Keeping Toddlers Safe From Pets' Germs and Worms

Kids love animals -- whether it's the family dog or a cute lamb at a petting zoo. But animals, their food, and other supplies can have germs. So take steps to protect your kids when they're around pets and other creatures.

Fun at the Petting Zoo

Taking your toddler to a petting zoo or the county fair animal exhibit can be fun and educational. Besides supervising your children, here are some tips to reduce your child's exposure to germs around the animals.

  • Find the hand washing stations as soon as you get there. And make liberal use of the sanitizer dispensers.
  • Don't take food or drink in with the animals. Leave strollers, pacifiers, and cups outside, too.
  • Don't let an animal lick your child.
  • Wash your toddler's hands when you leave, even if they didn't pet an animal. Wash their face, too, if they got licked. 
  • Don't try samples of raw, unpasteurized milk.

A Day in the Park

When you take your toddler to the neighborhood park, you can take simple steps to avoid germs lurking there.

  • Steer clear of sandboxes. They attract cats and other animals. Cat droppings can carry bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
  • Keep away from stray dogs. Up to 20% of dog bites lead to infection. Dog droppings can carry bacteria and parasites like hookworms.
  • Avoid any wild animals, such as raccoons, squirrels, or prairie dogs. They can carry germs that lead to infections.
  • Have your child wash their hands after the visit. Playground equipment is likely to have more germs than the picnic table.

Family Dogs

Toddlers often love the family dog. Here's how to focus on the fun and fight the doggie's germs.

  • Teach your child to respect the dog by not pulling their hair or hitting them. If the dog gets upset and nips or bites, germs in their saliva can cause a potentially serious skin infection.
  • Doggie treats can be tempting for toddlers to eat! But dry dog foods, dog treats, and the water bowl can carry germs. Put them where your child can't reach or have them wash their hands after handling them.
  • Don't feed the dog in the kitchen. Dry pet food may carry salmonella. Infections are more likely in young children if pets are fed in the kitchen.
  • Teach your child to stay away from the dog when it is eating.
  • Be sure your toddler doesn't grab the dog's toys and put them in their mouth. Wash dog toys often.
  • Get the dog their own bed. Most doctors say sleeping in the same bed with a pet isn't a good idea.
  • Don't let your dog lick your child's face or skin -- especially if your child has an open wound, like a scraped knee.
  • Teach your child to wash their hands after petting the dog.


Family Cats

If you have a cat or two, teach your toddler to appreciate the pets while lowering infection risks. Here's how:

  • To reduce the chance of infection, don't feed the cat in your kitchen.
  • Keep your child away from the litter box. Cat droppings carry infection-causing germs.
  • If your child is old enough to change the litter box, teach proper habits and ensure good hand washing after the chore.
  • Pick a spot in the house besides the bedroom for the cats to sleep. Most pediatricians suggest that you don't sleep with your cats.
  • Don't let the cat lick your child's face or skin, especially open wounds.
  • Teach your child to wash their hands after petting the cats.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on June 07, 2020



CDC:  "Stay Healthy at Animal Exhibits This Summer," "Picking the Right Pet." "Cats and Toxoplasmosis," "Pets and Pasteurella Infections," "Salmonella Contamination in Dry Dog and Cat Foods," "Prevent Bite Wounds."

Yvonne Maldonado, MD, professor of pediatrics and health research and policy, chief of pediatric infectious diseases, Stanford University School of Medicine.

Aaron Glatt, MD, executive vice president and chief administrative officer, Mercy Medical Center; spokesperson, Infectious Diseases Society of America.

University of Arizona: "Germ Survey: Summary of Findings."

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: "Cleaning Dog Toys with Bleach."

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