Can my hamster catch coronavirus?

Chinese hamster holding nose under a rainbow
23 May, 2020

This is a question that has been worrying many people recently.

Read on to find out more, including how to keep your hamster safe.

However, my take-home message is important, so I’m putting it here right at the beginning!

There is no evidence that a hamster can be infected with coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) under natural conditions.

What do the scientific studies say?

Some types of coronavirus can be made to infect hamsters, and some can’t. MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) couldn’t infect hamsters, whereas SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) could.

There are some studies looking at the current coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19) and hamsters. In laboratory settings Syrian hamsters have been infected with it, but the infection in experiments is not induced in a way that mimics natural infection transmission.

What about real life?

Many national and international organisations have looked into whether SARS-CoV-2 can spread into animals under natural conditions, including British Small Animal Veterinary Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, and World Organisation for Animal Health. The UK government also has a page with advice for people with animals.

The messages from all of them are consistent:

The current spread of SARS-CoV-2 is through human to human transmission.

There is no evidence that hamsters are playing a role in spreading coronavirus.

There is therefore no need to take action against your animals solely because of fear of coronavirus, for example rehoming your hamster.

What should I do?

Like any other surface or object, a hamster may act as a fomite for a short period of time by carrying the virus (acquired from an infected human) on their fur.

  • Remember to practice good cough and sneeze hygiene, for example Catch It; Kill It; Bin It or coughing into your elbow not your hands if you do not have a tissue.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling or hamster care.

These reduce transfer of any virus from you onto your hamster’s fur, cage and accessories.

In addition, be prepared just in case! If you can, keep enough hamster supplies to last for the self-isolation period (which in the UK varies according to household composition). Think in advance who would care for your hamster if you were not well enough. There are some suggestions for this here.

Even in normal times I am careful about who enters my hamster room or handles my hamsters. At the time of writing this blog, visiting other people’s homes is not permitted in the UK so this is not currently an issue. As lockdown measures are eased in future, it will become something to think about.

If you suspect you are unwell with COVID-19

Firstly, abide by your government’s instructions, for example self-isolation for the human(s).

Place your hamster in a room that is used less frequently, or have them not in the room where you spend a lot of time when unwell.

It is ideal to have another household member care for your hamster. This poses a challenge for those of us who live alone! The World Organisation for Animal Health advises that if it is not possible for another household member to provide care, then maintain good hygiene practices and, if possible, wear a face covering.

Take-Home Message

I said it at the start, but it’s so important that I’ll say it again!

There is no evidence that a hamster can be infected with coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) under natural conditions.

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  1. Ruth Kenyon

    Hamsters are being used in Covid research and I am positive my hamster got Covid when I did and then recovered. He was showing all the signs of being unwell – lethargy, loss of appetite and therefore weight and also sticky eyes and nose. I got really bad Covid and live on my own so had to care for us both. He is fine now and back to his old destructive self and be 2years old at Christmas. Did wonder about offering him up for scientific research when he finally does die of old age.

    • vectishams

      I covered the use of hamsters in research for covid in the blog post, along with the expert advice regarding hamsters and risk to human health. You can read more on the linked articles. I’m glad your hamster is feeling better.

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