Are Petting Zoos Ethical?

The answer is a resounding no! 


At first look, petting zoos seem like a great family day out, especially for kids who love animals. Children can interact with different farm animals and are able to feed or hold them. It appears to be a fun and hands-on way to teach children about farm animals and how to treat them kindly. 


So, why then are petting zoos unethical? 


Here’s the thing: petting zoos are not all fun and games. In reality, they are often hotbeds of animal cruelty and pose a danger to our health. They also send the wrong message to children about being compassionate towards animals. 


Here is the breakdown of why exactly a petting zoo is unethical:

Animal Exploitation

Petting zoos contribute to the harmful idea that animals are for our entertainment and profit. They prioritise the human experience over the well-being of the animals. This teaches children that it is okay to exploit and use animals for our gain. This is not the message we want to send. We want to teach children to care about animal welfare, with the understanding that animals are sentient beings with their own needs and interests. 


Animal Welfare

Petting zoos leave a lot to be desired when it comes to animal welfare.


Often the animals live in unnatural environments where they can not display normal behaviors and are kept with species that don’t coexist well. Unsafe conditions lead to stress for the animal where they become sick and exhibit abnormal behavior.


For example, hens will pluck their feathers out when stressed and even display cannibalistic tendencies!


One of the draws of petting zoos is the hands-on experience of feeding the animals. To make sure customers get what they came for, petting zoos may underfeed the animals so they come and interact with guests. Sadly, this can cause the animals to be malnourished or become aggressive with the other animals or even the people feeding. This is heartbreaking for the animals, but also potentially a danger to your child.


The cutest animals that garner the most attention are the fluffiest and smallest. This is usually the baby animals. Who doesn’t love a tiny chick chirping in your hand or a small fluffy bunny? Everyone loves that, but baby animals don’t stay baby animals forever. Eventually, they lose their appeal, and more need to take their place. Overbreeding is a common practice to keep up with supply and demand, but what happens once they grow up? Grown animals are sent to slaughterhouses or euthanized. 

Lack of Educational Value

You might think a redeeming feature of a petting zoo is that at least it can provide educational value. Yet petting zoos do not have to provide any educational or conservational efforts for them to exist and usually don’t. Even if they did claim to be part of a conservation effort, most of the animals in a petting zoo are domesticated or captive-bred, and not at risk of becoming an endangered species. Petting zoos can have a reverse effect on conservation efforts by continuing to encourage the commodification of animals and perpetuating the idea that animals exist for our entertainment. 


One study showed that most children, after visiting a zoo, did not learn any new facts about animal conservation. Some children even displayed ‘negative learning outcomes’ where children felt disempowered to participate in conservation efforts. If you want your children to learn about conservation or feel compassion and empathy towards animals, petting zoos aren’t the way to go.

Hazard to Human Health

Petting zoos not only aren’t a great environment for the animals, but they present a danger to human health! Children love to touch things, they literally can’t help themselves, but petting zoos are known to be some of the worst places to pick up some nasty and potentially even fatal illnesses. They have been linked to multiple outbreaks such as e.coli, salmonella, and ringworm.

Alternative Activities

If you want to have a fun family day out with your animal-loving children don’t head to a petting zoo. Instead, try out some of these fun activities that will help your children learn compassion and empathy for animals.

🐷 Visit your local animal sanctuary – Animal sanctuaries are a fantastic way to let kids learn about rescued animals. They usually offer guided tours and education on animal welfare. 


🌿 Nature hike – Many local parks and wildlife spots offer routes you can take your children, with activities along the way like bird watching. As you go, children are learning about the importance of nature and get the opportunity to see animals in their natural habitats. 


🐶 Volunteer at an animal shelter – here children not only get to learn about the animals but also how to take care of them.


🎬 If it’s a rainy day, watch a nature documentary 

Want to learn more about teaching compassion towards animals to your kids? Check out this article here with top tips to help guide you.

The Takeaway

No matter which way you look at it, petting zoos aren’t ethical. They are harmful to the animals and to the people that visit them. If you want to try out some fun animal-friendly activities, try out some of the above. 

Want to learn more about teaching compassion towards animals to your kids? Check out this article here with top tips to help guide you.

We have two wonderful books for children which aim to help them on their journey to understand animal welfare and farming – 100% of our proceeds go towards animal rights organizations (yes, we do this for love, not money!)


The second in a trilogy of beautifully illustrated children’s books, this story about the compelling journey of a young chicken named Cluck, told by a sage parrot.