The Hidden Health Danger at Petting Zoos

Updated: Nov. 03, 2020

While petting zoos are a lot of fun for families, if you don't take certain precautions, you could be putting yourself in danger.

Girl hugging lamb on the farmElizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock

Ponies, goats, sheep—petting zoos may be full of fun for the whole family, but they’re also full of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to a new study.

Researchers at Ariel University in Israel analyzed samples from the body parts and feces of 228 animals at eight different petting zoos. They found that 12 percent of the animals had at least one of two types of bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics (the bacteria are extended-spectrum beta-lactamase—ESBL—and AmpC-producing Enterobacteriaceae—AmpC-E—bacteria). And another 25 percent of those infected animals had multiple strains of multidrug resistant (MDR) bacteria. They definitely count as pets you should keep away from your face.

Some of the strains detected included a version of E. coli (ST656) that causes diarrhea and another type of E. coli (ST127) that can start urinary tract infections. Both are incredibly contagious and easily passed from animals to humans.

“Our findings demonstrate that animals in petting zoos can result in shedding and transmission of MDR pathogens that may cause illness for human visitors, even when the animals appear healthy,” said lead author and professor of microbiology Shiri Navon-Venezia, PhD, in a news release.

Does that mean you should stay away from petting zoos? Not necessarily. Not only were 77 percent of the bacteria strains found in the fecal samples (hopefully not what your kids are touching) but Navon-Venezia also says that past studies have proven that petting zoos can be beneficial to a child’s emotional and cognitive development. So, fortunately, going to petting zoos is not one of the germ-spreading habits you need to give up immediately.

To protect your kids from illnesses at petting zoos, Navon-Venezia advises parents to make sure their kids wash their hands properly before and after interacting with the animals and avoid eating or drinking near them. Additionally, she cautions the zoos to keep animals that are on antibiotics away from visitors. And if you have a family full of animal-lovers, here are the best zoos in each state to add to your travel bucket list.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest