Use of animals in petting zoos and other displays


Ratification Date: 04 Dec 2014


Veterinarians and medical practitioners must be involved in the planning and implementation of animal health and welfare standards and biosecurity protocols whenever human and animal interaction is to occur in petting zoos or animal displays. The welfare of the animals, including transport and housing when not on display, must be protected at all times. The potential transfer of diseases from animals to people must be minimised.


Petting zoos and animal nursery displays play an important role in educating the general public about how humans interact with animals, and also provide joy and entertainment for the participants. A key benefit is to expose urban families to the lifestyles of rural families and promote an understanding of food, fibre and hide production.

There are many positive benefits of interaction between humans and animals such as in petting zoos and other displays. However, animal welfare must be protected through adherence to and enforcement of codes of practice and the required animal ethics approval. Where codes of practice are not in place, they must be developed.

The general public often has a poor understanding of animal behaviour, appropriate handling techniques, and disease transmission. Veterinarians and medical practitioners have the expertise to help inform and protect the public about protecting animal welfare, health and safety during interactions between humans and animals.

Zoonotic diseases are those that can be transmitted from animals to humans. They can be caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. Transmission to humans can occur via inhalation, ingestion, skin, and mucous membranes.

People who have a higher risk of contracting a zoonosis or possibly developing more severe symptoms include:

  • pregnant women
  • immunocompromised persons
  • children under the age of five, and
  • the elderly.1

The health and welfare of the displayed animals should be the paramount consideration in animal selection and conditioning, display design, time of active display, bedding and sleeping facilities. There should also be zones available for animals to choose to retreat from direct human contact.

All animals included in the display must have been non-invasively conditioned to accept appropriate handling and the close proximity of humans and the other species in the exhibit. There must be an appropriate number of staff members present so that all animals are under observation at all times. Staff member(s) must have undergone training and assessment in the behaviour of the species being displayed, including body language, assessment of stress and appropriate handling.

All children must be under the effective control of an adult and adults must be counselled on appropriate interactions with the species kept.

Hand washing8 is the single most effective method to prevent zoonoses as well as avoiding animal bodily fluids and faeces. Hand washing stations are recommended at entry and exit points to the animal displays, with signage one the correct method and duration of hand washing. Hand washing prior to entry to the exhibit is as important, to prevent human to animal disease transfer.

Other useful rules are outlined in the South Australian petting zoo guidelines1.

  • Human food should not be taken into and consumed in the display areas.
  • The venue must provide good separation between catering areas and the animal displays.
  • Exhibits must be regularly audited to ensure compliance.
  • Animals should receive a health examination both before and after the display to protect both humans, and the origin herd or flock.


The South Australian petting zoo guidelines1 have been adopted in many jurisdictions and the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) supports their use, including compulsory minimum standards for animals in petting zoos and animal encounters.


  1. South Australia:
  2. New South Wales:
  3. Victoria:
  4. Western Australia: 
  5. Queensland:
  6. CDC:
  7. RSPCA Policy C10 Petting zoos and animal encounters, https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-is-the-rspcas-view-on-petting-zoos-and-other-types-of-animal-encounters/
  8. CDC – Hand washing: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5404a1.htm

Links updated March 2023