Illnesses Prevention Associated with Live Animals at Petting Zoos & Fairs

The Gallatin County Fair is upon us, and that means rides, fair food, and petting zoo fun!

Petting zoos allow children of all ages to have the thrilling experience of coming face-to-face with animals. This interaction allows people to learn more about animals and helps to build an important human-animal bond. But sometimes, those animals at petting zoos and fairs can carry organisms that make people sick. Especially young children and persons who are immunocompromised are at greatest risk for infection and complications from illnesses caused by Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7, but also influenza A (H3N2), rabies, and others.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and the Department of Livestock (DOL) are collaborating in this campaign to prevent zoonotic illnesses and make petting zoos and fairs fun and save places to enjoy animal contact. This year, we are trying to get hand washing stations and educational material out to fairs, so visitors can learn about illnesses associated with animals and have the tools to prevent them.

Stay healthy this fair season! Below are some tips to help you prevent illness when visiting animal exhibits.


If You Are Visiting an Animal Exhibit Wash Hands Often

  • Find out where hand washing stations are located.
  • Always wash your hands right after petting animals or touching the animal enclosure.
  • Always wash hands upon exiting animal areas even if you did not touch an animal, after going to the toilet, before eating and drinking, before preparing food or drinks, and after removing soiled clothes or shoes.
  • Running water and soap are best. Use hand sanitizers if running water and soap are not available. Be sure to 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.
  • Food should be prepared, served, and eaten only in areas where animals are not permitted (with the exception of service animals).
  • Do not eat or drink raw (unpasteurized) products, including milk, cheeses, and cider or juices.
  • Do not share your food with animals.
  • Remember; wash your hands before preparing food or drinks and before eating and drinking.

Keep Children Safe Around Animals

  • Children younger than 5 years old always need adult supervision in animal areas.
  • Never allow children to put their thumbs, fingers, or objects (for example: pacifiers) in their mouth while interacting with animals.
  • Hand washing should be supervised.
  • Do not take or use strollers, bottles, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, or toys in animal areas.
  • Children younger than 5 years old, elderly persons, and persons with weakened immune systems should use special precautions when around animal exhibits.

If You Manage an Animal Exhibit Facility Design

  • Design the exhibit so that animal areas are separate from areas where people may eat food.
  • Use signs to state where the animal and food areas are located.
  • Install hand washing stations at the exit of the animal exhibit. Make sure that some of the hand washing stations are low enough for children to reach.
  • Use plain language and pictures to inform visitors on ways to keep safe and healthy when visiting animal exhibits.


  • Encourage visitors to wash their hands after visiting and/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. See an example visitor handout[PDF – 128 KB].

You can find out more about these precautions by visiting CDC’s Healthy Pets Healthy People site.

For more information on keeping your visitors healthy: Read the Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, 2013

Source: MDPHHS and CDC websites.