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Can Dogs Get Rabies from Rats and Mice?

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Published: 9/22/2021

Mickey Mouse and Goofy might be "grrreat" friends in the Disney universe, but in the real world, rats and dogs just don't mix. Rodents have long been associated with uncleanliness and disease. But can dogs really catch rabies and other diseases from mice and rats? Or is that just an old wives' tale? We've done some digging to discover the truth about rabies and rodents.


Do rats and mice carry rabies?

Fortunately, if your dog gets bitten by a rat or mouse, you won't have to worry about rabies. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that small rodents, including rats and mice, "are almost never found to be infected with rabies."

While it's possible for rats and mice to contract and transmit rabies, it's extremely rare. Why? Experts aren't sure. One theory is that a rodent would have to be infected by a larger animal, like a fox. In this case, the fox would typically kill or fatally injure the rodent before the disease could incubate and cause symptoms.

House mice are even less likely to contract rabies. These animals live in urban environments, safe from the wild predators that carry rabies.


How does rabies spread?

"Can dogs get rabies without being bitten?" is a common question vets receive from pet parents. The answer is yes, but it's rare.

Rabies spreads through direct contact with the saliva of an infected animal. Bites are the most common method of transmission. Occasionally, an animal can contract rabies through the mucus membranes found in the eyes and nose.

Animals can also contract rabies by eating (or otherwise making contact with) the brain tissue of an infected animal. It's extremely rare for rabies to spread through scratches, but some humans have contracted rabies this way.

Dogs can't get rabies by eating the poop or licking the urine of an infected animal.

The most common species that transmit rabies to dogs include:

  • bats

  • foxes

  • skunks

  • raccoons


How to protect your dog from diseases transmitted by rodents

Okay, so it's super unlikely your dog will catch rabies from a rat or mouse. However, rodents carry other diseases that could infect your dog. What diseases can dogs catch from rats and mice? The two most common are leptospirosis and rat-bite fever.

Leptospirosis

Dogs can contract this bacterial infection from several sources. Those specific to rats and mice include:

  • eating rat poop

  • licking rat urine

  • coming into contact with soil or water that's contaminated with rat excrement

Leptospirosis can be fatal and cause extensive kidney and liver damage. A leptospirosis vaccine is available for dogs older than 8 weeks of age. It's a good idea to get your dog vaccinated against leptospirosis if you:

  • let your dog off-leash in nature reserves or places where they may encounter wildlife

  • live in an area with a high rat population

  • have pet rats or mice

If you have pet rats or mice, always keep their cages well out of your dog's reach, ideally in a separate room or area your dog can't access. When cleaning out the cages, secure the rodents in another enclosure to prevent escape. Wear gloves and wash your hands well with soap and warm water.

While some rats and dogs may get along well, it's always a good idea to keep them separated to prevent accidents and illnesses.

Rat-bite fever

Dogs can contract rat-bite fever through — you guessed it — rat bites. The disease also commonly spreads to dogs who eat rodents.

Infected dogs can spread the disease to humans. According to a study cited by the CDC, a person contracted rat-bite fever after being bitten by a dog known to eat rats. However, this reference didn't specify whether the dog was wild or domesticated.

Infected dogs don't typically show symptoms. Humans infected with rat-bite fever may experience:

  • fever

  • chills

  • rash

  • muscle and joint pains

  • headaches

  • nausea

Although rat-bite fever can be cured with antibiotics, it can be deceptively dangerous since its symptoms resemble the flu. Severe disease can cause heart, brain, and lung damage. To prevent infection, never let your dog chase rats or mice, whether in your home or in the wild.


Tips for handling a rat problem in a home with dogs

Got some unwanted rodent roommates? Here are a few ways you can safely get rid of rats without harming your dogs.

  • Skip the rat poison and snap traps. Rat poison harms hundreds of thousands dogs per year. If your dog eats rat poison, they may suffer severe and potentially fatal consequences, including internal bleeding and kidney failure. Snap traps can break delicate toe beans and injure curious snouts.

  • Use more humane methods. Pheromones and ultrasonic rat repellents are two humane ways to get rid of rats and mice and prevent infestations.

  • Secure all food. Mice love an open cereal box and bag of rice. Keep all food stored in airtight containers.

  • Call pest control. Some things are best left to the experts, and getting rid of rats in a home with dogs is one of them. Some pest control companies will capture and release rodents unharmed in a safe environment far away from your home.

  • Trim the hedges. Keeping the grass cut and the bushes pruned will reduce the habitat for mice and rats.

Are you and your doggo avid outdoor adventurers? To stay safe from rats, mice, and other wildlife on your excursions, check out our pet insurance comparison tool. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like Figo and Healthy Paws.

Learn more in the Wag! app

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