Can hamsters carry diseases ?
Yes, hamsters can carry zoonotic diseases, most of which are harmless and without risk to healthy adults, however, people with weakened immunity (diabetics, HIV), babies and pregnant women, must take extra precautions when handling hamsters to avoid contracting Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis and ringworms.
Is there a risk or not to have a hamster at home?
There is always a risk but it is almost zero (1% chance of contracting a hamster disease) for healthy people, aged between 5 and 65 years.
Children under 5 to 6 years old, sick people with low immunity and pregnant women have twice the chance of catching a contagious hamster disease (2% chance)
Knowing that the only zoonotic disease of hamsters, which can take some time to heal is the infection with Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis virus, this disease can also be dangerous for immunocompromised people and pregnant women:
“It can cause miscarriage or congenital malformation.
But this virus can infect your hamster only if it is in contact with an already ill wild rodent, as if it receives the visit of already contaminated mice…
This makes the chance that your hamster will transmit a zoonosis to you almost non-existent!
Before continuing, know that hamsters are healthy pets and 99.99% of people have them at home, almost all their childhood, sometimes all their life and have no disease transmitted by them.
My answer to this question is “NO, there is almost no risk to having a pet hamster at home, provided that you take some precautions and adopt some hygiene habits which I will talk about a little further down”.
What are the diseases that can be transmitted to humans by a hamster?
Even if the risk of contracting a zoonosis from your hamster is almost inexistent , and that these zoonotic diseases are easily curable in humans, know that there is still a small risk of having them.
You have therefore interest as a parent of a hamster to know these zoonoses, and their symptoms in humans, here they are:
1- ( LCMV ) The Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus
If your hamster is affected by this virus, it will not present symptoms at the beginning, except maybe a small lack of activity and appetite.
But after a few days, his condition will worsen, your hamster will lose a lot of weight, have a stooped posture and may even die if he is not treated.
How is this virus transmitted from the hamster to humans?
If your hamster is a carrier of LCM, it can be bitten by a mosquito and transmit the virus to you while you were sleeping.
But the Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus, is transmitted mainly through inhalation or contact with the hamster’s saliva, urine and feces.
Dry urine from a hamster carrying this virus is the most common means of contamination, when cleaning the cage of a carrier hamster and if you scratch the dried urine of the hamster and you inhale the dust. Always use a mask when you clean the cage of your hamster or change its bedding … etc.
Signs of LCMV in humans:
- A flu-like condition, fever and loss of appetite
- A headache or stiff neck and muscles.
As I said before, this is the only zoonosis that is really dangerous and can cause miscarriage in pregnant women or even congenital malformation.
It is very rare to get this virus from your hamster because it is very difficult for your hamster to be infected by this virus, why?
The Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis is a disease that affects usually only wild hamsters, it is transmitted by other wild rodents and as long as your hamster is isolated from wild animals, it does not risk to contract this virus and it will never transmit it to you.
2- Pasteurellosis “snuffles
Babies and kids under 6 , people over 65 years old and people with weakened immune systems such as diabetics and those with HIV are the most exposed to this zoonosis.
Signs of Pasteurellosis in humans
- Wound infection
- A risk of generalized infection in people with low immunity
- Nervous system damage in the most severe cases (very rare)
- Pasteurella affects the lungs and the skin of the hamster and can have as a symptom only the nasal discharge.
Your hamster can transmit this disease by scratching you or after a bite.
3-Salmonellosis, a zoonosis of the hamster?
Your hamster can get Salmonellosis and give it to you by eating infected raw meat or just by coming into contact with the feces of other small rodents like mice that have this intestinal bacteria.
If your hamster contracts this bacteria and passes it on to you, you will have the following symptoms:
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea and vomiting
This bacteria can also be passed from a pregnant mother to her baby.
This bacterium can live in the digestive system of your hamster without your animal showing any symptoms, it has as a symptom only diarrhea and it is rare to see it in a sick rodent.
Your hamster will only be able to transmit Salmonellosis or to your children if its stools somehow reach your mouth and enter your digestive system, I will come back on the precautions to take to avoid the transmission of this disease at the bottom of the article.
4- Can hamsters carry Campylobacter and give it to humans ?
This disease of rodents, especially hamsters, is one of the zoonotic diseases that hamsters can transmit.
Hamsters can only contract this disease by being in contact with food or water used by another animal that is contaminated, or with the feces of that animal that carries the bacteria.
It is difficult to know if your hamster is a carrier of Campylobacter because it may not show any signs of illness, rarely a slight diarrhea.
Its symptoms in humans are similar to those of Salmonellosis, i.e., diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, fever.
This disease is potentially dangerous in fragile people, infants and pregnant women.
5- Rabies from hamster to humans
It is very rare that a hamster contracts rabies and becomes a carrier of this pathogen, but we must not exclude this disease because it is also a zoonosis that has already been transmitted to humans by hamsters recently, not here in the USA but just upstairs, in Canada.
So you have to be very vigilant, especially if you live in the country and there are bats in your neighborhood.
It is enough that you open to air the room so that a bat, can be carrier of rabies, does not come to bite your hamster, which will be able to survive this aggression especially if it is a Syrian and it will be enough that it bites you once so that it transmits rabies to you.
If your hamster has rabies, you will see the following symptoms
- Hyperactivity and a hamster that seems too excited
- Hydrophobia (fear of water)
- Aerophobia (fear of drafts or fresh air).
And if by misfortune your hamster has bitten you and a few days or sometimes more than a month later, if you have the following symptoms, you must go and consult, here are the symptoms of rabies in humans:
- Having chills; and shivering a feeling of uneasiness, like having the beginning of a cold
- Feeling tired followed by frequent sleeplessness
- Loss of appetite, anxiety and repetitive headaches
6- Hamsters could carry Ringworms
This is the disease most transmitted by hamsters and rodents in general to humans.
This disease is a fungal infection, that is to say by fungi (Microsporum or Trichophyton), they attack the skin of the hamster, its hair and even its nails.
You will know that your hamster has ringworm if it starts to lose hair, areas without hair with the formation of a crust, the skin becomes reddish, irritated and your hamster never stops scratching.
You will notice dry, circular lesions on your hamster’s head or back, even the ears and legs, especially in Syrian hamsters.
Your hamster’s fingernails may come off and crumble.
If a hamster transmits ringworm to a human, it will have the same symptoms:
- Nails that crumble and peel off after they swell.
- Affected areas may lose the red ring hairs.
- Skin rash
- Raised red skin with itching.
The hamster transmits ringworm to humans by direct contact, if you touch your hamster when it is infected with these fungi and you do not wash your hands, you will contract this disease.
7- Tapeworms ” Rodentolepis “
Hamsters can contract this disease if they are visited by a mouse carrying Rodentolepiasis and Hymenolepiasis, or by capturing an insect carrying the eggs of these vrs that has entered their cage at night.
This disease ( tapeworms ) can be transmitted to humans via the stools of the hamster.
Your hamster will thus become carrier of this disease and it will be able to quickly transmit it to you.
This disease can heal itself within 6 weeks, so it has no complications if you do not detect it.
What are the signs of zoonosis in infected children?
A child with weakened immunity , will show some symptoms if it contracted a transmissible disease from its hamster, here are the most common:
- Fever or the beginning of a cold
- Frequent headaches
- Coughing and chills
- Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting
- Muscle pain and neck stiffness
- Pain in the joints of the affected child
- Pain in the abdomen
- General fatigue
- Skin rash
How to avoid contracting zoonotic diseases from a hamster ?
The first thing to do is of course to prevent your hamster from becoming sick and carrying contagious diseases.
The diseases that can be transmitted from the hamster to the human can be :
- Bacterial (salmonella, campylobacter…)
- Fungal (ringworm, dermatophytosis ….)
- Parasitic (fleas, worms …)
- Viral pathogen (rabies …)
Here is a series of advices to avoid that your hamster transmits you diseases:
1- To Avoid Zoonotic diseases , keep your hamsters enclosure always Clean
Get into the habit of a daily spot cleaning to remove the bedding soiled by feces and urine to prevent it from drying and being carried by the air into your nostrils and those of your children.
If your hamster’s cage is small, you should bring in a larger one, which you should clean thoroughly at least once a month, and only every 15 to 20 days in summer.
The smaller the cage, the more frequent the cleaning and bedding change, one cleaning per week for commercial cages under 480 square inches.
The use of a mask and gloves are highly recommended when cleaning your hamster’s cage, especially if your pet shows symptoms of illness.
Don’t forget to use paper-based bedding, which will trap odors and dust that will carry germs and infections.
Also be sure to disinfect the cage after washing, using water and white vinegar in eagle doses, some household bleach, chlorhexidine, or a quaternary ammonium compound, (rinse well with water afterwards and let the cage and the disinfected elements dry)
This method is mandatory especially if your hamster is sick, so you will avoid the proliferation of bad bacteria like Salmonella and the spread of viruses like LCMv.
2- Wash your hands well
Being a hamster parent, you must have as a habit to always wash your hands with soap and plenty of running water, before approaching your hamster to avoid transmitting any germs that you carry from another animal for example, your dog.
But above all, wash your hands after you have finished interacting with your hamster to avoid contracting possible zoonoses.
3- Avoid bringing your hands to your mouth when your hamster is with you
The best protection against zoonosis is to never touch your mouth, other parts of your body, your face, your clothes … until you finish interacting with your hamster and you disinfect and wash your hands.
4- Avoid bites and scratches from your hamster
To avoid that your hamster transmits you diseases, especially those of the skin and the parasites, avoid being bitten.
Tame your hamster by using gloves the first few days and learn how to handle and grip it to avoid it biting you and you risk catching zoonotic diseases if it is already a carrier.
5- Children should be supervised in the presence of a hamster
Children, especially babies, should be supervised by an adult when the hamster is around.
A small baby may even pick up the hamster and try to put it in his/her mouth, while a child under 6 years of age has no effective immunity and must learn to handle the hamster to avoid being bitten.
Never let your children eat next to the hamster cage.
You must wash them well once the hamster is back in its cage.
6- Submit your hamster to a screening
If you suspect that your hamster is a carrier of a zoonotic disease, you can ask his veterinarian to submit him to a screening for them .
This option is only available for adult hamsters that can withstand the stress of a zoonotic screening.
7-Use a mask when cleaning your hamsters cage
Always Use a mask or at least cover your nose and mouth when cleaning your hamster’s cage.
Also, use gloves and be more careful when scraping urine stains from your hamster, especially in the corners of the cage.
Avoid inhaling dust from the cage and bedding when cleaning.
8- Isolate your hamster from other animals
This precaution is very important, your hamster loves solitude, so avoid introducing him to your cat or your dog...
Also make sure that no other rodents are attracted by the smell of the food in the cage, especially rats and mice to avoid that they transmit diseases to your hamster.
Insects and fleas can also transmit germs and viruses to your hamster, so be very careful about what comes near or roams around your hamster’s cage at night.
As I said before, 99.99% of people who have hamsters will never experience these zoonotic diseases.
Hamsters rarely carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans, which makes them very safe pets for children and even pregnant women if they follow the few common sense and hygienic measures I mentioned earlier.
Let’s not forget, finally, that we can also transmit diseases to the hamster, such as influenza, pneumonia …. That’s why it is important to wash your hands before handling your small, beautiful and fragile hamster.