Pets in the classroom program

That’s what veterinarian, blogger and OK hockey player Scott Weese explored in his latest Worms and Germs entry, reprinted below.

A recent press release from The Pet Care Trust reported on the status of its Classroom Program, which provides support to teachers to have pets in school classrooms. On the surface, it seems like a good idea, helping to enrich school activities. However, it’s one of those areas that can be good, but can also be very bad, depending how it’s applied.

The Pet Care Trust has some useful information about pets in classrooms, and anyone considering a pet in a classroom needs to be aware of a variety of concerns, including:

* Welfare of the pets (stress, adequate care, abuse…)
* Adequacy of pet care, particularly during weekends and holidays
* Problems with access to veterinary care
* Distraction of students
* Allergies
* Fear
* Infectious disease transmission

Infectious disease transmission from pets in classrooms is a real problem. Infections can and do occur. The risks are quite variable, and depending on the animal, children, classroom and pet care, can range from inconsequential to quite serious.

The type of animal is very important. Certain species are very high risk for carrying certain infectious diseases and for transmitting them to people. Reptiles are notorious for Salmonella and it is recommended that children under 5 years of age and immunocompromised individuals, among others, not have contact with reptiles. Even with older kids, there’s a risk and older kids have picked up Salmonella in classrooms from reptiles or their food (e.g. frozen rodents).

So, it’s concerning that 435 of the 2066 grants handed out by this program were for reptiles, and the program involved kindergarten to Grade 6 classrooms. A lot of reptiles went into classrooms with a lot of young kids. Typically, elementary school children (at least around here) eat in their classrooms, which raises the concern. While the majority of students would be 5 years of age or older, immunocompromised kids are not exactly uncommon, and it’s unclear whether teachers have adequate understanding about whether kids in their classes are immunocompromised and that this poses an increased risk.
I’m not saying pets in classrooms are a bad idea. However, it’s often done poorly and with little forethought. To be effective and safe, you need to consider many things, such as:

* What species should it be? From my standpoint, no reptiles or other high risk species should be in any classrooms because you can’t guarantee a high-risk person won’t be around. The animal needs to be small enough to be properly housed in a classroom. It’s care requirements need to be basic and readily met. It shouldn’t be a species that gets stressed easily and one that can tolerate all the activities that go on around it. A nocturnal species is probably not a good idea.
* What types of hygiene/infection control practices need to be used and how will they be enforced?
* What disease or injury (e.g. bite) risks are present and how will they be managed.
* Who will take care of it? This means who will take care of it for its lifespan, not just the upcoming school year.
* Who will arrange and pay for any medical expenses that arise, either for preventive medicine or treatment of disease?
* Will parents be notified?
* What happens if a kid in the class is allergy or afraid of the animal?
* Will proper supervision be available at all times?
* Who from the school or school board must give permission, and is there a standard approval process? (There should be, but there rarely is).
* Why is the animal going to be there? Will there be any educational use or it is just there for fun/decoration?

If you can answer all those questions adequately, then a pet might be a good fit in a classroom. If you can’t answer them, or can’t be bothered to try to answer them, then there’s no reason for a pet to be in a classroom.

This entry was posted in Food Safety Policy and tagged , , , by Douglas Powell. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time