Hazards When Working with Displaced Domestic Animals

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Health and Safety Hazards When Working with Displaced Domestic Animals

Only workers who have received proper training in animal restraint, handling, and care should work directly with displaced animals. Employers, response leaders, and volunteer coordinators should ensure that only trained, properly equipped workers are assigned to tasks involving direct animal handling and care.


Evacuations due to natural disasters and other emergencies may result in a large number of displaced domestic animals. Animals may be abandoned in residences, facilities, or outdoors. Many disaster shelters cannot accept pets because of state health and safety regulations. Displaced animals may be without food, water, supervision, and medical care for days or even weeks. Fear, panic, separation anxiety, and other behavioral disorders are common in displaced animals. They may exhibit unpredictable or aggressive behavior.

Displaced domestic animals may present a number of occupational safety and health hazards to emergency response and animal rescue workers. Workers at greatest risk include emergency responders (firefighters, police, and military personnel) and animal rescue workers including animal handlers, animal shelter workers, veterinarians, and veterinary technicians and assistants. However, all workers involved in the evacuation process and early clean-up and remediation efforts are at risk.

Potential Health and Safety Hazards When Working with Displaced Domestic Animals


Animal Bites and Scratches

Animal bites and scratches can result in significant worker injury. Serious bite wounds may require surgical repair. Secondary infections are a significant hazard from bite wounds; they can result in serious joint or systemic infection. Even minor skin damage can result in infections and illnesses. Scratches and injuries from contaminated equipment are also of concern. Bites from dogs, cats, ferrets, and other mammals may present a risk for rabies (see rabies information below). Resources on bite preventionExternal Web Site Icon.

Rabies and Other Zoonoses

Rabbit Rescue
Rabbit Rescued from flood damage caused by extreme weather.

Zoonoses are infectious diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. Rabies is the primary zoonosis of concern. It is a potentially fatal viral disease. It is contained in saliva and is most often transmitted by the bite of an infected mammal. It is preventable by vaccination. Information on the prevention and control of rabies.

Domestic animals may transmit other zoonoses to workers. Animal feces, and contaminated skin, fur, surfaces, and cages present a risk of infection. Dogs and especially cats may pose a risk for ringworm which is a skin infection caused by a fungus. Cat feces pose a risk of transmission of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection. Some pet rodents (such as hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs) can transmit lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). LCMV may be transmitted from exposure to urine, droppings, saliva, or nesting material of infected rodents. Toxoplasma and LCMV may cause birth defects in an unborn child if a pregnant woman becomes infected. Information on the prevention and control of animal-related infectious diseases.

Sharps-Related Injuries

Workers may be at risk of sharps-related injuries from needles, syringes, broken glass, and scalpels. Information on the prevention of sharps-related injuries.

Heavy Lifting

Animal rescue and handling involve tasks that require lifting and moving heavy, awkward loads. Workers may lift large animals, and supplies and equipment such as carriers, kennels, cages, food, and bedding material. Heavy lifting may result in sprains, strains, tears, and other lifting injuries. Information on musculoskeletal injuries and their prevention.

Dermatologic Conditions

Frequent hand washing, bathing of animals, or exposure to substances on animals’ fur may result in a variety of dermatologic rashes, lesions, and other conditions. Information on skin exposure and effects.

Animal Allergens

Exposure to animals or animal products can cause asthma and allergies. Animals or animal products such as dander, hair, scales, fur, saliva, and body wastes contain allergens that can cause both respiratory and skin disorders. Information on the prevention of asthma in animal handlers.

Latex Allergy

For some workers, exposures to latex and latex products may result in skin rashes; hives; flushing; itching; nasal, eye, or sinus symptoms; asthma; and (rarely) shock. Information on the prevention of latex allergies.


Excessive noise levels that damage hearing may be generated by large numbers of crated, barking animals in enclosed spaces or loud equipment. Information on noise and hearing loss prevention.

Pesticide Exposure

Displaced animals may be treated with pesticides to reduce and prevent flea and tick infestations. Health and safety information on pesticidesExternal Web Site Icon.