Touching Animals Safely and When Not To Do It

If you’re an animal lover, touching animals can be tempting, but there’s probably been a time when you wanted to pet or hold an animal and been told not to because you’d hurt it. Still, many of us seem to have interacted well with animals, everything from housepets to neighborhood pets and birds, frogs, and fireflies, and seemingly not harmed them. So, who are the animals that are really under threat and when is it critical to keep your hands to yourself?

Being an animal lover, safely handling animals, or not handling them at all, and minimizing your impact on them is maybe the truest way to care for them. In general, if you’re going to touch any animal, you should make sure your hands have been washed recently, you have as few chemicals on you as possible, and you limit their exposure regardless.

There are some animals and situations however where there’s a much higher chance that touching them causes direct harm or they suffer because of your invasion into their space. Here are some more tips from us on touching animals safely.

Touching Animals Safely When You’re a Biological Threat

While there are a good number of situations where you shouldn’t touch an animal, some animals incur a greater risk for illness with every touch. 

Frogs and Other Amphibians

For frogs or any amphibians, chemicals in many soaps, oils, and other lingering chemicals on your hands pose a particular threat because of their semi-permeable, membranous skin, which easily absorbs elements of anything it touches. Touching wild animals is stressful for animals in general, so this adds to their predicament as well.

When it comes to frogs and amphibians, holding them for an extended period will eventually kill them. However, you can make it relatively safe for the animal by:

  • Washing hands with the most natural soap possible definitely ensures no harsh chemicals come in contact with the animal.
  • Keep your hands wet to help with abrasion and drying of the amphibian.
  • Gently holding them with the tips of your fingers and your thumb or gentle pets with the tip of your finger will be fine, just don’t do either of these things for an extended period of time. 
  • Taking care to not pet the animal to the point of prodding and releasing it within a couple of minutes, even if you’ve taken the precautions above.

Fish and Marine Life

Like amphibians, who need a high amount of moisture to survive, fish and other marine life are more susceptible to damage from humans than most other animals. Unlike amphibians, fish won’t directly absorb elements of you through its skin, but still, the relatively dry and abrasive nature of our hands negatively impacts their naturally wet way of being. While we’re introducing elements to amphibians, we’re removing valuable protection from fish and other marine life in the slime or mucus that covers their body.

For most fish, the umbrella function of the slime that covers their body is to defend against the outside world, everything from abrasions to bacteria, but it serves a wide variety of purposes depending on the fish. This valuable slime does everything from infection protection to producing toxins and regulating other body functions in the fish. It can even help them swim faster. While this layer of mucous replenishes itself, it takes time, and the more you remove the more open to harm they’ll be.

Other than the slime on their skin, fish are also susceptible to any chemicals that might be on your body. Here are some tips to mitigate your risk to fish:

  • As with any animal, make sure your hands are free of chemicals.
  • Never hold a fish unless necessary, and only give them a quick, brief pet if at all.
  • If you’re in the water, make sure your entire body is free of unnatural chemicals or oils and that you don’t leave anything behind.

Wild Land Animals

Unfortunately, the answer for most animals in the wild is, “you shouldn’t touch that.” While our first instinct is to think about this in terms of the danger to ourselves, it’s equally true for the animal whether or not they look or actually are friendly enough. Even if an animal is non-threatening, if they are truly wild and not typically in contact with humans, you shouldn’t touch it because of the harm you pose to them.

Any wild animal, outside of insects and those that interact with us daily, runs the risk of a number of things when touched by a human, including:

  • Human disease infecting the animal
  • Rejection by other animals
  • Eventual starvation if a baby or pack hunter

In an environment where animals are not familiar with humans, touching a human could mean ex-communication from the group. You should never touch an animal anywhere that’s ruled by the wilderness unless it’s in danger and the benefits outweigh the risk.

Be Careful Handling Wildlife and Pet Your Pets

Of course, the whole reason it seems like we should be able to pet some of these animals, especially the cute and cuddly-looking ones, is because we see the similarities to our own pets. While it may seem no different, cats, dogs, and even farmyard animals have been around us long enough that we can touch them without harming them. It doesn’t stress them out, and they’re relatively used to our diseases if it’s not something they’re immunized for. 

In this same vein, there are a few other cases with animals, such as lizards, birds, and squirrels, that are around us so often that humans seem to pose little harm just by touching them. As with any animal, the key here is limiting their exposure, but they’ll be less predisposed to risk.

With any animal, the point is to always remember to be as safe and as clean as possible when handling them and to put them first when deciding to touch them or not. If we’re lucky enough to have them around, then we can earn the trust needed to make a bond with an animal, but most of the time it’s best to just let them be or take a careful, gentle, and brief approach.

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