Mice, which belong to the rodent family, are lively and fun pets. Mice are easy to care for, are interesting to watch and easily tamed with a little patience. It’s no surprise then that mice are popular pets, especially among children. However, it is always important to be aware of any considerations for our own health when taking on a pet. Hygiene is important to maintain when having contact with any rodent pet, but are there any specific diseases or illnesses that can be caught from pet mice in the UK?
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The short answer is yes there are, although disease is very rare. Pet and wild rodents can carry viruses and bacteria which can be transmitted to humans. Careful considerations to maintaining good hygiene practices can ensure any risks of contracting an infection from your pet is minimal.
Zoonotic infections (those which can be spread from animal to human) which can be carried by mice include:
A bacterial infection found in rodents (especially wild rats). Rodents who are carrying the infection will usually show no symptoms. Infections in people are caused by contact with infected rodent urine, secretions, tissue or contaminated water. The bacteria enter the body through cuts in skin, the eyes, or mucous membranes. The risk of leptospirosis infection is generally greater from wild rodents. Symptoms may be mild and flu like but can also be more serious. In its most serious manifestation known as Weils disease symptoms and problems can include jaundice and kidney failure. It is possible to treat a leptospirosis infection with antibiotics.
This viral disease has been found in wild and pet rodents in the UK. Once a rodent is infected it is likely to remain so for a prolonged period probably for life. Infection is spread from an infected rodent to human either through a bite, or more commonly via inhalation of infected particles. Symptoms of Hantavirus vary from headache, gastrointestinal signs, fever, headache, and kidney problems. The incubation period is normally around 14-28 days. Fortunately, most cases of Hantavirus are mild, but many mice do carry the virus.
Rat bite fever
This is a rare bacterial infection of the upper respiratory tract carried by both rats and mice. The infection is usually transmitted via a bite or scratch or from contact with infected urine. The bite itself may be insignificant and heal well, with symptoms starting around 7 days later. Usually, the first symptoms are fever and chills, followed by joint and muscle pain, headache and nausea. In some cases, a rash may also develop.
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV)
This one is an infection carried by some rodents, especially wild mice which can cause meningitis. Domestic rodents can sometimes become infected through contact with wild rodents. Rodents with the virus usually carry the infection for life, and shed the virus in urine, faeces and saliva. Humans can become infected through contact with bedding faeces or urine on broken skin, mucous membranes or via a bite from an infected rodent. Illness may be seen as a mild flu like illness, or the more serious meningitis or encephalitis.
How can the risk of infection be reduced?
Infection with any of the above zoonotic illnesses is thankfully uncommon. Although it is always sensible to be vigilant and ensure you maintain good hygiene practices to further minimise these risks.
- Keep cages clean, and remove soiled bedding frequently. It is best to do this in a well ventilated area such as outdoors.
- Use a pet safe disinfectant to clean the cage and its accessories regularly.
- Always thoroughly wash your hands after handling your pet, or after feeding or cleaning the cage.
- Minimise the risk of any wild rodents having contact with your pet through vermin control.
- Cover any cuts with a plaster or dressing prior to handling your rodent.
- If any cuts of scratches are acquired when handling your mice then thoroughly wash and clean the cut and cover with a suitable dressing.
- Don’t keep pet mice in bedrooms.
- Closely supervise children when handling mice. Ensure they wash hands thoroughly afterwards.
Don’t worry too much!
There is no need to become unnecessarily concerned about the chance of infection, as long as care is taken to minimise the risks. The zoonotic infections which can be acquired from rodents can present with very similar mild flu-like illness. If you become unwell, always seek advice from your doctor and mention that you keep rodents, particularly if you have recently received a bite.