Here you will find information about health issues related to the keeping of small animals that affect their keepers and anyone in the house. Before bringing a new small animal into your home, you should always discuss the possible health problems of everyone in the household. Please note, aside from allergies and parasites, most of these health concerns will never arise when obtaining an animal from a reputable source and following good keeping practices, which include keeping your pet from contact with wild and potentially infected animals.
The most common complaint related to keeping small animals is allergy related reactions. This can be an allergy to the fur or dander of the animal itself, allergens in the urine, or some item related to the keeping of that animal. This is much more common with hay eating species such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas. Having an allergy issue does not mean you can't enjoy living with small animals, but it does mean there are certain precautions you can take to make your experience more enjoyable.
If you are allergic to hay...
If at all possible, ask another member of the household or a friend to fill the hay feeders for you. If this is not possible, wear a disposable mask over your face and rubber gloves to minimize contact with the hay. Change your clothing after coming in contact with hay and completely wash any skin that has been touched with hay. You can also pack small brown lunchsacks with portions of hay in advance to make a large supply of enclosed bags, which you can drop into your pet's enclosure without having to have direct contact with the hay.
Running an air purifier will cut down on allergens in the air. Keep your animal's cage out of your bedroom, and do not store any extra hay in your house. Instead, keep it in a safe location outside of the house where it will stay dry. In severe cases, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication or shots that will help you cope with allergy symptoms.
If you are allergic to the animal...
Buying a hairless animal will not necessarily negate allergy symptoms as allergens are also carried in saliva and urine. In severe cases, you can handle your animal through a towel or other barrier that prevents skin on skin contact. In more mild cases, simply washing up after handling your animal can prevent allergic reactions.
Allergies at Cavy Spirit is a wonderful resource about coping with pet related allergies.
If you are allergic to the bedding...
There are many safe beddings on the market, which include but are not limited to:
Try out different bags of bedding to see if there is one that you seem to have a reaction to over another.
Parasites occassionally find their way into our home and onto our pets. The most common of these are fleas, mites and lice. Precautions can be taken to treat any cats or dogs that come and go inside and outside for fleas so that they do not bring them into the house and around your small animals. Lice and mites tend to be species or host specific and will not jump ship from one species or host to another, and can come in on bedding you have purchased.
To prevent parasites, talk to your veterinarian about topical liquids such as Advantage, Frontline and Revolution. It is possible to treat some species of small animals with these products, but it is VERY important to consult with your veterinarian before you begin treatment with any kind of medication, as certain medications may be toxic to different species. Please note, Frontline has been linked to neurological damage in rabbits and should NOT be used.
If you believe mites or lice are finding their way into your home on your small animal's bedding, freezing it for 24 hours prior to use will make sure to kill off anything that hitched a ride into your home.
Ringworm is transmittable to humans, and it is important to isolate an affected animal and treat them for four weeks with topical anti fungal agents or other medication as prescribed by your veterinarian. Ringworm that is transmitted to a human should be treated by a qualified physician.
Bites and Scratches
This is a common risk of small animal keeping, which can be drastically lessened (please note, never eliminated) by adopting or purchasing well socialized animals and practicing proper handling techniques.
Minor bites and scratches should be disinfected and treated with topical ointment as you would any normal injury. Major injuries from a bite or scratch are very uncommon, but should be seen by a qualified physician.
There are several concerns that are often raised in conjunction with small animal or rodent keeping. The items listed below are here to dispel the myth that these are risks associated with small animals.
No human case of rabies has ever been reported as a result of a pet rodent bite. A domestically kept small animal does NOT carry rabies, though wild animals kept as pets do carry the risk of having a transmittable disease. This is one of many reasons why wild animals do not make good pets.
There are no reports of humans ever contracting Plague from pet rodents or small animals. Several cases have been associated with cats(25) but it is not a risk associated with pet rats or any other animal.
For an excellent, detailed resource on Zoonoses (Disease of Animals Communicable to Humans) please visit "Zoonoses of House Pets Other Than Dogs, Cats and Birds"