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Salmonella in Pet Rodents

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Each year in the United States, a vast number of Salmonella infections are associated with contact with reptiles. Recently, though, there have been several cases of Salmonella infections in people due to contact with small pet rodents such as mice and hamsters. Salmonella is the general name for a large "family" of bacteria usually associated with food poisoning from contaminated or undercooked foods that usually lives in the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Salmonella can be carried in the intestinal tracts of infected pet rodents, which is then shed in the feces. The Salmonella is then transferred to their cages and their skin. As humans come into contact with the pet's environment, they can walk away with the bacteria on their hands, and consequently the human environment, too.

  • Typically, affected rodents show signs of illness such as diarrhea and not eating. People with pet rodents should be aware that Salmonella is most commonly transmitted when pet fecal matter is allowed to come in contact with food preparation surfaces, bathing areas and, especially in small children, the mouth.

    What To Watch For

    Salmonella infections can result in a variety of illnesses, such as pneumonia, meningitis and septicemia. The most common clinical signs for both rodents and people include:

  • Extreme diarrhea
  • Not eating
  • High fever

    Diagnosis

    Your veterinarian will begin by a physical examination, including a complete history. In addition, some diagnostic tests are needed to specifically diagnose Salmonella and exclude other diseases. These may include:

  • Fecal culture. This will determine the presence of Salmonella. In addition, because Salmonella as a family has a tendency to be resistant to many antibiotics, it is very important to determine the antibiotic sensitivity pattern.

  • Due to their size, doing full bloodwork is often not possible in rodents to determine if there are any underlying disorders or organ dysfunctions.

    Treatment

    The two most important treatments for a Salmonella infection are antibiotics BASED ON CULTURE AND SENSITIVITY and treatment of dehydration.

  • Your veterinarian most likely will start your rodent on an antibiotic while you are awaiting the culture and sensitivity results. After the antibiotic sensitivity results are back, your veterinarian may need to change the antibiotic.

  • Depending on your rodent's history and his exact clinical signs your veterinarian may need to administer other treatments or even hospitalize your pet.

  • Unfortunately, many rodents with Salmonella infections are quite ill and may not survive treatment.

    Home Care and Prevention

  • Administer antibiotics according to your veterinarian's instructions. Be sure to finish the entire course, do not stop early.
  • Observe the general activity level, appetite, and stool consistency and production of your pet. If these do not improve within 24 to 48 hours of starting antibiotics, contact your veterinarian.
  • If needed, improve husbandry. Keep the area clean and warm.
  • In order to decrease the spread of Salmonella, isolate your pet from other pets and minimize contact with people.

    Although antibiotics can be used to decrease the numbers of Salmonella bacteria enough to treat most active infections, antibiotics almost never kill all of the Salmonella bacteria. In fact, the bacteria that survive are usually resistant to the antibiotic that was just used to treat the patient and so will be harder to kill in the future.

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