Safety Tips for Working With Animals

Working with animals is certainly an attractive prospect, but there are always risks related to any job that involves hands-on interaction with animals (whether you are working with pets, livestock, or wildlife). Animals can be somewhat unpredictable when they are under stress or in an unfamiliar environment, like when they visit the veterinary office or the grooming salon, so it is important to be attentive and stay aware of the animal you are handling at all times. You can minimize your risk of injury by following these animal handling safety guidelines:

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Approach All Animals With Caution

Take care to avoid blind spots and approach animals slowly so that they are always aware of your presence. Talk softly as you approach an animal so it hears you coming. Sudden movements are never a good idea, regardless of the species or breed involved.

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Stay Alert at All Times

Bites, kicks, and scratches are often delivered when a handler is distracted. When you are working with animals they need to have your complete attention at all times. A moment of carelessness is all it takes to sustain a potentially serious injury. Don't let yourself be distracted by a cell phone or idle chatter with other handlers.

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Study the Behavior of the Species

Handlers must pay close attention to the behavioral signals that an animal displays. It is very important to recognize negative body language—especially the signs of agitation. Horses pin their ears, strike with their teeth, and kick when upset. Dogs growl, crouch, and bare their teeth when they feel threatened. Be sure to learn the warning signs when you start to work with a new species.

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Take Precautions Against Zoonotic Diseases

Zoonotic diseases are those that can be transmitted directly from animals to humans. Examples of zoonotic diseases include ringworm, salmonella, herpes B, rabies, hepatitis, and tuberculosis. You should be familiar with the basic signs of an infected animal and be aware of how transmission can occur so you can take the proper precautions to avoid infection. Be sure to seek immediate medical attention after any potential exposure.

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Minimize Allergic Reactions

Allergens such as animal dander can potentially cause sneezing, wheezing, eye irritation, or hives. Some individuals have severe breathing emergencies which require ​the use of an inhaler or even hospitalization. Allergy shots may be necessary to minimize your reaction so that you can safely work with animals in a hands-on capacity. You may also need to entirely avoid certain types of animals if you are severely allergic to them.

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Inspect Handling Facilities for Safety

Sharp edges, slippery floors, improper lighting, and other structural hazards are responsible for many accidents and injuries. It is important to maintain a safe work environment and to keep all animal handling equipment in good working order.

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Wear Personal Protective Equipment

Items of personal protective equipment can include a variety of options such as safety glasses, latex gloves, masks, steel toed footwear, helmets, coveralls, and lead aprons. If there is a product available and it is appropriate for the task at hand, consider taking advantage of it. Protective equipment can greatly minimize the chances of injury.

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Restrain Animals Properly

Securing animals safely can help you to avoid sprains, strains, slip and fall accidents, and other physical injuries. Large animals, such as cattle and horses, should be placed in stocks or stalls. Halters, hobbles or other restraints can also be utilized. Dogs can be muzzled and cats can be wrapped gently in towels. In extreme cases, a tranquilizer should be administered by a veterinarian.

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Dispose of Medical Waste in Appropriate Containers

Always handle any hazardous medical equipment (such as needles or chemicals) with extreme caution. Never throw needles away in the trash. Most clinics and farms keep special red biohazard disposal boxes on hand for this purpose.

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Have an Exit Strategy

An exit strategy is especially important when working with large animals in pens, stalls, or chutes. Don’t allow yourself to get cornered. Maintain a clear path of escape at all times. You could be seriously injured if you are pinned in a corner by one of the larger livestock species.