American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the Winter 2000 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.


Leptospirosis in Pet Rats?

From a member, e-mail
Q Have you heard of leptospirosis in pet rats? I just got off the phone with a fellow member who works at the animal shelter and 3 rats were brought into the shelter today. Apparently this family added a 4th rat to the original 3 they had and the 4th one died about one month ago from symptoms my friend found consistent with respiratory disease in rats. Well, this women, who is a nurse, is convinced that her daughter who became sick with flu-like symptoms 10 days after the rat died caught lepto from the rat. So, the health department brought the remaining 3 rats to the shelter for observation.

My little amount of research says that lepto is common in wild rodents, but I can’t find anything on it in domestic rats.

Answer by Karen Robbins
A I checked my Infectious Diseases of Mice and Rats book and leptospirosis is mainly a mouse problem. They did report people getting it that worked with infected colonies of laboratory mice.

You need to get these rats tested. The book says, “The methods of cultivation, identification, and serologic testing for leptospiral organisms are highly specialized and usually are performed by specialty laboratories (Sulzer and Jones, undated; Turner, 1968, 1970). Specimens from human patients are usually submitted through county and state departments of public health to the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia. Specimens from animals can be submitted to state veterinary diagnostic laboratories or to the National Animal Disease Laboratory, Ames, Iowa.” . . . “The most common diagnostic method is serology in which the microscopic agglutination test with live antigen is used. Definitive diagnosis requires isolation and serologic identification of the organism (Alexander, 1985; Sulzer and Jones, undated). These procedures are best performed by laboratories that specialize in these methods.”

So, I would suggest serology and any pathology cultures done to find out if the rats did indeed infect the daughter.

Answer by Carmen Jane Booth, D.V.M. Ph.D.
A If the rats are free of zoonotic diseases, is the owner going to take them back? Serology, fecal, and urine culture can be used to rule out zoonotic diseases without euthanasia of the rats. Of note, wild rats are a common source of Leptospirosis in humans throughout the world; however, pet rats are not usually a prominent source of this disease in humans. There are some studies that have associated cats with Leptospirosis in people. The question that I would have is, where did the rats originate? In order to get Leptospirosis, the rats would have to have been exposed somewhere. Most pet rats are never in contact with wild rodents. *

Updated March 20, 2014