Petting Zoo Safety: Don’t Kiss The Animals

Some animals at petting zoos may carry E. coli

girl at petting zoo

Petting zoos are fun places where you and your kids can get up close and personal with farm animals like goats, cattle, sheep, rabbits, miniature horses and even a llama or two.

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But don’t get too personal beyond petting them and feeding them kibble out of your palm. Even healthy animals may carry germs that can lead to serious infections that can be deadly for younger children and older adults.

Some animals carry E. coli strain

Susan Rehm, MD, treats infectious diseases at Cleveland Clinic.

“One of the infections you can get is E. coli O157:H7,” says Dr. Rehm. “This can produce a toxin that leads to gastrointestinal diseases.”

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Infection with this strain of E. coli can cause symptoms that include

Healthy adults can usually recover from infection E. coli O157:H7 within a week, but young children and older adults may develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a life-threatening form of kidney failure.

Precautions to protect against infection

The infections typically develop in the animal’s gut. The germ could be present on the its nose or anything that is wet — like a tongue — so don’t kiss the animal or let it lick your face.

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“When you’re around these animals you shouldn’t be eating and don’t allow the kids to have a bottle or pacifier there,” says Dr. Rehm. “You shouldn’t be smoking. Anything that might be contaminated can be transmitted through the mouth and people can get sick from it.”

More tips on petting zoo safety

Other steps to take to protect yourself against infection after a visit to the petting zoo:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with running water and soap
  • Exercise extra caution with children under the age of 5 years old, older adults and pregnant women
  • If you or your child develop symptoms call your doctor — and be sure to say you were in contact with farm animals

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