Dog floating on raft

Looking over sand bags at EMS workers dragging a raft

Person walking thru very muddy water

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

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

  • 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 icon):
    • 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 icon).
    • 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