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Recommendations - Recommendations to prevent disease and injury associated with petting zoos in Ontario

Before and After the Event

  • Public health officials should make available copies of this document, or a similar document incorporating these principles, to petting zoo operators, farmers, veterinarians, education and childcare services, or other interested persons.
  • Petting zoo operators should verbally notify the local health unit of the event prior to or upon opening.  They should supply the health unit with two methods for contacting them, and this contact information should be valid for at least 30 days after the event.
  • Local public health officials, public veterinary officials and/or veterinarians may inspect petting zoos to ensure they do not present a risk to public health.
  • Public health officials should encourage physicians to request stool samples for analysis from patients who show signs of intestinal illness following contact with animals at a public event. This will help the health unit during its investigation of the intestinal illness.
  • Public health officials should ask about animal exposure when investigating cases of a zoonotic reportable disease.

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Visitor Education

Petting zoo operators should:

  • Become familiar with the health risks of direct and indirect animal contact and how to reduce these risks. Operators should be able to explain risk-reduction measures to staff and visitors.
  • Produce educational materials, such as signs, handouts, and stickers, and make them available to the public prior to visits or before entering the site.
  • Provide information in a simple and easy-to-understand format that is age and language-appropriate.  Use pictures or multiple languages as required so the information can be understood by all visitors.
  • Consider sending pre-visit information to schools on how to safely interact with animals.
  • Post signs that are reminders to wash hands at exits from animal areas and in non-animal areas where food is served and consumed.

Signs, handouts and/or staff should:

  • Inform visitors they are entering an animal area.
  • Alert high-risk groups: to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, and that immunocompromised persons and infants under 1 should avoid touching or feeding any animals.
  • Instruct visitors not to eat, drink, smoke, or place their fingers in their mouth until they have left all animal areas and washed their hands immediately after leaving these areas.
  • Direct visitors to hand hygiene facilities.
  • Provide hand hygiene instructions at hand hygiene stations to encourage proper practices.
  • Instruct visitors not to take strollers, wheelchairs, food, beverages (including water bottles), toys, pacifiers, spill-proof cups (“sippy-cups”), and baby bottles into animal areas. Operators should establish a holding area for these items.
  • Instruct visitors to immediately inform event staff of any injury caused by displayed animals. 

Additionally, signs/handouts/staff may instruct visitors:

  • Not to kiss the animals or wipe hands on clothing.
  • To keep their children from placing fingers in mouth until they have left animal areas and washed their hands.
  • That objects such as clothing, shoes, and stroller wheels can become soiled and serve as a source of germs after leaving an animal area.
  • To visit their doctor as soon as possible and report recent animal exposure if they are injured by a display animal or suffer from diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting within a month of contacting a display animal.
  • That in addition to informing event staff, they should inform their local health unit if they have been bitten or scratched by an animal.
  • To cover open wounds before entering an animal area.
  • To walk calmly and quietly through the animal area.

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Operation of the Exhibit

Petting zoo operators should:

  • Assign trained staff in animal areas to:
      • Monitor public activities and encourage appropriate human-animal contact.
      • Identify and remove potential risks for visitors (e.g., by promptly cleaning up wastes).
      • Process reports of injuries.
      • Explain the reasons for the recommendations on signs or in handouts.
      • Maintain proper visitor flow to avoid overcrowding at hand hygiene facilities or in animal areas.
      • Overcrowding may lead to unwanted animal exposure and injuries.
  • Instruct caregivers and staff to supervise children to:
      • Discourage hand-to-mouth contact.
      • Prevent contact with manure or soiled bedding.
      • Encourage proper hand hygiene.
      • Prevent them from feeding unauthorized food to the animals.
      • Ensure they do not hit, torment, chase or otherwise harass the animals.
      • Consider having staff vaccinated against rabies.
  • It is recommended that operators maintain a logbook of critical areas, such as:
    • how secure enclosures are
    • when areas were last cleaned
    • when supplies were replenished
    • any animal-visitor incidents
    • overall animal health

Petting zoo operators are required to comply with applicable provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its Regulations. Contact your local Ministry of Labour office for more information External Link.

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