Tricounty News

Animal contact in public settings: facts you need to know

By Kathy Brandt,, U of M Extension

It's the time of year when Minnesotans have many opportunities to have contact with animals in public settings, such as petting zoos, fairs and farm tours. These contacts provide a tremendous learning opportunity about animals and animal husbandry. Be aware of the risks involved and plan ahead.

Groups at high-risk for serious infection include children less than 5 years of age, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems. The behaviors and actions of people are significantly related to the risk of infection. Among these are inadequate hand washing, large numbers of children among attendees, a lack of close supervision of children, and hand-to-mouth activities (e.g. use of pacifiers, bottles, sippy cups, thumb sucking, eating) in the animal area.

The primary way transmission occurs is the fecal-oral route. Since animal fur, hair, skin, and saliva can become contaminated with fecal germs, transmission may occur when people pet, touch, or are licked by animals. Exposure can also occur through contact with an animal's living area, its bedding, fence rails, or objects such as food and water dishes.

Recommendations for animal contact:

¥ Leave food and beverages outside the animal areas.

¥ Leave toys, blankets, pacifiers, baby bottles and sippy cups in a designated area or the car.

¥ For all children, animal contact should be carefully supervised to discourage hand-to-mouth contact and to insure hand washing.

¥ If feeding animals is permitted, only food sold by the venue for that purpose should be allowed. Food sold should not be provided in containers that can be eaten by people such as ice cream cones.

* Thoroughly wash hands when leaving the animal area.