle
  • Take precautions when working with cleaners, disinfectants, and other chemicals:
    • Follow manufacturer’s instructions and all product label precautions;
    • Make sure the area where you are working is well ventilated; and
    • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment for the product and task.
  • Take precautions when workingin a hot environment:
    • Know the symptoms and risk factors of heat-related illnesses;
    • Take Time to acclimatize by gradually increasing time working in hot conditions over 1-2 weeks;
    • Stay hydrated;and
    • Take frequent rest and hydration breaks in a cool area.
  • Pregnant or immunocompromised workers should avoid contact with cat feces and pet rodents to reduce their risk of zoonotic disease.
  • Immediately report to the supervisor:
    • Any needlestick or other sharps-related injury;
    • Any symptom(s) of infectious disease or zoonosis; or
    • Any other workplace injury or illness.

Consult with a healthcare provider about any occupational injury or illness.

Employers should protect their workers from the hazards associated with working with displaced domestic animals by identifying the hazards to which workers might be exposed and taking the following steps:

  • Provide training in:
    • Workplace-specific hazards including bites and scratches, zoonoses, sharps-related injuries, heavy lifting, exposure to irritants (skin, eyes, and lungs), allergies, excessive noise, heat stress and pesticide exposure;
    • Good housekeeping, sanitation, hygiene, and infection control procedures;
    • Animal handling procedures and use of equipment;
    • Use and maintenance of personal protective clothing and equipment; and
    • Stress and fatigue prevention.
  • Provide hand-washing and sanitation facilities.
    • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers for cleaning hands when soap and water are not available.
  • Provide appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment [note: all personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) PPE standard (29 CFR 1910.132External):
    • Provide disposable outerwear or clothing if laundry facilities are not available.
    • Provide medical examination gloves that provide workers’ skin with barrier protection.
    • Provide non-latex gloves for those workers who need or want to avoid latex.
    • Provide heavy work gloves or restraints for use with aggressive animals.
    • Provide hearing protection for workers where needed.
    • Provide respiratory protection for workers where needed. If respirators are needed, a respiratory protection program must be implemented according to the OSHA Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134External).
    • Provide task-appropriate protective eyewear (e.g., safety glasses, face shields, goggles).
  • Provide preexposure rabies vaccination for workers with direct animal contact; only workers who have completed the preexposure rabies vaccination series should work with dogs, cats, ferrets, or other mammals that may be infected.
  • Provide a medical surveillance system that monitors and records all occupational injuries and illnesses.
  • Stress to workers the importance of reporting all work-related injuries and illnesses as soon as possible.

Ensure that any worker with a bite injury is immediately evaluated by a healthcare provider for rabies risk and possible postexposure treatment and vaccination.

Veterinary Safety and Health Topic Page( provides information and multiple resources regarding hazard prevention and control, physical safety, chemical safety, biological safety, and other hazards.

Interim Guidelines for Animal Health and Control of Disease Transmission in Pet Shelters provides guidance for the care of animals entering shelters and for persons working with animals in response to natural disasters.

Animals in Public Evacuation Centers addresses health and safety concerns regarding animals kept in non-Red Cross public evacuation centers.

Personal Hygiene and Handwashing After a Disaster or Emergency provides guidance for hand washing and cleaning under emergency conditions.

NIOSH Alert: Preventing Needlestick Injuries in Health Care Settings (
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2000-108

Sharps Safety for Healthcare Settings provides a workbook for designing, implementing, and evaluating a sharps injury prevention program.

NIOSH Alert: Preventing Asthma in Animal Handlers(
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-116 (January 1998)

NIOSH ALERT: Preventing Allergic Reactions to Natural Rubber Latex in the Workplace(
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-135 (June 1997)

Protect Yourself from Animal- and Insect-Related Hazards After a Natural Disaster
provides recommendations for protection from displaced wildlife

Guidance on Health and Safety Hazards When Encountering Native and Exotic Venomous Reptiles (
Provides recommendations on how to handle reptiles

Page last reviewed: September 19, 2018