Salmonella is a disease that can be serious and life-threatening for both hamsters and humans. Recent outbreaks of Salmonella have made headlines. In 2005, 2 cases of Salmonella in young children were traced to rodents – one from a pet mouse, one from a pet hamster. Salmonella has been found in many domesticated animals, including pet chicks, pet ducks, turtles, kittens and even hedgehogs.
Statistically speaking, the chances of contracting this disease from a pet hamster are rare. Of the approximately 1.4 million cases of Salmonella reported each year, 6 percent are caused by reptiles. Pet hamsters account for far fewer cases. Still, it is always better to be careful, because the steps you take to prevent one disease can be effective against many others.
The first step is to be aware of the possibility of infection. Treat all hamsters as if they might carry an infectious agent. Do not tell yourself that is it okay “just this one time” not to use the safety procedures – this can be a costly error.
Always wash your hands and dry them completely both before you handle your pet and after you are finished. Be sure to use soap and warm water – do not just rinse your hands with a little water and think you are okay. You’re not. Water alone will not kill any germs. Be sure to dry your hands so that you do not get your hamster wet – this could lead to your hamster getting chilled and falling ill.
Always supervise children when they are handling their pet. Make sure they follow the hand washing guidelines each time they handle their pet. Do not allow children to kiss the hamster – yes, they are cute, but washing hands will not be effective if children put the germs right in their mouth by kissing their pet.
Keep hamsters and their housing area away from the kitchen or wherever food is being prepared. Do not let hamsters run on counters or around food. Do not keep cages in an area where they can push bedding or other material onto areas where food is being prepared.
While hamsters are omnivores (meaning they eat both plants and animals food), do not feed raw meat to your pet. Insects are fine, but do not be tempted to feed raw hamburger or other meats.
If you must wash out cages in sinks where dishes are washed, be sure to clean the sink completely after washing out the cage. Use bleach water in order to disinfect the area, and make sure you also disinfect counters and the surrounding areas.
If you do believe you have contracted Salmonella, make sure you mention exposure to pets to your physician. This could speed up your diagnosis and help you receive treatment more quickly. Identifying the source of the infection is also critical in order to avoid a larger outbreak.
Remember, the chances of contracting Salmonella from your hamster is very small, but by following these tips you can reduce the chances even more.