Pocket pets make rewarding and enjoyable companions, but not without certain drawbacks. While mice are not likely to be exposed to the more than 35 types of diseases that wild rodents can carry, even the most well-bred pet mice and rats can contract diseases that can spread to their owners through urine and feces. With proper hygiene, the chance of transmission of the few diseases that pet mice can carry is greatly reduced.
Leptospira bacteria carried in the droppings of mice can infect humans as well as other family pets. Leptospirosis is more commonly found in humid or tropical locations, but transmission has occurred worldwide. It is possible to contract leptospirosis from mouse or rat urine or feces without showing symptoms; if other members of the family -- including pets -- become lethargic, or experience a high fever, vomiting, and chills, leptospirosis may be a potential cause.
Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, or LCMV, is often mistaken for a particularly nasty bout of the flu. Most commonly carried by domestic pet mice, LCMV is spread by inhalation of dried particles of the infected mouse's droppings or urine, or by ingesting food contaminated with the same.
When flulike symptoms -- vomiting, muscle aches, cough and fever -- fade and are replaced by a stiffness in the neck, fatigue and confusion, suspect LCMV, which can be confirmed and diagnosed with blood tests.
A pet mouse who is lethargic or experiencing diarrhea or runny stool, or has discharge leaking from the nose and eyes, may be carrying salmonella. Easily transmittable to humans and other animals, salmonella bacteria are shed in the droppings of infected rats and mice. You can become infected by accidentally ingesting the waste.
Salmonella is potentially fatal, especially in young children and in people with weakened immune systems. In 2004, pet rodents purchased from retail pet stores in the Midwest showed a serious and particularly drug-resistant form of salmonella.
Despite the gravity of illnesses caused by mouse droppings, you can prevent transmission by keeping the pet's bedding clean, washing hands before and after handling your pocket pet, and keeping sick animals quarantined from healthy ones.
If you suspect that your or your family member's illness may be related to your pet rodent, take a sample of the animal's urine and feces to the doctor to be tested. While infection from these diseases can present serious health risks, full recovery is possible with quick intervention. When in doubt, turn to your veterinarian and doctor for diagnosis.