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Trips to petting farms – Top tips to avoid falling ill

With the school holidays starting and as warmer weather hopefully sets in for the summer, it’s often a time for families to plan more outdoor trips, and visits to petting farms are often a popular choice.

When visiting petting farms it’s important to bear in mind the health implications of infections which can be transmitted from animals, if health and hygiene procedures aren’t followed. Diseases passed from animals to humans are known as zoonotic diseases, and these commonly arise from coming into contact with contaminated animals, or their faeces.

Sadly, petting farms are often an ideal breeding ground for bacteria such E. coli and cryptosporidiumContact with an animal carrying these organisms, or their faeces, can cause illnesses ranging from diarrhoea to kidney failure. In some cases, the illness can be fatal. 

Young children and the elderly are at the greatest risk and very low numbers of microorganisms can cause human infection.

Guidance to prevent illness

Our Serious Injury team is offering guidance to those visiting petting farms, to help avoid families contracting bacterial illness. Visitors may come into contact with bacteria through:

  • Touching or kissing animals in petting areas or during bottle-feeding
  • Feeding, stroking or touching animals through gates or pens
  • Touching gates, or animal pen divisions, or other structures contaminated with faeces
  • Picking up contaminated feed from the floor
  • Removing contaminated footwear or clothing
  • Eating, drinking and smoking with contaminated hands
  • Using contaminated play equipment
  • Touching personal items taken on to the premises that have become contaminated e.g. dropped toys or dummies, and pushchair wheels.
  • Being bitten by an animal.

Fortunately for visitors to petting farms, Public Health England (PHE) recommends undertaking simple steps to reduce the risk of getting ill following your visit, which are included below. PHE further advises pregnant women to take extra care as infections acquired from animals can be harmful to them and their unborn child.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you have touched animals, fences or other surfaces in animal areas
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating or drinking
  • Remove and clean boots or shoes that might have become soiled and clean pushchair wheels, and then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water
  • Supervise children closely to make sure they wash their hands thoroughly
  • Eat and drink in picnic areas or cafes only
  • Don’t put hands on faces or fingers in mouths while petting animals or walking round the farm
  • Don’t kiss farm animals or allow children to put their faces close to animals
  • Don’t eat or drink while touching animals or walking round the farm. This includes not eating sweets, crisps or chewing gum
  • Don’t eat anything that has fallen on the floor
  • Don’t use gels or wipes instead of washing hands with soap and water. Gels and wipes don’t remove bugs in dirt.

Serious consequences of illness

Through our work, we sadly see serious cases demonstrating the consequences of bacterial illnesses acquired from petting farms, including long-term debilitating illness.

If you, or anyone within your family, have suffered with an illness within two weeks of visiting a petting farm, it’s important that you seek medical attention. Stop the spread of any infection by not attending work, nursery or school until you’ve been free of symptoms for at least two days. If symptoms include bloody diarrhoea, it’s important to seek immediate emergency medical attention.

There are guidelines in place to control the spread of the bacteria that causes zoonotic disease at petting farms and it’s important that these are followed. If you wish to know more, an Industry Code of Practice has been produced and is aimed at the owners, operators, and managers of Petting Farms, to help ensure visitor health and safety by providing sensible, practical, and proportionate guidance on preventing or controlling ill health at visitor attractions.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in helping people following animal injury at our dedicated animal injuries section