Can a Pet Rat Make You Sick? Do Rats Carry Diseases?

The thing with pets is the constant risk of your and their health.

Rats are a somewhat unpopular pet yet one that a lot of people seem to be attracted to.

If you’re also thinking of getting a pet rat, you may be wondering?

Can pet rats make you sick? Do rats carry diseases? The short and simple answer is yes. Rodent animals, which include rats, guinea pigs, gerbils, mice, and hamsters are all born with certain diseases. Moreover, they are prone to developing more infections as well. 

If you’re really determined about getting a pet rat, I’ll help you find a way to manage the health risk along with your love for the animal!

Heads up: the biggest precaution for avoiding pet rat diseases is buying a cage for them. Check out our top picks here.

Wild rat transmitted diseases

Wild rats can very easily catch infections and illnesses.

The lack of hygiene and cleanliness puts the wild rats at a high risk of illness.

The most common disease transmitted by a wild rat is Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).

The truth is:

One-third of all Hantavirus cases reported are in a fatal condition.

Hantavirus leads to muscle aches, fever, and constant fatigue.

Abdominal pain, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches are some of the prevalent symptoms of the condition.

The next disease is plague.

Here’s the thing:

Although the plague isn’t widespread in wild rats, it is still a big risk.

Plague starts with very minor symptoms.

Fever, fatigue, nausea, and weakness are what indicate early stages of plague.

Gradually, the blood of the infected person fails to clot.

Plague causes a lot of bleeding, and the lack of clotting leads to loss of excessive blood.

The most severe sign of the disease is that the skin starts turning black.


Let’s talk about Leptospirosis.

The bacteria that causes this disease is leptospira.

It can attack animals in the wild very easily.

However, it is also a constant threat to humans.

The signs of Leptospirosis are once again, very ordinary.


Some of the noticeable symptoms include jaundice.

Yellow eyes and body, along with diarrhea, nausea, chills, and abdominal pains indicated Leptospirosis.

Untreated cases of this condition lead to kidney and liver failure.

The last risky diseases wild rats transfer to humans is Tularemia.

It is one of the most common diseases in all wild rodent animals.

Tularemia starts showing with fever and fatigue.

Gradually, the infected area starts developing skin ulcers.

Since tularemia is transmitted through an animal bite, it is easier to look for signs in a particular spot.

The skin ulcers then lead to swollen lymph nodes.

Pet rat diseases

Contrary to popular belief, pet rats are affectionate animals. That’s something that I discuss in detail in this article.

However, you might be wondering:

Are pet rats safe?

Well, not entirely.

Pocket rats can also catch and transmit infectious bacteria.

Rats can easily get in contact with the wildlife around them.

This leads to a higher risk of diseases in the animal as well as in the owner.

Other than the wild diseases, pet rats have some risks of their own too.

Here are some of the most common diseases found in pet rats:

The first is rat bite fever.

As the name suggests, it is caused by a rat bite.

Pet rats who scratch or bite their owner cause this condition.

However, the risk isn’t very high.

Only 10% of all rat bites lead to this fever.

The affected area starts getting rashes.

After a red-brown rash turn purple, ulcers start forming around the area.

Worse cases can lead to meningitis, heart diseases, pneumonia, and even hepatitis.

Monkeypox is another disease that pet rats’ can transfer to humans.

In this condition, the infected person experiences:

  • Muscle aches
  • Exhaustion
  • Fever
  • Backache
  • Discomfort
  • Swollen lymph nodes

The body of the infected person gets rashes and a bumpy texture too.

Monkeypox usually affects the face of humans first.

Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV) is a very dangerous condition caused by house rats.

It affects pregnant women and their unborn child the most.

LCMV infection can cause a number of birth defects and may even lead to mental retardation of the unborn child.

The symptoms of the condition include vomiting, nausea, and fever.

The more serious indicators are photophobia, malaise, myalgia, and anorexia.


The virus can be treated.

The right treatment will eliminate the virus from the body with 5 to 13 days.

Worse cases may take up to 21 days to cure completely.

Salmonellosis is an intestinal infection caught from pocket rats.

Stomach cramps, diarrhea, and bloody stools are signs of this condition.

You can usually identify the disease within 12 to 72 hours if you pay attention to the symptoms.

Causes of rat diseases


If you want to eliminate the risk of infections in the pet and yourself, you first need to figure out what is causing the problem.

This table summarizes a few common rat-transmitted diseases and their root cause.

HantavirusExposure to the urine of another infected rat
PlagueFlea Bites
LeptospirosisContaminated water or soil
TularemiaContact with ill or dead animals

Most of the other rat diseases are also caused by similar issues.

The bottom line is:

In order to minimize the transmission of rat infections, you must eliminate all these problems.

The ultimate cause of all diseases is always either an unhygienic environment or contact with infected animals.

How to avoid rat diseases?

Here’s the thing:

You can only manage to keep a pet rat if you learn how to tackle these health risks.

I know that all these risks may have scared you.

But, worry not!

Every situation can be handled if you educate yourself.


Let’s talk about Hantavirus.

What transmits the disease to humans is the contact with rat droppings.

If you live or work in an area where there are a lot of wild rats, you need to be extra careful.

Keep your pet rat far away from anywhere that the wild rats may have nested.

You yourself must also try to be very cautious while cleaning a place where there’s pet rat poop, urine or a place where a pet rat gave birth.

If you’re staying safe, there is minimal risk of the virus attacking you.

Next is the plague.

It is caused by a germ called Yersinia pestis.

This germ is transmitted via fleas who previously bit an infected animal and then they bite your pet or you.

This disease can be transferred from any animal to a rat and vice versa.

Now here’s the kicker:

Rats aren’t the main source of the plague.


It is dogs and cats.

They are the main source of spreading plague since they are not just vulnerable to plague themselves, but are also more likely to get infected by fleas.

The good thing is:

Plague can be treated with antibiotics if you are able to diagnose the issue early on.

Moreover, you can also use anti-flea sprays and shampoos to stay safe from flea bites.

LCMV is one of the most dangerous diseases transmitted by rats.

What infects the pet rats with this virus is contact with wild animals.

You must keep your rat away from all possibly infected animals, even the ones that are living in a pet store.

Keep your home clear of any possible wild rat infestations.

Monkeypox is also caused by exposure to another infected animal’s body fluid or blood.

It is contagious in humans as well.

One infected human can transmit it to another simply by sneezing or coughing.

Monkeypox doesn’t have any treatment so you must be extra cautious.


There is a preventative vaccine shot you can get before the infection attacks you.


Considering all the diseases, their effects, and causes, it is clear that a pet rat is safe to keep as long as you’re ready to take responsibility.

You will definitely have to be very particular about keeping your rat clean at all times.

Pay close attention to the pet as well as yourself to identify any symptoms early on for the best possible treatment.

Lastly, make your home as unwelcoming as possible for wild rats.

Related Questions

What happens if a pet rat bites you? The first issue with rat bites is the risk of infections.

Usually, rats who are sick or infected themselves can transmit the disease to a human too.

The most common of these infections is rat bite fever.

Other than bites, scratches from an infected rat can also infect the human.

Are rats a good pet? Rats make great pets.

They are nocturnal animals who don’t require constant attention from their owner.

Rats are easy to maintain for working owners.

Some rats are highly smart, even more than a cat or a dog.

However, some rats are simply dumb.

Can pet rats transmit diseases to humans? Rodents, pet or wild, carry bacteria and viruses.

This can lead to rodent infections which can be transmitted to humans too.

The diseases that can be transmitted to rats and then to humans include leptospirosis, rat bite fever, Hantaviruses, and lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus.

Other Sources

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