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Compliance with Hygiene Recommendations for Human-animal Contact at Petting Zoos

By Kathleen E. Werden, Paul C. Bartlett

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Background: Most children at petting zoos are at least somewhat naïve with respect to animal contact, which is probably why they are being taken to a petting zoo. Unfortunately, their immune systems may be equally naïve, thereby putting these children at high risk of contracting one of several enteric zoonotic diseases. A cross-sectional study was conducted to determine public and organizational compliance with current recommendations for hygiene and public safety for human-animal contact at permanent and temporary petting zoos. Methods: A single investigator visited 17 petting zoos across Michigan to evaluate both facilityrelated and visitor-related risk factors for zoonotic enteric disease transmission. We observed 246 children at 6 permanent Michigan petting zoos and 11 temporary Michigan petting zoos associated with agricultural fairs. No contact was made with any petting zoo visitors, and factors such as age and gender were subjectively accessed by visual observation. Results: Permanent zoos were more likely to have signs regarding hand hygiene and sanitizing facilities than did temporary or “traveling” petting zoos. Zoo personnel reminded 1.2% of visitors to wash their hands, and less than a third of all children were observed to have washed their hands following animal contact. Of the 246 children observed, about 50% (122) touched their own face, eyes, nose or mouth and 42% (104) touched the animals’ mouth. In addition, one child was seen ingesting goat feces, three were seen drinking out of the animals’ water trough, and one child was seen sucking on a fence rail; all in the presence of exhibit personnel who did not intervene. No association was observed between rates of hand washing and the degree of parental supervision. Conclusions: We concluded that the current CDC hygiene recommendations for visits to petting zoos are generally not being followed by visitors or by exhibitors. Most parental and exhibitor supervision appeared to be focused on preventing physical trauma to the animals and to the children. Further educational outreach and/or regulation may be indicated to prevent enteric disease transmission from animal contact at petting zoos. However, it may be difficult for young children to understand that animal contact is safe and desirable only if proper hygiene practices are followed.


Mason N McLary

HABRI Central

Date 2008
Publication Title Michigan Journal of Public Health
Volume 2
Issue 2
Pages 19-28
ISBN/ISSN 1937-2515
Publisher GVSU
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Children
  2. Health
  3. human-animal contact
  4. Hygiene
  5. immune systems
  6. Petting zoos
  7. Public health
  8. Zoos