When you have the flu, you’re supposed to stay away from friends and family, so you don’t get them sick. But, what about your pet rats? You have to clean their cages and feed them even though you’re sick, but should you stay away from them, too?
Pet rats cannot get the flu, but they can contract other illnesses from you and other animals. To keep your rat safe, you should minimize contact with your rat while you’re sick. Make sure your rat doesn’t interact with other animals or wild rats, so they don’t contract an illness from them.
Rats have been known to carry several different viruses and other illnesses, even if they’re kept as household pets. Keep reading to learn about which illnesses pet rats can carry, and which ones can be transmitted between you and them.
Rat’s Can’t Catch the Flu, but Some Pets Can
It’s important to note that some pets can catch the flu from you if you have it. There aren’t any reports that say rats can catch the flu, but dogs, cats, and ferrets can.
It’s very rare for a dog or cat to catch the flu. Unfortunately, your pet might not recover if they do catch it. In 2009, a cat became ill with the flu and survived, but a ferret that caught it did not survive. It’s also stated that humans have transmitted the N1H1 flu specifically to turkeys and pigs.
Again, there isn’t any evidence that a rat has been infected with any strand of the flu, but several animals have received the flu from humans on rare occasions. So, it’s best to remain cautious and stay distanced if you do get sick.
Can Humans Get Infected by Their Pet Rat?
Wild rats, often known as the brown rat or common rat, are known to carry many diseases. Some of them can’t be transmitted to humans, but some of them can. The domesticated version of this rat, the fancy rat, is also capable of carrying these same diseases.
Rats are capable of carrying diseases without showing symptoms. In fact, many animals are capable of carrying diseases that don’t harm them, but they can transfer these diseases to humans.
You can get sick because of your rat. This doesn’t mean you should fear them, however. You can also get sick from dogs and other humans, but most people interact with dogs and humans every day. The most important thing is to stay informed and understand how you can get sick from your rat.
There are two different ways a person can contract an illness from a rat:
- Direct contact: This can be caused by a rat bite or from eating or drinking food and water that was contaminated with rat feces.
- Indirect contact: This can be from an insect that bites a rat and then bites you. Or, a rat can come into contact with an animal, that animal is turned into food, and then you eat the contaminated food.
The best way to stay safe is to think about how you have the potential to be infected by your rat. Do you like to cuddle your rat? If your rat bites you while you’re handling it, you could possibly become sick.
You can also become sick by inhaling germs while cleaning their feces out of their habitat. Always wear protective gloves when you clean their habitat. You might also want to wear a mask to avoid breathing in harmful contaminants.
Diseases Pet Rats Can Carry
It’s important for the health of both you and your rat that you know what diseases they can carry so you can keep them safe and prevent yourself from getting sick. Illnesses that can be transferred from animals to humans are called zoonoses.
Here are a few of the diseases they can carry.
- Leptospira. L. icterohaemorrhagia: In humans, this will cause Weil’s disease. The symptoms will first appear to be the flu, but might also have liver and kidney failure.
- Pasteurella: In 1992, it was stated that this was the most common disease transmitted after getting bit by a pet. Rat bites can transmit the disease. Humans will experience pneumonia.
- Rat-bite fever: Humans can get this illness by getting scratched or bitten by a rat or by consuming food and water that’s contaminated by feces. Flu-like symptoms will appear but might become more severe than the flu. Antibiotics typically cure this disease.
- Hantavirus: Rats are reservoirs with this virus, meaning that they carry it without having any effects from it themselves. Humans, however, will experience headaches and backaches, fever, and renal failure. This is a well-known virus that was first brought to the western world during the Korean War.
- Lymphocytic choriomeningitis: This disease is transmitted by inhaling airborne particles from rat feces or saliva or by eating contaminated food. Humans will have flu-like symptoms and can even lead to paralysis. It’s easy for this to be misdiagnosed in the beginning.
How to Tell if Your Rat Is Sick
Your rat might not be able to catch the flu, but it can still contract a range of diseases that will cause them to get sick and show symptoms.
What does it look like when a rat is sick? It’s possible that your rat will sneeze and suffer congestion just like you can, but there are other symptoms that might seem strange that are good indicators that they are sick.
These symptoms may include:
- Breathing faster or harder
- Constantly scratching itself
- Hair loss
- Increased red stains around the eyes and nose
- Less active
- Not eating as much as usual
- Not grooming itself like normal
- Sneezing or an unusually runny nose
Make sure you know the familiar behavior of your rat so you can identify unusual behavior. You should spend plenty of time observing your pet so you can make sure it stays happy and healthy.
How to Treat a Sick Rat
If your rat has a mild illness, you don’t have to separate it from the others. Its roommates will offer it much-needed comfort while it’s sick. If your rat is severely sick, however, separate it into a temporary habitat like an aquarium that you will see often. Place a heating pad underneath one side of the tank to provide some warmth, but don’t put the heating pad inside the tank.
Rats will lose weight while they’re sick, so you should offer your rat its favorite foods that are high in fat to help maintain weight. Foods such as avocados, bananas, eggs, or pasta are great options. Sometimes sick rats don’t want to eat, so you will have to hand-feed them with a syringe. You will also have to provide water and medication to your rat with a syringe, as well.
Always take your rat to the vet if they show signs of illness. The veterinarian will be able to provide medication and care instructions suited for your rat and the kind of illness they’re battling. Remember that some illnesses can be transmitted to humans, so be extra careful when handling your rat until the veterinarian is able to determine which illness your rat has.
Rats can’t get the flu, but they can get other illnesses from other animals or even from you. Conversely, if your rat gets sick, you can contract their illness from them. If you or your rat are sick, consult a veterinarian about how to care for your rat until all signs of illness have gone away.
- Brisbane Bird & Exotics Veterinary Service: Signs of Illness in Rodents
- Critical Reviews in Microbiology: Rodent-borne diseases and their risks for public health
- MedicineNet: H1N1 Swine Flu Can Infect Some Pets
- PetMD: Viral Respiratory Infection in Rats
- Rat & Mouse Club of America: Nursing Care
- Science News for Students: Infections animals
- The Spruce Pets: Can Your Pet Catch Your Cold?
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Keeping Pets (and People) Healthy