You can get sick from your hammy but most likely if you follow some basic care and good hygiene rules, that will not happen. In rare cases, you can catch some bacterial infections like Salmonella, Tularemia, or Leptrospirosis. Transmission of viral infections from hamsters to humans also are uncommon but can happen, for example, the LCM virus. Fungal infection like Ringworms is also a disease that you may catch from your pet.
Although your furry pal will hardly pass some illness to you, it is useful to know what you might be facing, how do you catch the disease, what are the symptoms, cure, therapy. It is also practical to learn how to avoid it and enjoy your pet carefree.
Hamster Zoonootic Diseases
Hamsters (and other rodents as well) may carry the bacteria called Salmonella which can cause the intestinal infection called Salmonellosis.
This bacteria can be found in your pet’s poop. People usually get infected if their food, water, or milk are contaminated with this bacteria.
Salmonella is more common in wild rodents but pet hamsters also can carry it. The age of the hamster plays an important role, as young hamsters and those who are quite old are a major risk.
This bacterial infection causes the following symptoms in humans:
- Upset stomach
Usually, signs of illness will begin in a couple of hours to a couple of days ( around 6 days ) after infection and will last for 4-7 days. There are cases that suffer from this infection for weeks and on the other hand, there are people that never develop any symptom and disease goes unnoticed.
Salmonellosis can cause major dehydration so you may need urgent medical attention but this condition is rarely life-threatening.
The most vulnerable groups of people are kids ( especially those under 5 years of age ) and elderly people. The first group’s ( kids ) immunity is still not developed properly and elderly people usually have a compromised immune system.
Your doctor will most probably take a sample of your poop or will detect Salmonella through the blood test. He/She may suggest you take some rehydration liquids. In severe cases, antibiotics might be necessary.
LCM stands for Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis viral infection that attacks the brain and membranes around it as well as the spinal cord. The common source of this virus is house mice that can infect your pet hamster, which can transmit this potentially dangerous condition to you.
How can you catch the disease? Again – hamster’s poop or urine or saliva. It is rather simple if you inhale dried fragments of your pet’s feces or urine or saliva or you take food that has been contaminated.
The first signs of virus can appear in the first week after infection or you might notice that something is wrong 3 weeks after it.
Usual symptoms are :
- Vomiting, Nausea
- Joint pain
- Chest pain
Initial symptoms may go away after a couple of days, letting you believe that’s over but it is just the opposite, other more severe signs will come after that. Those symptoms could be a stiff neck, confusion.
The most vulnerable groups are kids and pregnant women. Kids are in danger due to their underdeveloped immune system although in some cases children will not show any sign of infection many others will and pregnant women because the virus may impact the unborn baby, leaving it with a variety of defects and intellectual disabilities.
Although there is no cure for this infection, most of the infected humans recover completely.
I have used CDC as a source so you can check all disease details on their official page Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID)
Tularemia is a condition caused by bacteria called Francisella Tularensis. In the USA, Tularemia is usually associated with insects or small animals( including hamsters) bites.
This bacteria is one of the six biological agents most likely used by extremists, said in the text of the Center of Infection Disease and Research Policy, the University of Minnesota link will take you to their official page.
Pet hamsters can get infected if they come into the contact with ill or dead wild animals ( wild rodents, rabbits, squirrel ) or if they are bitten by an infected tick or flee, or exposed to contaminated water or soil. Infected hamsters can bite you and transmit this disease to you.
This infection which is also called Rabbit fever or Deer Fly fever affects skin, lungs, eyes and lymph nodes. First signs can appear in 3-5 days after infection but it can pass up to 2 weeks until you realize that something is wrong.
Usual symptoms are
- skin ulcers
- Swollen painful Lymph nodes and glands
In most severe cases Meningitis, Pericarditis and bone infections can develop.
Although it is not a very common disease, one to 10 cases have been reported every year. The most affected group is kids. If notices early this highly contagious and serious disease can be treated very successfully. Tularemia ( depends on the type and what has been affected) is treated with antibiotics.
For more details on this disease you can visit CDC official page Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID)
Infection caused by bacteria Leptospira that affects both humans and different animals ( usually rodents, farm animals, and dogs)
You can catch this disease if you come into the contact with a pee of your infected hamster ( as this bacteria lives in your pet’s kidneys ) or if you drink contaminated water. Also in case, you come into the contact with soil or water where the infected pet peed and you have some scratches or open wounds you run a risk of infection.
Although majority of cases in which house pets get infected with Leptospira are dogs, if you notice that your hamster has poor appetite, suffer from vomiting, diarrhea , weakness and depression contact your vet. All these symptoms may indicate other diseases as well so you should check your furry ball’s health anyway.
Some people will show no signs of infection but yet others will develop severe symptoms.
First signs may appear two-four weeks after infection or not to emerge at all.
Usual signs are:
- Stomach pain
- Red eyes
Leptospirosis can affect your heart, kidneys, and liver so you may experience nosebleed, chest pain, fatigue, increased rate of heartbeat, pain in mussels, lack of appetite.
This condition is not pleasant but also not life-threatening, and the good thing is that it is hardly possible for this infection to be transmitted from human to human ( although there were some reported cases of infection through breastfeeding and sex)
It will not be complicated for your doctor to detect the infection by blood tests and the presence of antibodies. If you already have been infected with Leptospira, this test can appear positive although you are not infected in this very moment. Your doctor will perform another test in a week or so just to make sure and avoid false results.
As usual for bacterial infections, Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics but your doctor can also prescript you some Ibuprofen for fever or pain killers for mussel pain.
For more details check World Health Organisation page on Leptospirosis
Dermatophytosis ( ringworm)
A fungal infection that can be transmitted if you come into contact with the skin or fur of the infected hamster.
- Itchy skin
- Ring-shaped rash
- Red, scaly, cracked skin
- Hair loss
Red and itchy skin with some lighter tones in the center-”ring”. You run a bigger risk if you handle infected pet with damaged or moist skin on your hands. Your hamster may don’t have any symptom or it can have dry, round lesions on the body.
For more details on this disease check CDC official page Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID)
This article may scare you although this is not my intention. As I said at the begging of this text, most likely you will not get any disease from your furry pal but it is always good to know what can happen and how can you avoid that :
- You should always wash your hands after handling your hamster.
- If you notice any sign of illness in your hamster, do contact the vet.
- Keep the cage and bedding clean ( cage cleaning and bedding change generally once a week )
- If you have a child, always supervise his/her interaction with the hamster and washing hands afterward. Don’t let your child handle the sick hamster.
- Don’t let your hamster near food or near the place where food is prepared. Make your pet avoid the kitchen area completely.
- If you have open wounds or scratches where your skin appears to be broken try not to handle your hammy if possible.
On the other hand, you can transmit the same number of diseases or even more to your pet but that’s not the topic of this article.