Guinea pigs are one of the most popular small-sized rodents kept as pets due to their curious and friendly nature. However, as our recent article reveals, these animals can pose a threat to humans as there are certain diseases linked to viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens they can transmit and these include Campylobacteriosis, Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCMV), Sarcoptic Mange, salmonella, Pasteurellosis, Chlamydia caviae, and Ringworm.
Small rodents like Guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, and chinchillas have become increasingly popular amongst humans as companion pets due to their rather low maintenance and small size. Most parents consider adopting a rodent as their children’s first pet to teach them about responsibility and see whether or not they can look after an animal in the long term.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about half of the total number of American households owned a small rodent as a pet, with Guinea pigs being the second favorite after hamsters. Their curious and friendly nature make them perfect companions for those who want to welcome a new member of the family without having to walk them daily as they would with a dog.
However, as adorable and harmless as they may seem, all rodents are bacteria and virus carriers, some of them maybe even transmissible to humans. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common and see how these diseases can affect humans.
This is a disease transmitted by some Campylobacter bacteria and it spreads through contaminated food such as eggs and meat, as well as through water or direct contact with the stool (feces) of infected animals. Although campylobacteriosis cases are rather rare in small mammals, they have been associated with various species of rodents, including gerbils, Guinea pigs, and hamsters.
The bad news is that mammals infected with this bacteria may not show any signs of illness, which makes the disease even harder to detect and treat accordingly. Some rodents infested with Campylobacter may suffer from diarrhea but this symptom is associated with various diseases and health problems, including food poisoning.
In terms of human symptoms, campylobacteriosis is associated with abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, and fever in the first five days after exposure. Unfortunately, Campylobacter can cause severe infections in people with weakened immune systems, as well as seniors and infants.
If you want to avoid infestation, make sure your Guinea pig has at least one yearly veterinary checkup. Cleaning the bedding of these rodents should be made with extreme care not to get in contact with feces, so make sure to wear protective gloves or throw away the content of the detachable tray underneath your rodent’s cage directly to the trash.
Always cook your meat and eggs properly and, if you’re not sure about the purity of the water you want to drink, go for bottled water or boil the tap one to make sure it doesn’t have any bacteria.
Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCMV)
This rare viral disease transmitted by the LCMV can be transmitted in various ways, including through saliva, droppings, urine or cage material of infected rodents, both domestic and wild such as mice, Guinea pigs, hamsters or rats.
Animals infected with LCMV don’t show visible signs of the virus but minor decreases in activity and loss of appetite might occur in some rodents. It takes a while until the virus manifests itself through hunched posture and weight loss. Unfortunately, the virus can lead to the death of your pet if it’s not discovered and treated in time.
Although human infections with LCMV are uncommon, this doesn’t mean that you are 100% protected. If a human is infected with this virus, general symptoms can be easily mistaken for those of the common flu, and include headaches, nausea, muscular pain, loss of appetite, fever, and vomiting.
Symptoms may take about two weeks from the initial exposure to the virus to manifest, so if any of them seem familiar to you, you should definitely talk to your doctor. Individuals with weak immune systems like pregnant women, seniors, and young children are more exposed to the risk of LCMV.
Sarcoptic Mange or Trixacarus caviae
We should start by saying that people cannot be infested with the animal versions of the mite so, in theory, you should be safe. The Sarcoptic mange represents a parasitic skin disease that is caused by a certain type of mite and can be transmitted between different species of animals or similar individuals through close contact.
However, it is quite rare and is mainly associated with Guinea pigs and not with other animals. As we previously mentioned, humans cannot be infested with this mite but they might still be prone to minor local skin reactions if they get in contact with an infected rodent.
This is a bacterial disease that is mainly associated with animal scratches and bites. Certain rodents like hamsters, rats, Guinea pigs, and mice, as well as rabbits, were identified as carriers of Pasteurella bacteria, although most of these mammals don’t show any signs of illness.
Out of all the animals, rabbits seem to be the most prone of being affected by the disease, as they can develop a respiratory disease called “snuffles” that mainly causes eye and nose discharge.
The transmission of the bacteria from small mammals to humans is rare but not impossible. However, humans can get in contact with Pasteurella through animal bites that can cause wounds and skin infections. The most severe cases reported a widespread infection all over the body and significant damage to the nervous system.
As with many other diseases and viruses transmitted from pets to humans, the best way to avoid them is to have your pet checked at least once a year. Talk to a veterinarian whenever you notice something suspicious about your pet’s health as this can potentially save its life and save you thousands of dollars on vet bills in the long term.
Contrary to what you may think, ringworm or dermatophytosis is not caused by a parasite worm but by a fungus. It can infect the hair, nails, and skin of an animal. Ringworm is quite common in small rodents such as Guinea pigs that might experience fur falling in patches or crusts on their bodies.
Rabbits and Guinea pigs that suffer from a ringworm infection usually count for itchy, flaky skin, irritations, red skin, and hair loss on various surfaces of their bodies.
Unfortunately, the infection can appear on almost any part of the human body, leaving the skin itchy and red. The fungus got its name from the ring-shaped rash that occurs when the human body becomes infected.
If you notice any of these symptoms on you or your pet, you should immediately see a specialist. Ringworm infections are treatable, usually through antifungal ointment prescribed by a physician. They are not life-threatening but they should be treated as soon as possible.
According to recent studies conducted by Dutch scientists, certain rodents may carry germs that are linked to cases of pneumonia in the human body. C. caviae usually causes pink eye in Guinea pigs but some people have developed severe cases of pneumonia after getting in contact with Guinea pigs infected with the germ. However, further studies must be conducted to accurately determine the likelihood of this germ to threaten human lives.
Salmonella is usually spread to humans by infected reptiles and rodents, including Guinea pigs. Some of the most common symptoms linked to this are fever, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Unfortunately, similar to other diseases and infections, Guinea pigs can carry salmonella while still looking completely healthy, so you need to pay close attention to your body.