Rats can transmit some serious diseases to dogs through a variety of ways. While not all of these transmissible diseases are fatal, they do carry serious health risks for your dog and you. It is best to avoid any contact between rats and dogs, and to take extra precautions if interaction occurs.
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Rats and dogs
The No. 1 way to avoid your dog coming in to contact with an infected rat is sanitation. Second to that is not allowing your dog to encounter wild animals. If you have household rats or other rodents as pets, wash your hands in between interacting with the pet and interacting with your dog. If you suspect your dog has an infection or you suspect an encounter with a wild animal, take your dog to his veterinarian.
Leptospirosis in dogs
Also known as "lepto," leptospirosis is a deadly and easily transmissible disease caused by a group of bacteria in the genus Leptospira, which persists in the kidneys of the infected animals. It's also sometimes known as Weil's disease when the virus is present in humans. Rats and cattle are common carriers.
Any infected animal, such as a rat, sheds the lepto virus by urination. Dogs become infected by sniffing this urine, licking, or ingesting the urine or by drinking water contaminated with the lepto bacteria. Open wounds are another pathway for the leptospirosis bacteria to enter your dog. It's one of the most common diseases transmitted from animals to humans.
Tularemia or rabbit fever
Tularemia is a bacterial disease caused by Francisella tularensis. It's sometimes called rabbit fever because it is found in wild animals, in particular rabbits and rodents. Tularemia infection is not often seen in dogs but it can occur if they kill or eat an infected rabbit or rodent. Infection can also occur through a bite from an infected blood-sucking insect, such as a tick or flea.
Take care if your dog comes across a dead animal, in particular a wild rabbit or rodent and don't let her eat it. dogs can also get the disease by drinking contaminated water. If your dog does gets tularemia, symptoms include poor appetite, lethargy, and mild fever. Other symptoms may be inflammation in their eyes, draining abscesses, and enlarged lymph nodes.
Even pet rodents can harbor this disease. The Centers for Disease Control says that domestic cats and hamsters purchased from pet stores have been known to transmit the disease.
Potentially fatal toxoplasmosis
Toxoplasmosis is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. It is a widespread parasite that affects humans and warmblooded animals, such as rats, worldwide. Toxoplasmosis is common in cats, and is the parasite that pregnant women are warned about if they handle cat litter or do gardening barehanded where cats are known to roam.
Cats, both wild and domestic, are the only host that the parasite requires to complete its life cycle. Dogs can get the infection, however, if the adult dog is healthy you may never know he has it. Puppies can be more affected and can display symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, cough, difficulty breathing, jaundice, seizures, and even death if it's not treated. If an animal with a weakened immune system encounters toxoplasmosis, symptoms can also develop.
Dogs can easily become infected by consuming cysts from cat feces or by consuming an infected rodent or infected meat. Research has shown that rats infected with the toxoplasmosis parasite become less afraid of cats, and even become attracted to the smell of cats. Because they lose their natural fear of predators, this may make them easy prey for dogs as well.
Rat Bite Fever
Caused primarily by the bite or scratch of an infected rat, rat bite fever can infect your dog through interaction with a dead rodent or through ingesting anything contaminated by the diseased rat's feces. for rats, the bacteria that causes rat bite fever is a normal part of the environment in their mouth and nose. According to the King County, Washington, government, up to 10% of rat bites may result in rat bite fever.
Any animal that comes into contact with rats, such as mice, gerbils, squirrels, cats, or dogs can also get infected and can spread it. They may spread it even though they may or may not get sick. Even popular pets such as hamsters, rats, mice, gerbils, guinea pigs, and rabbits that may come into contact with wild animals can harbor the bacteria and pass it on to humans or the household's other pets such as dogs.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- ROSPA: Weil's Disease (Leptospirosis)
- VCA Hospitals: Tularemia in Dogs
- Merck Veterinary Manual: Toxoplasmosis in Dogs
- King County, Washington: Diseases from Rodents, Pocket Pets and Rabbits
- Vet West: Should You Be Concerned If Your Pet Eats A Rat Or Mouse?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Rabies
- Companion Animal Parasitic Council