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Working Safely With Animals

Arizona State University actively promotes the safe handling of animals used in research and teaching. This page introduces some of the hazards associated with the handling of animals and describes the steps that should be taken to minimize those risks.

Risks in Handling Animals

The hazards associated with handling animals or their tissues can be divided into three categories:

  1. Physical Injuries include bites and scratches inflicted by rodents, rabbits, birds, reptiles, primates and other species. Other occupational-related injuries may occur when caring for animals, including back injuries and slips, trips, and falls. The key to preventing these types of injuries is proper training (provided by animal care staff or other qualified individuals).
  2. Allergies are associated with respiratory or contact allergens such as animal dander or urine. All personnel should be aware that laboratory animals are sources of potential allergens. The best policy in most circumstances is to prevent exposure. Please review the ASU Fact Sheet for Animal-Related Asthma and Allergies for more information.
  3. Zoonotic diseases are those that can be transmitted from animals to humans and from humans to animals. Although zoonotic diseases are not common in modern animal facilities, their prevention and detection must be an important concern of all personnel who work with animals in the laboratory or the field. Remember that zoonotic diseases can be transmitted by tissues as well as by live animals.

Personal Hygiene and Protection Overview

There are some commonsense steps that can be taken to lessen the risks associated with working with animals. These include:

  • Not eating, drinking or applying cosmetics or contact lenses around animals or animal care areas;
  • Wearing gloves, face masks, and other personal protective equipment when handling animals or their tissues;
  • Taking care not to rub your face with contaminated hands or gloves; and
  • Washing your hands after each animal contact.

Research personnel can protect themselves by limiting their use of needles and syringes, taking enough time to give injections properly, and anesthetizing animals prior to inoculation with infectious agents, and using a two-person team to inoculate animals. For more information, please review the ASU Fact Sheet for the Handling and Disposal of Sharps.

For procedures such as necropsies, bedding changes, and tissue and fluid samplings, containment devices such as biological safety cabinets, full-face respirators, or other personal safety equipment should be used as indicated.

For more information, please consult your supervisor, the Department of Animal Care & Technology (DACT) at (480) 965-3325, or the Department of Environmental Health and Safety at (480) 965-1823.

What You Should Know

  • About Bites, Scratches, and Other Injuries
    For an acute injury (e.g., animal bite, cage scratch), follow the animal-specific first aid protocol posted in the laboratory and then report to ASU Health Services for medical treatment. ASU Health Services is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM. After hours, call (480) 965-3349 and a doctor will advise you concerning your medical condition and proper course of action.


  • About Zoonotic Diseases
    Humans are sometimes susceptible to infectious diseases carried by animals even when the animals themselves show few signs of illness. Microorganisms in the normal flora of a healthy animal may cause serious illness in persons who have had no previous exposure to the organism and lack protective immunity. Persons who are immunosuppressed because of medication or underlying medical conditions may be at a higher risk of infection. Workers should be aware of these possibilities and take precautions to minimize the risk of infection. In the event that you do become ill with a fever or some other sign of infection, it is important to tell your physician that you work with animals.


  • If You Are Pregnant or Planning a Pregnancy
    Working with animals could potentially expose you and your baby to disease. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, please contact your primary care physician(PCP), your obstetrician(OB GYN), or ASU Health Services at (480) 965-1218.


  • If You Work with Non-Human Primates
    There are potentially serious health hazards associated with working with non-human primates (NHP). Diseases of non-human primates may be transmitted to humans and may include Herpesvirus simiae (or B-virus), Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), tuberculosis, shigella, campylobacter, and salmonella.

    All persons working with non-human primates or their tissues must participate in the Occupational Health Program for Animal Users to minimally include an annual tuberculosis test. Call (480) 965-3349, identify yourself as a researcher who works with non-human primates, and schedule an appointment with the Occupational Health Nurse at ASU Health Services.

    Training is available that has a strong emphasis on proper use of personal protective equipment combined with understanding non-human primate behavior, and the general principals are applicable to any program that houses non-human primates.


  • If You Work with Rodents
    Rodents, such as mice, rats, gerbils, guinea pigs, and hamsters, are the most common cause of induced allergies in those who work with animals. Personal protective equipment (e.g., lab gowns, gloves, N95 respirators) should be worn when working with rodents. If you already are sensitized to rodent dander, or if you become sensitized, you should report this to ASU Health Services.

    Contact with rodents requires awareness of diseases such as dwarf tapeworm, lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM), salmonellosis, and ringworm. To protect against these agents, care should be taken to limit direct contact and aerosol exposure to soiled bedding containing feces and urine. Gloves and masks limit exposure to soiled bedding and help prevent transmission of diseases such as ringworm and fur mites.

    If you will handle wild rodents or their tissues, see If You Work with Wild Animals in the Field below.


  • If You Work with Rabbits
    Rabbits are common sources of human allergies. In addition, rabbit skin mites such as Cheyletiella parasitovorax can cause transient rashes in humans. Rabbits are known to bite and scratch.

    If you handle wild rabbits or their tissues, see If You Work with Wild Animals in the Field below.


  • If You Work with Reptiles or Amphibians
    Amphibians and reptiles, including turtles, frequently harbor Salmonella. Oral transmission to humans can cause diarrhea and illness and may be avoided by wearing gloves and careful hand washing. Only properly trained individuals may handle venomous snakes and other venomous reptiles.


  • If You Work with Wild Animals in the Field
    Many wild animals (e.g., bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, wolves, coyotes, other carnivores) may transmit rabies. Bats are the primary source of rabies infection in the United States. Personnel working with animals in the wild are advised to have a pre-exposure rabies vaccination. Anyone whose work involves a risk of bites from these animals should consider immunization against rabies, which is available through ASU Health Services. Call (480) 965-3349 for an appointment to discuss pre-exposure immunization. All bite or scratch wounds involving wild animals require prompt medical evaluation and treatment.

    Uncommon but serious risks associated with using wild rodents include Hantavirus, bubonic plague, and leptospirosis. Deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) appear to be the principal reservoir for a strain of Hantavirus that is pathogenic to humans.

    Zoonotic diseases, such as psittacosis and avian tuberculosis, can infect wild birds. Wild rabbits may transmit tularemia to those exposed to fresh tissues.

    Ticks can transmit several diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Early treatment can prevent serious consequences such as arthritic, cardiac, and neurological problems, which are more difficult to cure. To prevent tick bites, wear full-length pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors in tick-infested areas. Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pant legs into your boots or socks. A tick repellent may also be used on clothing and skin. Inspect yourself often and promptly remove any embedded ticks with forceps or fingers protected by tissue. If you experience a bull’s eye rash 3-30 days after a tick bite, or joint pain, fever, chills, headache or malaise after being bitten by a tick, immediately contact ASU Health Services at (480) 965-3349.

    Individuals working with wild animals should discuss potential zoonotic diseases with their principal investigator and ASU Health Services.

    For additional information about minimizing these and other health risks in the field, see ASU’s Safety Guidelines for Field Researchers.


Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)
Mail Code: 6111
(480) 727-0457

Department of Animal Care and Technology
Mail Code: 9906
(480) 965-4386

IACUC Administrative Support
Office of Research Integrity and Assurance
Mail Code: 6111
(480) 965-4387
(480) 965-7772 (Fax)

ASU Health Services
Mail Code: 2104
(480) 965-3346

Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S)
Mail Code: 6412
(480) 965-1823

Reference documents
ASU Fact Sheet for Animal Personnel Safety
ASU Fact Sheet for Animal-Related Asthma and Allergies
ASU Fact Sheet for Handling and Disposal of Sharps