Pets in the kitchen

There can be food safety concerns when keeping animals in the house.

A small dog in a chef costume.
Photo: Wade Syers.

Humans and animals have been linked throughout history. Some people raise animals that provide food like chickens, and others keep animals as friendly companions and beloved members of the household. There can be many health benefits to sharing our lives with animals, including increased fitness and lower stress. However, there are some health concerns with regard to spending time and sharing space with animals. There is a long list of diseases that people can get from keeping animals.

Foodborne illness can be any illness that is transmitted to people through food. There is a misconception out there that foodborne illnesses are not easily spread. Some examples of illnesses that are easy to spread and can be transmitted through food include salmonella, E. coli, norovirus and many others. So, what do pets and other animals have to do with foodborne illness? Animals can naturally harbor some organisms that cause disease. For example, dogs can carry campylobacter. Cats can carry toxoplasma gondii. Birds, reptiles, and amphibians can carry salmonella. While these are just a few examples of the germs that animals can carry, many others also spread through similar means, and these germs can easily be passed from animals to people and then to other people. This often happens when an infected person contaminates the food or drink of a healthy person, and this is why it is important to keep animals out of the kitchen (no matter how cute and loved they are).

In addition to keeping animals away from food preparation areas, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the following tips to help reduce the risk of illness and to stay healthy around pets:

  • Always wash your hands—and your child’s—after handling or being around animals or their waste, food, or supplies (like cages, water bowls, toys, beds, leashes, etc.). This is especially important before handling baby bottles and pacifiers or holding infants.
  • Choose the right pets for your household. Children under five years of age, adults over 65 years of age and anyone with a weakened immune system should not have contact with rodents, reptiles, amphibians and poultry.
  • Don’t kiss, snuggle or hold rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and poultry close to your face. These animals are more likely to spread germs.
  • Always supervise children around pets. Don’t let them kiss their pets, or allow pets to lick their face or mouth.
  • Keep pets and their supplies out of the kitchen or other areas where you prepare, serve or eat food.
  • Clean cages, habitats and supplies outside the home when possible to avoid contaminating surfaces. If that is not possible, then clean them in a laundry sink or bathtub, and then disinfect that area immediately afterward.

Pets are special, and there are many reasons for you and your family to decide to keep animals. However, there are possible health concerns if you choose to do so. It is important to be aware that pets and livestock can spread germs that can make people sick. For answers to your food safety questions, call MSU Extension's Food Safety Hotline at 1-877-643-9882. For more information on food safety, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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