While hamsters are clean creatures, there are a few diseases they suffer from that could be transmitted to humans. Pregnant women, young children, and immunocompromised persons are groups that have the highest risk to catch zoonotic diseases. There’s no reason to be alerted because, from a scale of 1 to 10, the chance of catching a disease from your hamster is only a 2.
For older children and healthy adults, the risk is of just 1. With that in mind, if you do plan to get a hamster as a pet, in the following article we’ll go through some of the most common diseases that hamsters can have and how to keep the risk of infection under control.
Ringworm and LCM
Dermatophytosis, also known as ringworm, is a fungal skin infection and in humans, it may develop well-delineated areas of red, itchy and raised skin that are often lighter in the center. It appears like a ring, hence the name “ringworm.”
The fungi are transmitted by direct contact with the infected skin, dander, or fur of the pet. A person is more likely to get this disease if his or her skin is moist or damaged. The signs of dermatophytosis in hamsters can be a bit tricky. Some pets may not show any signs while others will have dry, circular, scaly lesions on the limbs, ears, head, and body.
Ringworm is the most common type of disease that can be transmitted from hamsters to people. This disease is treatable, and it is not life-threatening, but it usually takes around 2 to 4 weeks of treatment until the fungus is eliminated entirely.
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis or LCM for short is a viral infection that has very few signs. The main carriers are mice, but if your hamster gets into contact with them, it can lead to the contamination of your pet. Cases of LCM being transmitted to humans are very rare, and mostly in immunocompromised individuals where infection can be severe.
LCM is also dangerous for pregnant women since it can cause miscarriage or severe congenital disabilities if the woman is infected during the pregnancy.
Rabies and Salmonellosis
Since hamsters are very small creatures, cases of infected hamsters with rabies are sporadic mostly because they are usually killed by the physical trauma of the bite from a rabid animal. Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system, and it can be fatal once clinical signs appear.
If the hamster survives the bite, it can become infected, but cases of rabid hamsters biting humans are very rare and only a few have been reported, primarily outside of North America.
Salmonellosis is an infection caused by one of the many serotypes of Salmonella, and it typically causes diarrhea, but in some instances, it can be hazardous. The bacteria is passed through the feces of an infected animal, even those that don’t show signs of diarrhea.
The transmission is by the fecal-oral route, which is why it is essential to wear gloves when cleaning the cage of your pet and to wash your hands after each play session with your hamster.
Tapeworms and tularemia
The dwarf tapeworm of mice and the rat tapeworm can both infect hamsters, with some chances of it getting passed to people as well. Both tapeworms are transmitted by swallowing infected intermediate hosts such as beetles or flies, but the dwarf tapeworm of mice can also be transmitted directly from fecal material.
With that said, infections in humans very rarely cause disease and it is often self-limiting. The adult worms will die within 4 to 6 weeks without the need of any specific treatment.
Tularemia is a bacterial infection that is found naturally in most parts of the northern hemisphere, including Canada and the USA. It is commonly found in rabbits, hares, and rodents. When people and animals get infected, they usually experience symptoms such as fever, enlarged lymph nodes, and skin ulcer.
Tularemia is highly infectious, and it only takes 10 to 50 bacteria to infect a person. The good news is that there has only been one report of suspected transmission of tularemia from a pet hamster to a person, so the chances of your hamster having it are very slim.
Signs of illness
One way of protecting yourself and your family is to be vigilant and able to recognize illness in hamsters. Some of the symptoms include decreased appetite and activity level, weight loss, increased aggression, dull or dirty hair coat, abnormal posture, abnormal discharges from nose, eyes, and mouth, and changes in the color or consistency of the feces.
If the appearance or the behavior of your pet becomes abnormal, you should seek veterinary advice as quickly as possible to help determine if there is any risk to your health and that of your hamster.
To help keep your hamster healthy, you should make sure that it has access to clean drinking water and to the right quantity of quality feed, areas where some of our recent articles may help. Similarly, you should make sure that there are no other small rodents present in your house as that may result in pathogen transmission to your pet.
To help prevent infection, hand hygiene and cage cleaning are the key points to focus on. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water after each handling of the hamster. Children should also be supervised carefully to make sure that they follow this essential step after each handling of the pet.
Similarly, the cage should be cleaned thoroughly at least once per week, and that includes removing all the old bedding and disinfecting the cage with cleaning products or special cage cleaning sprays.
Once you clean the cage with a disinfectant (such as concentrated household bleach) and you apply it to all the surfaces, you should leave it to sit for at least 10 minutes. You can then rinse the cage thoroughly with water and dry it completely before you fill it with new and clean bedding.