What Are the Best Animals for a Petting Zoo?

Petting zoos began coming in vogue in 1938, when the London zoo, opened an area for a petting zoo.

Also called a children’s zoo, it is either a portion of an established zoo or an entity of its own.

Some petting zoos are destination locations, and some are traveling zoos. They are noted for featuring a combination of domesticated animals and some wild species that are docile enough to touch and feed and wander near children.

Most petting zoos supply their own food for guests to give to the animals and have some animals in enclosures that are for viewing only.

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The most common animals in petting zoos include:



Sheep are relatively docile ruminants that eat grass and hay. They have wool and can be as delightful fluffy and full as well as sheared.

In fact, shearing day in the spring can be a draw for a petting zoo. Sheep come in a variety of colors from pure white to deep brown.

Some varieties even have horns.


Goats can be a great deal of fun in a petting zoo, as they have a penchant for climbing. By placing rocks throughout the area, they can have a place to perch.

Kids, the juvenile goats, are known for their bouncy nature and look adorable in pajamas. Goats on a farm are used for milk, meat, and fur, Milk from goats is often turned into goat cheese which can be one of the specialties found in a petting zoo gift shop.

Fancy Chickens

Fancy Breeds of chickens have specialties like unusual crests, oddly feathered feet, exotic beards, magnificent muffs, as well as unusual colors that make them stand out as petting zoo creatures.



Ducks are aquatic birds, and several species have interesting feather patterns, like the mallard and wood duck.

These can be lovely animals to add to a water area. A clutch of ducklings in the spring can be a great addition to spring festivities and add to the flock.


Elegant white and black swans can add a majestic nature to any pond feature in a park. This is a great photo op that many tourists like to take advantage of.

Although the white swan is more common, the black swan adds a striking factor to the landscape.


Nothing is more charming than holding a bunny. With wiggly noses and wonderful long ears, this docile creature can provide hours of delight.

They love eating brightly colored carrots. A group of rabbits is known as a colony, or a warren, and a group of baby rabbits is referred to as a litter.

This is an easily reproducible animal, and sometimes petting zoos offer young rabbits to bring home as a pet for sale.

The most common breeds for petting zoos are French Lop Rabbits and Angora rabbits. Angora rabbits are bred for their fur, which can be a wonderful addition to the petting zoo’s textiles in a gift shop.



Ponies are a sturdy type of horse breed and are intelligent and friendly. Properly trained ponies can supply rides for children or pull a small wagon.

Ponies generally have a very long life, sometimes up to 40 years.


Horses are a bit large for petting zoos, which tend towards keeping smaller animals. However, a horse can provide rides, and if one or more of the docile draft horses are employed, they can provide carriage and hayrides for a group of people.


Known for their wool, alpacas are intriguing creatures to include in a petting zoo. Relatively small, they are known for cushing, which is a kind of bouncing run, and this is fun to experience and see.

A member of the camel family from South America, they can be quite good with children when being fed.


Similar to alpacas, llamas are significantly larger. Llamas are social animals and enjoy living with others of their species as well as with goats and sheep.

Their wool is soft and their roving, or products made from their wool, can be a good gift shop addition.

Llamas can also learn simple tasks after a few repetitions.



Pigs are vocal and tend to like to be around other pigs. Because they often feed for several hours, they are great additions to petting zoos.

Pigs are omnivorous and are highly versatile in their feeding behavior. They are intelligent and can be trained to do a variety of small tasks, which can be great fun.

Miniature donkeys

Miniature animals are small and charming. Being smaller, young children can relate to them and may feel more comfortable near them than larger animals. Miniature donkeys are intelligent, friendly, playful, and eager to learn complex tasks.

Miniature horses

Miniature horses have all the attributes of horses but cannot be used as riding animals. However, because of breeding, they have a doll-like look and great appeal to the public.

One of the great appeals is that they are a horse that stands nose to nose with young children instead of towering over them.

Exotic Animals in Petting Zoos


The kangaroo is a marsupial, found in Australia and well known for its pouch and its bouncing bounding form of travel.


They can travel great distances in several bounds and are considered the deer of Australia. Although they take up a great deal of space, these animals draw in crowds.


A wallaby is a small macropod. They belong to the same family as kangaroos, and because of their size can be a bit more manageable.

There are a variety of species from swamp to desert wallabies.


Common to Australia, the emu is the second-largest living bird by height. Its downy and shimmery brown feathers give it a soft allure that is interesting.

Emus are flightless birds with long necks and legs.

Zebu Cattle

Zebu cattle are miniaturized cattle. They have been around for thousands of years off the coast of Southern India on an archipelago.

They have a high heat tolerance and insect resistance in comparison to most European cattle breeds.

They have active sub-dermal twitching muscles and are docile. They are much easier to deal with than the typical large farm cows that most people are used to.



Macaws are a colorful member of the parrot family. With larger beaks and long tails, they are sassy and have feathers that range from teal to bright blue to bright yellow.

They are amusing clowns that can charm for hours with their antics.


Tortoises are distinguished from other turtles by being exclusively land-dwelling. With a thick shell, loping gait, long tongue, and slow, deliberate eating they can add a touch of methodical observation in contrast with the frenetic nature of other zoo residents.


Giraffes can be fascinating with their long necks and black tongues. A raised area for people can get people at eye level, making it easier for children to view them. With their unusual gait, they are fascinating and different and can add a touch of whimsy to the petting zoo.

Giraffes are the tallest living animal as well as the largest ruminant.

Ring-tailed Lemur

Ring-tailed lemurs look exotic and are docile and have a sweet nature, their babies cling and can add a nurturing element of mother and child that is a gift to behold.

Pygmy Goat

pygmy goat

A pygmy goat is a breed of domestic goat. Although they have a delicate look, the pygmy goat is quite hardy and adaptable.

It technically isn’t a miniature animal, but merely a breed of goat. They are from Africa and exotic in look and nature.

Fallow Deer

The fallow deer is species is native to western Eurasia. It has a delicate-looking face and is friendly and gentle.

With long lashes and large noses, they look more like a cartoon than a deer. They are gentle, and shy, but can be friendly.

Bird shows in Petting Zoos

Although not common in petting zoos, a few also feature a bird show that shows off some of the more common predatory birds.

Often these are birds that are rehabilitated from the wild and cannot be re-released.


There are many breeds of owls from the small screech owl to the large horned owl. In recent years the barn owl and snowy owl have become popular because of the Harry Potter books and movies.


Owls are silent flyers and can elicit awe from a crowd.


Hawks, eagles, and falcons are members of the raptor family and can add interesting flight displays to the bird show.

They can take flight and catch lures. Their sharp eyes can spot an object from far away and they can fly a great distance.

A petting zoo can take on a number of different themes and attitudes. It can be a wonderful place for urban and suburban dwellers to interact with a variety of animals, from typical farm animals to exotic ones from far-off lands.