Petting zoos can be great activities, providing entertainment and education to kids and adults alike. However, contact with animals at these events does come with some degree of risk, and numerous infectious disease outbreaks associated with such contacts have been reported. Because of these risks, most petting zoos are improving their infection control precautions, particularly with respect to handwashing by participants after touching animals. Yet some high risk behaviours continue to occur. The picture at the right was recently published in the York Daily Record. While cute, this picture raises the ire of someone like me (especially since I have young children). My main concern: the goat is licking this baby’s bottle.

Where do you think the goat’s mouth just came from? The ground, along with manure from various animals.
What might the bottle have been contaminated with?
E. coli O157, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium difficile
Where do you think this bottle is going next? The baby’s mouth.
What will probably happen to the child?: Nothing.
What might happen to the child?: Disease caused by one of the above-named microorganisms (or others), ranging from mild diarrhea to fatal infection.

While there is good information available about precautions that should be taken for petting zoos, such as from the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, not all petting zoos take adequate precautions. A recent study pointed out common deficiencies.

Some important points to consider:

  • Petting zoos are safe for the vast majority of the population if common sense measures are used.
  • Items that will end up in the mouth of a child should never go into a petting zoo.
  • Children should be closely supervised in petting zoos.
  • Uncontrolled animal contact should be prevent.
  • Hands should be washed after contact with animals or the petting zoo environment.