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The Truth About Petting Zoos

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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 www.sanctuaries.org 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



15 Responses so far.

  1. Vickie Drake says:

    Please shut down your petting zoos.

  2. What a nightmare for these beautiful animals!! Shameful.

  3. Ann says:

    I have had a petting Zoo for over 30 years I raise my own animals they are kept clean and handled almost daily we teach the children that come into the petting zoo how to handle them how to pet them I never ever send them off to slaughter I never ever send them to an auction I raise miniature animals that way I don’t have the turn over all of the animals are small I do not allow the children to feed them I tell them the animals will like you anyways if you just pet them and brush them we provide small brushes so they may brush them as per our instruction not all petting zoos are how you think I have two ex-husbands that said when they died they wanted to come back as one of my animals

    • Claire C says:

      Hi Ann, thank you for commenting, and sharing your experience! Our information is based off what is true of many petting zoos, not all. However, I think it is always important to ask, is a petting zoo (or any use of animals) for the benefit of humans or animals? Often when animals are used to benefit humans, somewhere, the treatment of the animals is compromised. I have never been to your petting zoo, so of course I cannot speak on that! From what you have shared, it sounds like you have more compassion for animals, than the petting zoos we have encountered. Thank you, Claire, Social Media Manager

  4. Hilda Foley says:

    I am glad and thank you very much for bringing out the truth about Petting Zoos. Who ever would have realized the sad truth about them?? I hope parents are reading this and avoid visiting them.
    Hilda Foley

  5. Judy Brown says:

    So sad that animals are not treated with respect.

  6. Neva Trejo says:

    Surely amongst all these horror shows there must be SOME that are attempting to be more humane-its already happening in some zoos. I’d like to hear their side assuming it’s not just B’s.

    • Claire C says:

      Hi Neva, yes, there are certainly some that are more compassionate than others! However, whenever animals are used to benefit humans, there is almost always a shortcoming somewhere. Whether that be small enclosures, overstimulation, or being sent to slaughter after the animals get bigger. Someone named Ann commented below if you would like a different perspective! Thanks, Claire, Social Media Manager

  7. Neva Trejo says:

    PS I got ecoli from myself; it’s everywhereNeva

  8. Beverly Harris says:

    They should close all of these petting Zoos and treat these animals with compassion.

  9. Leslie Broussard says:

    I’ve worked in conservation nearly my entire life. I had know reason to believe these animals would be treated this way. It’s absolutely a palling and I’ll do what I can to abolish petting zoos from here on out.
    Leslie Broussard

  10. Leslie says:

    Petting zoos should be shut down. You may find 1 or 2 stories in reference to this business that sound tolerable. They’re not educational and are extremely traumatizing to these different species of animals. It’s simply a horrid experience for these animals that survive it.
    If people have the property to home these animals properly than operate a rescue and keep these animals in a normal environment at least one as normal as possible. Stop transporting these innocent victims and advertising them as a side shell to fill your pockets.

  11. Monica Ball says:

    Our fellow animals are not here for us. A sanctuary rescues and provides a lifelong home (including needed medical care, proper nutrition, and love) to individuals in need. In contrast, a “petting zoo” imprisons and exhibits individuals for profit or entertainment or for human emotional wants. It doesn’t matter if a “petting zoo” is less cruel or seems to be kind from a human perspective. Other animals are not ours to use for any reason. It is only speciesism and its violent lies that have conditioned us to think that it’s fine to imprison our fellow animals for our reasons.

  12. […] to veterinary care and suffer from diseases due to the bacteria festering in their cages. The reality of petting zoos is that they are  dangerous — not just for the animals, but even for the humans that go to this […]