RatMania! Your Pet Rat is a Carrier of Salmonella

Salmonellosis (Salmonella Infection) in Pet Rats

One Sick Rat

One Sick Rat

Salmonella infection (also called Salmonellosis) is a disease caused by the Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella infections are rare, but still a concern in pet and domestic lab rats. The bacteria are usually spread by having ingested food and water contaminated with salmonella tainted feces, urine, and bedding.

Salmonellosis Causes by Pet Rats

Infected rats can spread Salmonella infection to humans, pets, and livestock. This zoonotic (species to species) infection should be managed with caution. Current treatments are not so effective for controlling salmonellosis. Therefor it is best to prevent the spread of salmonella infection by handling your pet carefully and by managing rat and other pest populations. (Below, Image of Salmonella typhi.)


Center of Disease Control Thoughts on Salmonellosis and Rats – Pet Rats and Feral Rats

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) every year an estimated 1.4 million people in the U.S. have salmonellosis from all sources (not just rat exposure) with 14,800 hospitalizations and 415 deaths (Morbidity and mortality Weekly Report). Of all those cases, a very small number, only 15 cases, were attributed to pet rats. The CDC believes the number of infections from pet rats are grossly under reported. And the number of salmonella infections would be even greater if infections from pest (feral) rats were counted.

Salmonellosis Symptoms in Humans (in rats too!)

Most salmonella infections are gastrointestinal, and typically develop 12 to 72 hours after exposure. The common symptoms can include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle pains
  • Blood in stool
The symptoms of salmonella infection can last four to seven days. In some cases it can take months for a person’s bowel to return to normal after infection. In very severe infections the salmonella infection can spread out of the intestine into the blood stream or other body organs. This advanced deadly infection is difficult to treat because of resistance to antibiotics. It is interesting to note that in developing countries a few varieties of salmonella bacteria are responsible for typhoid fever.

Prevention of Salmonella Infection from Handling Pet Rats

Image: Wash Your Hands

Image: Wash Your Hands

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) offers the following advice for reducing your exposure to salmonella from pet rats and other “pocket pets” (Like mice, rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and ferrets):
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling pet rats and after being around wild rats.
  • Purchase pet rats that look lively and alert, have glossy coats free of droppings.
  • Do not purchase pets rats that share a cage with other animals that have diarrhea or look sick.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after touching your pet rat. Wash after cleaning their cage.
  • Children s should wash their hand immediately after handling pat rats.
  • Do not eat food or smoke while handling pet rats.
  • Do not handle your pet in area where you prepare food. It goes to say don’t let your pet rat roam on food preparation surfaces or the kitchen table.
  • Do not kiss your pet rat.
If your pet dies soon after you purchased it, your pet may have had a disease that can make people and pets sick. Clean and disinfect the cage before you reuse it.

Did You Know Rats Cannot Vomit?

Did you know rats cannot vomit? So pet rats should not be force fed substances they cannot get rid of. Pest Control professionals take advantage of this fact when they poison feral rats!

Rats and Salmonella References

Miranda Hiti, “CDC: Pet Rodents Can Carry Salmonella”, WebMD Information and Resources. https://www.webmd.com/news/20050505/cdc-pet-rodents-can-carry-salmonella Mary Rothschild, “Oh Rats! They Carry Salmonella, Too”, Food Safety News, April 20, 2012
Oh Rats! They Carry Salmonella, Too
“Wild Rats and Disease”, in Rat Behavior and Biology, Anne’s Rat Page, Wild Rats. https://www.ratbehavior.org/WildRatDisease.htm Louisiana State Government, “Salmonellosis”, Salmonella Annual Report, 2012 https://dhh.louisiana.gov/assets/oph/Center-PHCH/Center-CH/infectious-epi/Annuals/LaIDAnnual_Salmonella.pdf [Used as reference only. None of this material is in the document.} Hilton, Willis, & Hikie, “Isolation of Salmonella from urban wild brown rats in West Midlands, UK”, abstract in the International Journal of Environmental Health, July 21, 2010 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12396533 [8% number helps substantiate the low number of Salmonella infections in rats.]
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