The Truth About Petting Zoos

As a kid during the festival and fair season, getting to touch and interact with the animals in petting zoos was a favorite activity. I pet and fed goats, sheep, and even the occasional llama! As an animal lover, this was a dream come true. Now, as an adult, I understand that petting zoos are living nightmares and here’s why…

From an animal protection perspective:

  • It is common for animals, particularly large pigs and cows, to be sent for fattening and slaughter, once the “cuteness factor” declines. 
  • Sentient, feeling, thinking, beings are confined and transported long distances only to be chased and touched without any training by random strangers. 
  • Petting zoo animals are mostly young, suffer needlessly from chronic stress, and are prevented from behaving in any natural way purely for human entertainment. 
  • Petting zoos are exempt from the Animal Welfare Act, which offers some guidelines to protected species (of which farmed animals are excluded). 
  • Baby animals in petting zoos are denied natural socialization and normal development due to a premature separation from their mothers. 

From a health perspective:

  • Children, particularly those under the age of five, have a higher risk of contracting a zoonotic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and baby animals, such as calves and baby chicks, are considered to be high risk for disease transmission. 
  • Essentially, petting zoos are teeming with serious pathogens, such as E. coli and salmonella (Out of 108 reports from health officials, there were 43 confirmed cases of E. coli from one petting zoo at the South Carolina State Fair!). 

From an education perspective:

  • Despite the common claim that petting zoos are educational for children because they are exposed to animals that they wouldn’t come in contact with otherwise, children are learning that it is acceptable to treat animals inhumanely for their own entertainment.
  • Animal Place and other reputable sanctuaries can teach children compassion and to view farmed animals as sentient beings. 

With the fair and festival season in full swing, don’t let the allure of cute baby animals (or the hard-to-say-no-to face of your children or grandchildren) tempt you into entering a petting zoo. Instead, remember the truth about petting zoos and choose compassion. Visit a sanctuary instead – go to and find the one closest to you. 

– Rachel Barrington, Outreach Manager 


Creative Commons “Petting Zoo” by Tom Leonard is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Creative Commons “Petting Zoo” by Daniela Rupolo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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