A rabid hamster charging at you from its cage seems like a pretty unlikely scenario, but if that cute little ball of fluff bites you, the thought of rabies might cross your mind. Most hamsters live in isolated conditions which prevent them from being exposed to rabies, but you will want to be sure. After all, hamsters are mammals, and any mammal can get rabies. To help you to decide, evaluate your hamster for signs of rabies, and if in doubt, call your doctor.
According to the Merck Medical Manual, hamsters and other rodents are unlikely hosts for rabies. Under most circumstances it is probably safe to assume your hamster does not have rabies. However, any time an animal bite occurs it is always best to consult a medical professional if you have any concerns whatsoever. Just because it is rare doesn’t mean it is impossible.
Although rabies cannot be definitively diagnosed simply by its symptoms, you can watch for some signs that can help you determine if your hamster might have rabies. The Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine notes that the following signs are typical of any animal with rabies, and will apply to your hamster in the unlikely event it has rabies. The animal will seem angry and will furiously bite at anything and everything around it, even non-living things. It may make odd noises or sound different when making its normal noises. There may also be some paralysis, typically starting at the hind limbs and moving along them towards the hamster’s body. Eventually the neck, throat and jaw muscles will become paralyzed.
Foaming at the Mouth
A couple rabies symptoms cause people to call it “hydrophobia” (fear of water) or to refer to a person or an animal as foaming at the mouth. The first of these symptoms is excessive salivation. The second symptom is a significant, ongoing difficulty in swallowing. The two of these symptoms together cause the saliva to build up in the mouth and to make the mouth appear foamy, because the animal is unable to swallow the copious amounts of saliva it is producing. The idea that having rabies makes you afraid of water is also related to these two symptoms, as anyone or anything that cannot swallow will avoid trying to drink. If your hamster has rabies it will appear to be foaming at the mouth and will be dripping saliva.
hamster image by Vasiliy Koval from Fotolia.com