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Rodents and child safety

Pet rodents often need less care than other pets. But it is important that you and your child are safe around your pet rodent.

Your pet could bite or scratch your child. They might also carry illnesses.

Some pet rodents have short life spans. It is important to tell your child about this.

The death of a family pet can be very upsetting for children. But it can also be a good chance to talk about illness and death with your child.

Pet rodents can include a:

  • rat
  • mouse
  • guinea pig
  • hamster
  • gerbil
  • chinchilla

Rodents and health risks to your child

It's unlikely that a rodent will spread a disease to you or your child. But they can be the source of germs and bacteria that cause infections and tummy bugs such as:

  • salmonella
  • campylobacter
  • giardia
  • cryptosporidium

Pets and illnesses

Your child can get these diseases by touching rodent poo or something rodent poo has been in contact with.

To reduce the risk of you and your child getting an infection:

  • make sure you and your child wash your hands carefully after handling the rodent, its poo, bedding, cage, bowls or toys
  • talk to your vet about keeping your rodent healthy
  • do not feed raw eggs or meat to your pet rodent - this is because they can contain infection

Rodent bites and scratches

To reduce the risk of a rodent biting or scratching your child:

  • get advice about keeping rodents as pets
  • make sure your rodent is used to being handled
  • watch your child around the pet rodent
  • show your child how to safely handle and treat the rodent
  • do not disturb sleeping rodents
  • talk to your vet about grooming and claw trimming

Tell your child to tell you if they are bitten or scratched by an animal.

If a rodent bites or scratches your child

If your child is bitten or scratched:

  • wash the wound immediately in warm running water
  • dry it carefully
  • cover with a clean plaster
  • contact your GP for medical advice

Choose a healthy pet rodent

Choose a healthy pet rodent. This can lower the risk of your child getting a disease from the rodent.

Make sure the pet is lively, alert, free of droppings and has a glossy coat. Do not pick one that is quiet, tired, has diarrhoea or looks sickly.

The animal’s breathing should be normal. There should be no discharge from the eyes or nose.

If one of the animals in the cage in a pet store has diarrhoea or looks sick, the others may have an infectious disease. Do not choose any of these animals as your pet.

If your pet rodent dies, thoroughly clean and disinfect their cage, toys, water and food bowls before letting a new pet use them.

Page last reviewed: 22 October 2022
Next review due: 22 October 2025