Petting zoos, open farms, and other animal exhibits are a great place to see and interact with animals up close.

However, animals can sometimes carry germs that cause illness, such as E. coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella. Follow these easy steps to prevent the spread of infection and keep yourself and others safe:

Groups at greater risk:

  • Immunocompromised persons, pregnant women, and infants under one year of age, should avoid touching or feeding animals, since they can be more vulnerable to certain infections.
  • Children under five should not touch reptiles, amphibians, birds (including chicks), young cattle, sheep, goats and deer, or the immediate environment. Young children tend to touch their eyes, nose or mouth more frequently increasing the likelihood that they get a disease from an animal if their hands are not clean.

Plan ahead:

  • Contact the organizer/operator of the animal exhibit prior to a visit to find out if the facility has hand washing stations available and/or bring your own hand sanitizer.
  • Ensure that any open wounds such as cuts on hands or fingers are covered before entering the animal area or interacting with the animals.
  • Do not bring food, beverages, toys, pacifiers, water bottles, spill proof cups (“sippy cups”) and baby bottles into areas where animals are kept.

During your visit:

  • Avoid touching mouth/eyes while in the animal area until hands have been washed with soap and water.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching or feeding an animal or touching any surfaces in the animal area. Hand sanitizer can be used instead of soap and water if hands are not visibly dirty.

After your visit:

  • Thoroughly clean any items such as clothing, shoes and stroller wheels that were brought into the animal area. Clean first with soap and water, and then sanitize using a disinfectant. These items  can become soiled and be a source of infection after your  visit.
  • Report an injury (bite, scratch or a break to skin) that has occurred as a result of interaction with an animal to event staff as soon as possible. Seek medical attention. Doctors can contact Toronto Public Health for further follow-up and consultation.
  • Visitors who experience fever, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting within a month after interaction with an animal at an exhibit should consult a doctor.

Animal Health and Rabies Prevention

  • Keep animals healthy by following a preventative vaccination and parasite control program.  Rabies vaccination records must be up-to-date and readily available if requested by a Public Health Inspector.
  • Monitor animals daily for signs of illness and injury. Exclude sick and injured animals from public display.
  •  Train staff and volunteers to document and report animal contact (bites and/or scratches that break a person’s skin or contamination of a wound with saliva) that may result in the potential transmission of rabies to a person. Isolate animals that are involved in a biting incident.  Notify Toronto Public Health and other appropriate agencies as necessary.

Infection Prevention and Control

  • Staff responsible for animal care should be vaccinated (pre-exposure vaccination) against rabies.
  • Staff should remind visitors to wash their hands after touching animals and before consuming food or drinks.
  • Staff/volunteers should monitor visitor interaction with animals.
  • Keep animals and their enclosures clean.  Remove and dispose of animal waste in a manner that prevents the dispersion of bacteria and other germs.
  • Post signage in and around animal areas to inform visitors of the following:
    • Children under 5 should not come in contact with reptiles, amphibians, birds (including chicks), young ruminants, or their immediate environment.
    • Individuals who are at greater risk (immunocompromised people, pregnant women and infants under the age of one) should avoid touching or feeding animals.
    • All visitors should wash their hands with soap and water thoroughly and immediately after exiting animal interaction areas and/or before eating or drinking food.
    • Parents/Guardians should supervise hand washing for young children and ensure children do not touch their face, eyes or mouth prior to washing hands with warm water and soap.
  • Provide hand hygiene stations that are equipped with sufficient supplies of potable running water, liquid soap in dispenser and paper towel.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers with appropriate signage at all exits from animal areas.
  • Clean and sanitize surfaces (hand rails, barriers etc.) that are accessible to the public in animal interaction areas routinely throughout the day.
  • Provide first aid facilities. Keep first aid supplies stocked and conveniently located with appropriate signage posted.
  • Visitor eating areas should be separate from areas where animals are kept and clearly defined using signage.
  • Special Events that will include temporary food establishments as well as animal exhibits must contact Toronto Public Health to review additional public health requirements that may apply.
  • Provide access to Toronto Public Health Inspectors if requested. Public Health Inspectors may visit your operation to ensure strategies are in place that protect the health of the public.