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Petting Zoo Ecoli Dangers: Not As Silent As We Once Thought

Posted in E. coli,Outbreaks & Recalls on October 30, 2018

As a child going to a petting zoo was so much fun. We never really realized that there were serious dangers that could be associated with them. A fond childhood memory was going to a miniature horse farm that had shows where the horses dressed up and a part of this whole performance was that kids got selected from the audience for certain parts of the show. You could be really hands on with the animals in both the shows and at the small petting zoo afterwards. A total tourist trap in a small local town, but it was so much fun.There were literally gum ball machines filled with animal food and you could hand feed the farm animals and I recall them licking us and everything. We are talking about the early 1990’s, and I don’t ever recall sanitization being huge and this was prior to the time that everyone carried little bottles of hand sanitizer.

Getting illnesses from petting zoos is more common than we were ever aware. The CDC reports that each year from 2010-2015 approximately 100 outbreaks of illnesses were reported as a result of petting zoos, fairs and educational farms.Some of the most common harmful germs people get from animals at exhibits are E. coli O157:H7, Cryptosporodium, and Salmonella infections, but there are also many other types of germs that can spread between animals and people.

Much like preventing many illnesses hand washing is key to staying well in many situations including petting zoos. People often assume that if an animal looks clean that they are safe from illness, but this is simply a myth. Another myth is that a clean “habitat” for animals is a germ-free zone. Some people get sick from never touching an animal because of contaminated living environments.

How To Stay Safe at Petting Zoos According to the CDC

Wash Your Hands Often

  • Find out where handwashing stations are located.
  • Always wash your hands right after petting animals or touching anything in animal areas (where they live, roam, or eat).
  • Wash your hands when you leave animal areas, even if you did not touch the animals.
  • Running water and soap are best. If running water and soap are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Wash your hands with soap and water as soon as a sink is available.

Eat and Drink Safely

  • Keep food and drinks out of animal areas.
  • Don’t prepare, serve, or eat food in animal areas (with the exception of service animals, or animals that assist people with disabilities).
  • Don’t share your food with animals, to keep yourself and the animals healthy. Animals should eat the food made for them.
  • Don’t eat or drink raw (unpasteurized) products made or sold at animal exhibits, including milk, cheese, cider, and juice.
  • Remember: Wash your hands before preparing food or drinks and before eating and drinking.

Keep Children Safe Around Animals

  • Young children are more likely to get sick from harmful germs that animals can carry. For this reason, CDC recommends children 5 years of age and younger not have contact with reptiles, amphibians, and live poultry including baby chicks and ducklings because these animals are commonly associated with outbreaks of disease.
  • Children always need adult supervision around animals especially children who are under the age of 6 and who are prone to putting things into their mouths.
  • Never allow children to put their thumbs, fingers, or objects (like pacifiers) in their mouths when they’re around animals or in an animal area.
  • Encourage and supervise handwashing.
  • Do not take or use strollers, bottles, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, or toys into animal areas.

There are important things to know if you manage or operate a petting zoo or educational exhibit as well. We live in an area where every summer there are lots of county and state fair events where people are hands on with a lot of animals and often a little information is great for guests.

  • Design the exhibit to separate animal areas from places where people eat.
  • Use signs to point out the areas where people can eat, and the areas for animals.
  • Install handwashing stations at exits of animal exhibits. Make sure that some of the handwashing stations are low enough for children to reach.
  • Use plain language and pictures to show visitors how to stay safe and healthy when visiting animal exhibits.


  • Encourage visitors to wash their hands after visiting or handling animals.
  • Be aware that healthy animals can carry germs that might make visitors sick.
  • Train staff and educate visitors about preventing disease transmission between humans and animals.
  • Use a variety of methods to provide information to the public. For example, use brochures, signs, and verbal instructions.

What are the symptoms of illnesses contracted at a petting zoo?

The most common symptoms are diarrhea and abdominal pain. Other symptoms may include vomiting, fever, cramps, and bloody diarrhea. People with mild symptoms usually recover without treatment. However, these illnesses can lead to hospitalizations and severe complications also can occur.


Times have certainly changed from my adventures with the miniature horses and the petting zoo. We know more now than ever ways to protect ourselves from illnesses and by practicing these proper techniques we can prevent a lot of illnesses. The age of technology has helped us to learn now more than ever things that we need to know to stay happy and healthy as a family.

While you are out and about enjoying time with your family and you happen upon a petting zoo or exhibit of animals please be sure to wash your hands properly after handling them or even being around their living quarters. The illnesses that you can contract from being around animals are often hard to combat for young children, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems so being safe is the best bet when heading out.

Our E coli Lawyer is Here to Help You

If you believe you have developed an E coli infection from visiting a petting zoo, pumpkin patch, a farm, or a corn maze, we want you to know that an E coli Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.

If you or a loved one have become ill with E coli, you can call (833) 330-3663 for a free legal consultation or complete the form here.

By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)