July 2016
For What It's Worth

Animal Management for Their Safety ... and Yours!

Whether pets or livestock, all animals have the potential to hurt themselves or humans when in stressful situations. Stress comes in many forms for animals – unfamiliar surroundings, overheating, storm or fire, startling noises, bright lights and/or sudden movements. A startled or stressed animal is likely to behave irrationally and can run in any direction. If an animal of any size were to run at you, you could end up being seriously injured.

 Teeth and Appendages

Most four-legged animals have teeth, claws or hooves with sharp edges. So if you have an encounter with a stressed, startled or aggressive animal, you could end up with serious cuts, slashes or bruises. Watch out for those teeth – dogs, cats and pigs have the ability to repeatedly bite or slash with their teeth, often requiring medical treatment, including stitches. Although ruminants (horses, goats, sheep and cows) do not have sharp teeth, they can cause crushing impacts. You would be surprised at the bruising or injuries you can suffer from an encounter with an angry or stressed animal.

This horse appears calm, but let something startle him and his 900-pound body and head can quickly swing in any direction!  

 Size Matters

The larger the animal the more significant the damage from being struck or rammed. When animals are startled or aggressive, they can bruise or seriously injure any child, adult or elderly person by simply swinging their head or charging. The impact can result in a person ending up on the ground, having the breath knocked out of them or requiring medical attention. A child is most easily injured and traumatized by an aggressive animal, sometimes with long-lasting negative consequences. The elderly have brittle bones and are unable to withstand bodily impact. Almost any livestock farmer can tell you about witnessing or experiencing a charging ruminant.

 Tendencies to Injure Themselves

When an animal is placed in an unfamiliar location or stressful situation, they generally panic and tend to run away from the source of surprise. Most also have poor depth perception. If they go into panic mode, they may run into barn walls or fencing and can hit with such impact they risk serious injury or death if they were to break their neck.

 Animals Can Sense Stress

Most animals can sense stressful situations and become nervous in anticipation of potential danger. In a tense situation, approach slowly and calmly. Any sudden movement, stalking or loud noises are sensed as precursors to danger.

 Rules to Remember for Your and Your Animals’ Safety:

  1. Never approach an animal from behind. Most animals have panoramic view or the ability to see about as far back as their front shoulders. If you come at them from any further back than their panoramic view, you could easily startle them.

  2. Never make a sudden movement or loud noise in their direction. They become easily stressed and can bolt away or charge. Either way, they have total disregard for the safety of themselves, other animals or people. Only use flailing arms or loud noises as a last attempt to drive away a charging animal.

  3. Never startle a sleeping animal. If you are approaching a sleeping animal, always approach slowly, make a modest amount of sound so they hear you coming and always approach from their front.

  4. Be very cautious when approaching a female animal with newborns or young. They may be very aggressive to the point of intending to hurt you to protect their young. Female animals tend to be territorial and protective.

  5. Be very cautious when approaching an animal in the dark or with a bright light behind you. Most pets and livestock are colorblind so all they see is something dark to light gray coming at them. If they are unfamiliar with you, they may panic and take flight or go into attack mode.

When approaching any animal, take time to observe them and let them see you. While most encounters are not fatal, they can result in injury and trauma. You will find more information on the Internet or at your local library. Two books I recommend on livestock management are "Human Livestock Handling" and "Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach" by Temple Grandin, a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, world-renowned autism spokesperson and consultant on animal behavior.


Beam, T. "Working Safely With Livestock." The Ohio State University Extension, January 1992.
AEX-990-08. National Ag Safety Database. nasdonline. org/217/d000016/working-safely-with-livestock.html.

"Introduction to Livestock Safety." www.ag.auburn.edu/~schmisp/safety/.

"Proper Handling and Facilities Critical to Good Working Relationship." www.ag.auburn.edu/~schmisp/safety/handling.html.


Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.