Hamsters are adorable, cuddly creatures that many – kids and adults alike – would want. It seems they can do no harm. However, would you ever think these little bundles of fur could be deadly?
You can die from a hamster bite, but it is incredibly unlikely that you would. Hamster bites are rarely fatal unless you are allergic or the pet carries a deadly disease that they can pass on to you. Proper treatment can prevent infection, which may be more harmful than the bite itself.
This article will discuss why it is rare for hamster bites to be fatal, what possible diseases hamsters can infect humans with through a bite or exposure, and what you can do if your pet rodent bites you.
Animal bites are scary. Not only can they be bloody and painful, but they can also be fatal, as with the cases of rabid dogs. However, not all animal bites kill, especially hamster bites.
Hamster bites can kill humans, but the chances of death are very slim. Their bites rarely break the skin, but an infection may occur when that happens. Thus, prompt treatment, like washing with soap, is necessary. The bite may also be fatal if the hamster is sick or you are allergic to them.
Based on Internet accounts of hamster owners and my own experience, an overwhelming majority of people bitten by a hamster have lived to tell the tale.
Hamster bites are rarely fatal or concerning. Most hamster owners have shared that they have been bitten by their pets a few times before and after prompt treatment, there have been no grave results.
Although there have been stories of people dying after a hamster bite, such as this case of a Singaporean mom and a young girl from Hong Kong, these experiences are infrequent. These people were most likely allergic to the hamster, and the allergens may have induced the extreme result.
For both cases, one cannot say that the hamster did cause their demise. In the case of the girl from Hong Kong, the doctors reported that they are open to the possibility that other health problems may have contributed to her death. The girl was also asthmatic, and people with these conditions are often sensitive to allergens.
As for the woman from Singapore, reports indicate that she never received an autopsy, so the cause of death is still uncertain.
Hamster bites are non-fatal and may also be treated at home often. Thus, there is no need for a hospital visit most of the time. However, if allergies occur, seek emergency help.
As I mentioned in the previous section, there have been two cases of possible deaths due to allergy to the hamster or anaphylactic shock after the bite. Besides these two cases, there have been other accounts of people being allergic to hamsters and their bites, but they have all survived after treatment.
You can be allergic to hamster bites. If you have an allergy to hamsters, you may only suffer minor allergic symptoms. However, if you have a severe allergy, you may develop anaphylactic shock.
Often, people are not aware of what substances or organisms they are allergic to. Some may also develop allergies later in life, even when they were not allergic to these allergens before.
Anaphylactic shock is an extreme and life-threatening reaction to a trigger or allergen. This allergic reaction often happens fast and occurs closely after exposure. Common symptoms include swelling, hives, dizziness, fainting, and rapid heartbeat.
Individuals who have experienced anaphylactic shock recounted redness and swelling around their wounds. They also felt dizziness, hardness of breathing, and other symptoms.
Anaphylaxis can be fatal, especially without prompt treatment. People may have extreme difficulty breathing when their airways get affected. Blood pressure may be erratic, as what happened to the father bitten by a hamster. It may even trigger an asthma attack for asthmatic individuals.
Epinephrine is the treatment provided for these situations, and most people with severe allergies have these on hand. It is crucial to call an ambulance or emergency services if someone suffers from a severe allergic reaction.
Often, you would have minor allergies to triggers before you would experience anaphylaxis due to them. Thus, if you have had some irritation, itchiness, or some other reaction when handling hamsters, it may be a sign that you are allergic to them.
Besides an allergic reaction, one of the things you may need to be concerned about with a hamster bite is the possible transmission of diseases.
Hamsters can pass on fatal diseases to humans through a bite. One case in Colorado, USA, associated a hamster bite with tularemia. Besides tularemia, these pets may also carry diseases like lymphocytic choriomeningitis.
One of the most concerning illnesses animals can pass on to humans is rabies. This disease is often associated with dog bites. However, most mammals can get rabies if exposed to a carrier.
Rabies is a viral illness often passed on through animal bites, like dogs or cats. In the United States, where most pets require rabies vaccines and rabies cases are at a minimum, it is rare for a pet to have the virus unless exposed to or bitten by an infected wild animal.
Hamsters do not carry rabies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA states that small rodents, like hamsters, are not known to contract and transmit rabies.
Hamsters likely don’t get rabies because it is hard for them to survive the attack of a rabid animal. Thus, it is rare to get rabies from a hamster bite.
Rabies is also not inherent or natural but transmitted from one carrier to another. Hence, if your hamster has had zero to minimal contact with other creatures and wildlife, it is rare to impossible for it to have rabies.
While rabies may seem impossible to get from a hamster, tularemia is more probable.
Tularemia or rabbit fever is a bacterial illness caused by Francisella tularensis. Animals can transmit it through an animal bite, inhalation, or consumption of contaminated food or water. Without antibiotic treatment, the disease could be fatal.
Hamsters can pass tularemia through a bite, as evidenced by a case in Colorado, USA. A three-year-old child fell sick after being bitten by a sick hamster. The child survived after antibiotic treatment.
Some of the symptoms exhibited by the boy were fever, malaise, and skin sloughing or shedding off at the wound site. Before this, the family had bought six hamsters, all of which became sick and died. Only one bit the boy and the hamster died shortly after.
Tularemia may not be the only disease you might want to watch out for from your hamster.
- Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCM) is a rare viral condition a human may contract from hamsters. Possible symptoms include fever, lack of appetite, stiff neck, muscle aches, and nausea. One may get LCM from the sick animal’s urine, saliva, droppings, or cage material. Pregnant women, children, and immunocompromised individuals are at higher risk for this virus.
- Salmonellosis from Salmonella is also associated with small rodents, like hamsters. It can be transmitted through hamster feces or contaminated food. Infected people may experience diarrhea, vomiting, fever, or abdominal pain.
- Tetanus or lockjaw is caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani. If infected, you will have painful muscle contractions, and your muscles may lock. While hamster bites per se do not cause tetanus or lockjaw, if the hole or wound is deep enough, infection is possible as the bacteria lives in soil. However, it is rare, and a tetanus shot is often unnecessary, especially if you already have a vaccine.
- Campylobacteriosis is another bacterial illness contracted from a hamster through stool or contaminated food. You may get a fever, diarrhea, cramping, and stomach pain. It is also fatal for the immunocompromised, older people, and children.
Most diseases are passed on through contamination. Thus, washing your hands after handling your hamster or their cage is essential. It would also be great if you kept their place clean.
Even though we have talked about a couple of scary things you can get from a hamster bite, in general, most of them can be treated at home and do not result in anything more severe, especially with proper and abrupt treatment.
If a hamster bites you, you should clean the wound with soap and water. If it is not bleeding out, gently squeeze to remove any saliva. Wrap with a bandage to prevent infection. Large or bleeding wounds may need medical help.
If possible, use cold water and antibacterial soap when washing the wound. You may also use an antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.
Bites that did not break skin may only need home treatment and are not concerning. However, if the bite broke the skin and there was bleeding, you may need stitches.
Also, monitor the person for any signs of an allergic reaction. If you have any asthma attacks, swelling, or difficulty breathing, seek medical help immediately. Individuals with known allergies may carry an EpiPen, which you can administer if you know how.
Any wound is susceptible to infection, no matter how small it is. Infections may do more damage, and some can even be fatal.
Take note of some signs of infection for better monitoring and recovery. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Redness or swelling
- Warm and painful wounds
- Liquid or pus leaking from the wound
If you see any of the said signs, seek a doctor immediately to control the infection.
Hamsters can appear so cute and cuddly, and it may be puzzling why they would even bite you. However, there are reasons why they may do so.
Hamsters mostly bite out of stress or fear. They can be sensitive creatures, and changes around them may stress them, leading them to bite. They may also be sick or feel territorial.
Not all hamster bites are the same. Some can be superficial scratches, while others can be large. Some may bleed a lot as well.
Often, hamsters only bite when they feel threatened. Hence, you need to know what could trigger them.
Here are some ways you can prevent hamster bites:
- Don’t annoy the hamster when they are asleep. Avoid bothering your hamster while sleeping or when they are not in the mood. Most hamsters are nocturnal, so if you catch them sleeping during the day, resist touching or annoying them. Your action or touch may scare or stress them, prompting them to attack.
- Don’t restrain the hamster while they struggle against you. If your hamster tries to resist or escape while you hold them, that is a sign that they do not want to be touched. Put them down on a surface or in their cage before they bite.
- Don’t approach the hamster rapidly. Fast, sudden movements may scare your hamster, especially with their poor eyesight. So, come to them slowly to avoid stress and agitation. Otherwise, they may feel threatened and bite.
Related Hamsters articles:
- How To Get Rid of Hamster Mites?
- Why Is My Hamster Not Drinking Water
- How To Get Rid of a Hamster
- What To Do When Your Hamster Dies
- How to Find an Escaped Hamster
- Why Is My Hamster Not Coming Out at Night?
Hamster bites are generally non-fatal and would rarely kill anyone at all. However, if you tend to have allergies or your hamster was sick before biting you, you may suffer from anaphylactic shock or from the disease they have passed on to you. In these cases, medical help may be inevitable.
Otherwise, you can treat hamster bites on your own at home. Make sure to clean the wound and dress it to avoid infections. After that, monitor yourself for possible infection. If there are symptoms, seek a doctor immediately.
My name is Everly. I am a Milwaukee-based mom of 2 and have been a proud owner of many hamsters throughout my life. Like many of us, my introduction to hamsters happened when I was very young. My family saw several hamsters come and go through the years, and I enjoyed playing with them, but I never fully appreciated them until I grew up and my own children decided to jump on the hamster bandwagon. At that point, I was determined to learn all I could about caring for these adorable pets. Read more