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Thinking About Keeping Live Poultry?

Categories: Zoonotic Disease

 Chickens and owner in backyard 

An increasing number of people around the country are choosing to keep live poultry, such as chickens or ducks.  Along with the benefits of backyard chickens and other poultry, it is important to consider the risk of illness, especially for children, which can result from handling live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.  In recent years, several human Salmonella outbreaks associated with live poultry contact have been reported to the CDC. 
It’s common for chickens, ducks, and other poultry to carry Salmonella, which is a type of germ that naturally lives in the intestines of many animals and is shed in their droppings or feces. Live poultry may have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies (including feathers, feet, and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on cages, coops, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. Additionally, the germs can be found on the hands, shoes, and clothing of those who handle the birds or work or play where they live and roam. 

Raising chickens in your backyard can be fun and rewarding, but please be careful doing so.

Raising chickens in your backyard can be fun and rewarding, but please be careful doing so.

Salmonella can make people sick with diarrhea and fever, often with vomiting and abdominal cramps. Sometimes, people can become so sick from a Salmonella infection that they have to go to the hospital. Infants, elderly persons, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness. You can learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment of Salmonella infection by visiting the CDC’s Salmonella web site. 

How do I reduce the risk of Salmonella infection from live poultry?

  • Do not let children younger than 5 years of age handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry without supervision.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Avoid touching your mouth before washing your hands.  Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
  • Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
  • Wash hands after removing soiled clothes and shoes.
  • Do not eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
  • Do not let live poultry inside the house or in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens, pantries, or outdoor patios.
  • If you have free-roaming live poultry, assume that where they live and roam is contaminated.
  • Clean equipment and materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry, such as cages, feed containers, and water containers, outside the house, not inside.

For more information, visit CDC’s Risk of Human Salmonella Infections from Live Baby Poultry  feature and the Healthy Pets Healthy People web site.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. November 8, 2010 at 6:56 pm ET  -   Jane

    What do we do if our daughter’s preschool is letting chickens free-roam all over the outside play area of the school?

    Link to this comment

  2. November 29, 2010 at 1:21 pm ET  -   Jim

    I live in NYC. I’m not sure if local authorities will allow to keep poultry at home or even at backyard.

    Link to this comment

  3. January 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm ET  -   Soifememi

    This blog is bookmarked! I really love the stuff you have put here.

    Link to this comment

  4. January 25, 2011 at 9:48 am ET  -   uvt8


    The basic recommendation is that live poultry should not be kept in facilities with young children (<5 years old), such as child care centers or schools. If this is not possible, the area where the chickens roam should be considered contaminated and the children should not be allowed to play in these areas. The chicken house or area should be cleaned frequently. Children should be supervised if they are interacting with chickens. Their hands should be washed (under adult supervision) immediately after handling the birds.

    You can follow this link to access a pdf with more information

    Thanks for reading!

    Link to this comment

  5. January 25, 2011 at 9:59 am ET  -   uvt8

    Jim, this website allows you to search local laws regarding backyard chickens.

    Thanks for reading.

    (please note this is an external website and not related to CDC)

    Link to this comment

  6. January 29, 2011 at 5:21 pm ET  -   Karen

    Can animals like cats and dogs become sick with salmonella?

    Link to this comment

  7. February 1, 2011 at 10:49 am ET  -   Blog Administrator

    Yes, cats and dogs can get salmonella and become ill. They may also carry and transmit the germ without showing signs of illness. Other animals, such as reptiles, amphibians, and poultry may also carry and transmit the salmonella germ without showing signs of illness. For more information you can visit CDC’s website about salmonella here.

    Thanks for reading!

    Link to this comment

  8. February 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm ET  -   Joseph

    I love chickens, we use to have some growing up. Wish I could have them here in the city. Didn’t know they could carry salmonella. It just means you have to wash your hands afterwords…


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  9. February 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm ET  -   howard

    Are there any precautions regarding eating the eggs from non-commercially raised foul, like ones raised by private people?

    Link to this comment

  10. April 26, 2011 at 12:32 am ET  -   Jill Hathaway

    Is it possible to get a milder case, where you don’t vomit but a stomach cramping and loose stools can linger on for weeks?

    Jill Hathaway

    Link to this comment

  11. May 4, 2011 at 9:59 am ET  -   Blog Administrator


    Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

    Persons with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. A small number of persons with Salmonella develop pain in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. This is called Reiter’s syndrome. It can last for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis which is difficult to treat. Antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person develops arthritis.

    For more information visit:
    Thanks for reading!

    Link to this comment

  12. June 2, 2011 at 5:38 pm ET  -

    Thinking about keeping live poultry.. Peachy :)

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  13. June 4, 2011 at 5:59 pm ET  -

    Thinking about keeping live poultry.. Reposted it :)

    Link to this comment

  14. June 15, 2011 at 1:58 pm ET  -   Dianna

    So, basically there is as much cause for a person or child to wash their hands after handling chickens as with “Fido” the family dog or “Fluffy” the cat. I think people just need to use wisdom with ALL animals. You wouldn’t let your child go and eat a hot dog right after they just pet the giraffe at the zoo or rode the camel? In this day and age, I think we have been well educated by the CDC and the media on the proper ways of keeping the spread of germs to a minimum. We have backyard chickens, 2 cats and a 2 yr old daughter. We supervise her closely and routinely wash our hands after handling the animals. We should follow the advice we get from the experts, but also not go into pandamonium over our neighbor having a few chickens.

    Link to this comment

  15. September 28, 2011 at 5:01 am ET  -   Jessie

    I must say you provide good information.
    If you want to chickens on your yard it`s important to have a good chicken coop.
    Not to big but surtenly not to small also clean your chicken coop once a week.

    Link to this comment

  16. October 10, 2011 at 11:52 am ET  -   Tim

    I keep getting asked by people visiting my hobby blog site Keeping Chickens, about the various rules and regulations for keeping chickens in the USA. It would seem that you have different laws to us in the UK. Thanks to this post, I now have a place to direct them.
    This post is an ‘egg’cellent resources and I bookmark it myself!

    Link to this comment

  17. January 26, 2012 at 1:55 pm ET  -   Pet Waste Removal Service

    I’m so glad to find this site. My daughter loves animals and has been asking to raise chickens. Thanks for the guidance to help me keep us all safe. We work hard as a family to help our neighbors keep themselves safe from the dangers lurking in their dog’s waste, but I didn’t know about the concern with chickens.
    Webmaster of Pet Waste Removal Service

    Link to this comment

  18. February 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm ET  -   Kristin

    I have a backyard garden that my chickens love to peck around in. Does thoroughly washing the produce reduce the risk of salmonella, or should I keep the chickens out of the garden alltogether?

    Thank you!

    Link to this comment

  19. February 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm ET  -   Blog Administrator

    @Kristin: Yes thoroughly washing produce is always a good idea and reduces the risk of salmonella. There is some risk of pathogen contamination if fresh chicken manure is put directly on food gardens. However, if given enough sun, heat and time, chicken manure that goes through the composting process will be stripped of any harmful bacteria. Please visit this website for more info:

    Link to this comment

  20. March 30, 2012 at 10:38 am ET  -   Amy

    Is there a danger that chicken manure (pathogen contamination) can travel in the air? Especially in windy cities?

    Link to this comment

  21. July 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm ET  -   prabhu

    How to prevent disease for emu birds and breeders?
    Last season we lost around 1000 chicks of less that 30 days and any materials form CDC to prevent disease for emus?

    Link to this comment

  22. August 7, 2012 at 8:23 pm ET  -   Travis

    Anybody here ever heard of a farm?

    Link to this comment

  23. October 1, 2012 at 9:42 am ET  -   Fan

    My family has kept 70 chickens each year for over ten years for recreation and food, yet there has never been any health problems. The key is to keep the area where the chickens live free of feces–this requires weekly cleaning and easier if you let the chicken live among lawnless soil. Additionally, keep the chicken as far as possible from your personal garden and home (or simply fence the chicken within a contained area). Finally, like any other pets make sure you give them clean water and feed–not leftovers from the table. Raising poultry can be fun, but it does require a lot of work.

    Link to this comment

  24. October 12, 2012 at 9:01 am ET  -   Sue

    I am so interested in zoonotic infections. I live in extreme western Nebraska surrounded by cattle, chickens, hogs, goats, canines, felines and all manner of fowl on surrounding farms and ranches. I have long been interested in studying farm and ranch family health. Your blog is fascinating and visually appealing! Thanks to all those who post interesting and appealing comments! What a pleasure!

    Link to this comment

  25. May 13, 2013 at 7:04 am ET  -   cheryl

    My neighbor has small children,and she has been keeping a chicken in her house,its really nasty.I told her it is not safe nor sanitary.But she wont listen.What should I do?

    Link to this comment

  26. May 30, 2013 at 11:24 am ET  -   Blog Administrator

    Cheryl, thanks for commenting on our blog. You can print off our safe handling instructions for live poultry and share it with your neighbor as a conversation starter.

    Link to this comment

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