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My pet rat Tiga sleeps in my hand.

My rattie girl Tiga is sleeping in my hand.

Any wild animal you come in touch with has the potential to pass on an illness. Rats are commonly perceived as carriers of diseases. However, it is very unlikely to catch an illness from a rat.

An animal disease that can be transmitted to humans is called a zoonotic disease.

No matter if you handle pet rats or wild rats, their ability to carry infectious bacteria is the same. It is just far less likely for a pet rat to come in contact with such diseases. The best way to avoid getting sick is to keep pet rats healthy and clean.

Some zoonotic diseases that can occur in rats and their effect on people:

The Plague

For centuries rats have been blamed for spreading the Black Death, helping to consign millions of people to an agonising death.

But, according to one archaeologist, the rodents are innocent. Instead, the blame for passing on the disease that wiped out a third of the population of Europe could lie with the victims themselves.

The Black Death is widely thought to have been an outbreak of bubonic plague caused by bacteria carried by fleas that lived on black rats. The rodents spread the plague from China to Europe and it hit Britain in 1348.

However, according to historian Barney Sloane, the disease spread so quickly that the rats could not be to blame.

Dr Sloane said the increased spread of Black Death over the winter of 1348 coincided with a seasonal decrease in the number of both rats and fleas, which are susceptible to cold.

He also pointed out that rats are also killed by bubonic plague, but said there were no large deposits of rat bones from the 14th century.

The epidemic, which is reckoned to have claimed 75million lives worldwide, spread from person to person in crowded medieval cities, Dr Sloane said.


Weil’s Disease (Leptospirosis)

Weil’s disease is a secondary phase of a form of a bacterial infection also known as Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis can infect almost any animal where it is harboured in the kidneys, but most commonly it is found in rats and cattle, and is spread by their urine. It is not known to cause any noticeable illness in rats, so populations are unaffected by high levels of infection. It is one of the most widespread zoonosis (disease spread from animals to humans) in the world, where it is most common in tropical and subtropical environments. Those who participate in water sports, come into contact with untreated water, and work in or near water are at a higher risk than others as it is most commonly passed to humans through water contaminated by rat urine.


According to the Health Protection Agency there are usually less than 40 cases of leptospirosis throughout England and Wales per year reported in humans. In 2006 there were 44 laboratory confirmed cases of leptospirosis in England and Wales. It is more common in countries where the climate is more tropical or subtropical, reported cases for 2005 in Australia were 141, and France, 212. This is worth being aware of if illness occurs after travel.


It was a hoax email claiming that a woman died after catching Leptospirosis from dried rat urine on the lid of a soda can that brought attention to this illness.

The Leptospirosis Information Center dismisses this emailed warning as fake.

Exposure to urine from infected rats and other animals can indeed cause humans to contract leptospirosis. However, the chances of someone becoming infected in the manner described in this email are extremely slim.


Rat-bite fever

Rat-bite fever (RBF) is a rare disease spread by infected rodents. It can be caused by two different bacteria, Streptobacillus moniliformis or Spirillum minus, both of which are found in the mouths of rodents. The source of the infection is usually a rat. Other animals that may cause infection include squirrels, weasels, and gerbils.


Rat-bite fever (RBF) is an infectious disease that can be caused by two different bacteria. Streptobacillary RBF is caused by Streptobacillus moniliformis in North America while spirillary RBF or sodoku is caused bySpirillum minus and occurs mostly in Asia. People usually get the disease from infected rodents or consumption of contaminated food or water. When the latter occurs, the disease is often known as Haverhill fever.


Should you get bitten by a rat, here is a First Aid guide:


Salmonellosis is a diseased condition that is brought about by infection with the Salmonella bacterium. Salmonellosis is very rare in pet rats and infection is usually found to have been spread via ingestion of food and water contaminated with infected feces, urine, and bedding material.

Infected rats can be potential sources for spread of this infection to humans as well, classifying this as an infection with zoonotic potential. Therefore, this condition should be managed with caution. Treatment is often not effective for the control of salmonellosis, so taking steps to prevent the spread of this infection is the best way to manage this condition in rats.


Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis

Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) is a disease caused by the Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis virus (LCMV).  The virus may be found in about 5% of wild mice throughout the United States.  The virus can also infect pet rodents (such as mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs).

Urine, feces, saliva, or blood of an infected house mouse (Mus musculus) or pet rodent may contain LCMV.  People may become infected with LCMV by contact (through a mucus membrane or break in the skin) with fresh urine, droppings, saliva, or nesting materials from infected rodents.

LCM is very rare in humans in the United States. People who have unprotected contact with rodents or their waste/bedding (e.g., owners of pet rodents, laboratory workers who handle infected animals) are at higher risk of infection.


Dwarf Tapeworm

A tapeworm infection caused by Hymenolepsis diminuta is relatively common in rodents but can rarely cause infection in humans. Insects such as fleas and beetles are intermediate hosts and transmission to humans can result from accidentally swallowing infected arthropods. Symptoms tend to only occur in children or in patients with a relatively heavy infestation.


It is the most common tapeworm infection diagnosed in the United States and throughout the world. The disease may be asymptomatic or may result in abdominal complaints and diarrhea. An infection may be treated with niclosamide or paromomycin.


Cryptosporidiosis (Crypto)

Cryptosporidiosis is a diarrheal disease caused by microscopic parasites, Cryptosporidium, that can live in the intestine of humans and animals and is passed in the stool of an infected person or animal. Both the disease and the parasite are commonly known as “Crypto.” During the past 2 decades, Crypto has become recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease (recreational water and drinking water) in humans in the United States. Most people who have healthy immune systems will recover without treatment. Diarrhea can be managed by drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.



Rabies, also known as hydrophobia, is one of the most terrifying fatal diseases. Death by rabies is physically and psychologically excruciating for the victim. Although any mammal can contract rabies, the disease is extremely rare in small rodents like rats. It is virtually unheard of in pet rats.



For more information please see:

Diseases directly transmitted by rodents

A list of zoonotic diseases that rodents can carry:

Common Diseases of Rats:

Rat Illnesses:


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