Rabies is a deadly disease, caused by an infection with the rabies virus. It can occur in many wild and domestic animals throughout the world. Humans can also get rabies from a bite or scratch, from an infected animal.
Only mammals can become infected with the rabies virus; so birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians cannot. Therefore, as hamsters are mammals, they too can get this deadly disease.
But, how likely is it you will catch rabies from your hamster?
Hamsters have a tendency to bite when they get scared, and the thought of rabies might have already popped into your head the last time your little pet chomped on your finger. In this article we will take a closer look at rabies infection in hamsters, if it’s possible to catch it from your pet and the signs to look out for.
Can I Get Rabies from a Hamster Bite?
Rodents such as hamsters are unlikely to get infected and carry the rabies virus. Firstly, hamsters tend to live in isolation, not mixing with other animals. This makes them unlikely to come into contact with the virus and spread it.
Secondly, pet hamsters are kept indoors in their cage, and would not be exposed to the virus which is most commonly spread by bites from wild dogs, bats or skunks.
To put your mind at ease, there has never been a recorded case of rabies in a person from a hamster bite. This means you are HIGHLY UNLIKELY to get rabies from your pet hamster, but just like getting struck by lightening, it’s not impossible.
Next, let’s take a look at rabies infection in wild hamsters.
Do Hamsters in the Wild Have Rabies?
Hamsters in the wild can become infected with the rabies virus, if they are bitten or scratched by another infected animal. However, it is really rare for a wild hamster to get rabies.
As hamster’s are solitary creatures and like to live an isolated life, they are much less likely to get the virus. Additionally, usually a hamster would be killed by the trauma of an encounter with another wild animal (e.g. fox, wolf, coyote) infected with rabies.
Therefore, it is extremely rare for hamsters to be carriers of the rabies virus.
What Could You Catch from a Hamster Bite?
If you own a hamster, then you will know that they may bite when startled. Most of the time when a hamster bites a person, it doesn’t break the skin and is nothing to worry about. However, sometimes they do break the skin and cause a puncture wound.
So far we have learned that rabies is extremely rare in hamsters. However, what could you catch from a hamster bite? Although the risk is very low, there are a few possible diseases that can be passed to humans through a hamster bite:
- Bacterial infection
There are lots of bacteria that normally live in a hamster’s mouth and on it’s skin. These can be transferred through a bite, and then cause an infection in a person’s skin. A person might need antibiotics to clear up this type of infection.
- Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (LCM)
LCM is a viral infection that is spread from the saliva of an infected hamster. Hamsters can get this infection through interaction with infected mice, the main carriers of this disease. It can cause a severe infection in people with a compromised immune system, the elderly, pregnant women or young children. The risk of infection from hamsters is very low.
Tularemia is a bacterial infection, which is sometimes called the rabbit plague. It is mainly found in wild rabbits, hares and rodents. Infection in people may cause no signs at all, or flu-like symptoms, diarrhea and pneumonia. The risk of infection from hamsters is very low.
What to Do if Your Hamster Bites you?
Thankfully, it is not very common for a hamster to transmit any infections when it bites. However, all bite wounds or scratches should immediately be cleaned extremely well with large volumes of soap and water, and monitored closely for signs of infection. Always visit your doctor if you are concerned about a hamster bite.
What are the Risks of a Household Pet Having Rabies?
Rabies is a fatal disease and the risks should always be taken seriously.
Although the risk is low, household pets such as dogs, cats, guinea pigs and hamsters can get infected from wild animals. They could get infected with rabies from a bite or scratch from a wild animal such as bats, foxes, wild dogs or racoons.
The risk of an indoor pet getting rabies is extremely low. However, pets such as dogs and cats which can roam outside have a slightly higher risk, as they may come into contact with wild animals.
If your pet appears to have a bite or scratch that you are concerned about it is best to take him to the veterinary clinic.
How to Prevent Rabies in Pets
Hamsters do not need a rabies vaccination. Thankfully, as they are indoor animals, they are kept pretty safe from any chance of getting infected. Just remember they should be kept away from wild animals to prevent any risk of getting rabies.
Dogs and cats can be vaccinated against rabies, to help prevent infection. Dogs
and cats are first vaccinated for rabies between 4 and 6 months of age. They then need a booster after one year, then usually every three years. However, regulations vary from state to state, with some requiring annual rabies vaccinations for dogs and/or cats. Check with your veterinarian regarding the laws in your area.
Signs That an Animal Has Rabies
The signs of rabies infection are similar in any animal affected with the disease.
In the extremely unlikely event that your hamster gets rabies, it may show these signs:
- Appear angry and try to bite anything around it
- Make strange or different noises than normal
- Have paralysis of the legs
- Eventually the neck and head become paralyzed
- Dripping saliva or foaming at the mouth
Unfortunately, rabies can only be definitively diagnosed by examining the brain tissue. Remember, do not try to touch or capture a pet or wild animal if you think it has rabies!
In this article we have discovered that hamsters can get rabies but the risk of your pet hamster getting rabies is extremely low, almost zero. We all know that hamsters have a reputation for being biters. Therefore, we have also discussed the possible diseases and infections associated with hamster bites and the importance of thoroughly washing every bite as soon as possible and seeking medical attention if needed. You now also know the possible signs of rabies in animals and how to help prevent it though vaccination, if you have a dog or cat. Hopefully this article has been informative and put your mind at ease regarding rabies infection in hamsters.