What Diseases Do Mice, Rats, and Other Rodents Carry?

image of rat, rodent and mice eating cheese

Fortunately, those bumps in the night and rummaging sounds you hear aren’t ghosts nor burglars. Unfortunately, they are rodents. And rodents don’t just take from you, they bring things, too — specifically, diseases that can infect you and your pets. What diseases do mice, rats, and other rodents carry? Keep reading for details.

What Diseases Do Mice and Rats Carry?

Mice and rats carry a host of diseases that can be passed on to humans when people:

  •  Breathe in contaminated particles from mouse or rat droppings
  •  Touch surfaces/eat foods contaminated by these rodents
  •  Get bitten by parasites that have also bitten infected mice or rats
  •  Get scratched/bitten by infected mice/rats themselves

A few such diseases include:


girl suffering with nausea and food poisoning
Photo Credit: Africa images / Canva Pro / License

This set of viruses can cause several different diseases depending on what part of the world you live in. In the United States, what’s known as “New World” hantaviruses cause Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), while in Europe and Asia other strains of hantavirusefs cause Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome (HFRS). Rare but potentially deadly with a mortality rate of 38%, HPS is transmitted mainly by deer mice droppings, urine, or saliva. For example, if you find droppings and clean them improperly, you could possibly breathe in hantavirus. (The virus typically only survives in droppings inside homes for two to four days; it lives an even shorter time if exposed to extreme conditions outdoors.)

To minimize this chance, remember to always wear gloves and a face mask, and spray the contaminated area with a mix of bleach and water. The CDC recommends using paper towels, rather than cloths, to wipe up the mess, so you can toss the soiled towel in the trash. Mop the area with disinfectant after that, and, of course, wash your hands and those gloves.

Symptoms of HPS can arise within one week to two months of exposure and include:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches


closeup of salmonella bacteria
Salmonella bacterium
Photo Credit: Olga Reukova / Canva Pro / License

Caused by the bacterium salmonella, this disease can be transferred to humans if they touch surfaces, droppings, or nests contaminated by an infected rodent; ingest food contaminated by an infected mouse or rat; or touch an infected mouse or rat (including pets) directly without washing their hands afterward.

Symptoms of salmonellosis include:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody stool
  • Headache
  • Chills

Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis

mouse droppings and a ruler
Rat droppings
Photo Credit: PictureLake / Canva Pro / License

This viral infection is carried mainly by the common house mouse and can infect humans through contact with infected mouse droppings, urine, nesting materials, or saliva, or via a mouse bite. Within one to two weeks of exposure, an infected person can exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain in chest/joints

Besides those symptoms, LCM can also trigger meningitis, encephalitis, and even acute hydrocephalus (excess fluid around the brain).

The Plague

Yersinia pestis bacterium
Yersinia pestis bacterium
Photo Credit: royaltystockphoto / Canva Pro / License

This includes all variants — the bubonic plague, septicemic plague, and pneumonic plague — which are caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium. Typically, humans are infected with the plague when they’re bitten by a flea that’s fed on an infected rodent. While still deadly if untreated, there are antibiotics available today to fight off the illness.

Symptoms of the plague include:

  • High fever
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Overall weakness
  • Vomiting/diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Chest pain

Rat-Bite Fever

gray rat on a surface
Photo Credit: Kseniia Glazkova / Canva Pro / License

Besides coming into contact with the excrement, nesting materials, and other surfaces tainted by infected rodents, keeping rats and mice as pets or feeders for other pets can put you at higher risk of catching diseases, including rat-bite fever. A bit of a misnomer, as rats aren’t the only rodents to carry this infection, rat-bite fever in the U.S. is caused by the streptobacillus monoiliformis bacterium and is treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms can appear as early as three days and as late as three weeks. They include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Rash

What’s the Difference Between Mice and Rats?

While both nocturnal rodents that love to gnaw on practically everything, mice and rats have significant differences, as well, each of which are crucial to understanding what type of rodent may be in your house and what diseases they may carry.


mouse on a rock
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Lifespan: On average, wild mice live 12 to 18 months; however, house mice can live two to three years if they’re not killed by homeowners or pets and don’t run out of food or water.

Physical Characteristics:

  • Smaller overall bodies (1 to 4 inches long and about 1 to 2 ounces in weight)
  • Pointy, triangular noses; large ears and eyes; smaller teeth; longer, lightly hairy tail
  • Typically lighter-colored, cleaner-looking fur

Behavioral Characteristics:

  • Prefers building nests up high (e.g., attics, pantries)
  • Bolder than rats; will nest in open areas
  • Fear of rats, as rats will eat mice
  • Leave smaller gnaw marks
  • Can live up to a month without water


Photo Credit: Pexels

Lifespan: Rats tend to live longer than the average mouse, surviving for two years in the wild.

Physical Characteristics:

  • Larger overall bodies (6 to 9 inches long and about 5 ounces to 1 pound in weight)
  • Blunter noses; small ears and eyes; large teeth and feet; darker, greasy fur
  • Short, generally hairless, scaly tail

Behavioral Characteristics:

  • More cautious than mice; difficult to trap because they’re less trusting
  • Norway rats (brown rats) prefer to nest in low areas (e.g., basements, subways)
  • Roof rats (black rats) prefer nesting up high
  • Require water daily

FAQ About the Diseases Mice, Rats, and Other Rodents Carry

What diseases do mice and rats carry to dogs?

Like humans, dogs are also susceptible to some diseases carried by these rodents — most notably, leptospirosis, which can also be transmitted to humans. This bacterial infection is usually picked up by dogs after they’ve taken a drink from water contaminated by rodents. Dogs can also contract this disease if they eat mouse or rat poop, eat the rodent itself, or lick the rodent’s urine. Symptoms include:

  • fever/chills
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea/vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • May cause kidney/liver failure

Note: There is a vaccine available for leptospirosis to help protect your pet.

What diseases do other rodents carry?

Besides mice and rats, other rodents (both wild and pets) — think squirrels, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, and gerbils — can also spread diseases to humans. A few of those diseases include:

  • Hantavirus
  • Monkeypox
  • Rat-Bite Fever
  • Tularemia
  • Leptospirosis
  • The plague
  • Lymphocytic choriomeningitis
  • Salmonellosis
  • Typhus
  • Ringworm
  • Rabies

Do rodents carry ticks?

Yes, and because of this, rats and mice can spread, via ticks, Lyme disease and tularemia. Upwards of 90% of white-footed mice carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease — and they play host to deer ticks. If you get bitten by an infected deer tick, Lyme disease can be transmitted to you.

In the case of tularemia, a disease caused by the francisella tularensis bacterium, transmission can happen through the bite of a tick or deer fly, the handling of an infected rodent, or via contact with contaminated water. Symptoms typically include fever, chills, skin/mouth ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, and overall weakness.

What are the odds of contracting hantavirus pulmonary syndrome?

The chances of contracting hantavirus pulmonary syndrome are very low — in fact, as of 2021, only 821 cases had been reported in the entire U.S. since 1993 when the CDC started tracking them.

Hire a Pro and Protect Yourself

Rare or not, just knowing there’s potential to catch life-threatening diseases from rodents that may get in your house is enough to send shivers down your spine. So, in addition to keeping your home clean and decluttered and your landscape free of overgrown bushes, get help from a rodent control expert near you. They’ll assess your surroundings, ensure all entry points are sealed, and use appropriate methods to capture any mice or rats that may have gotten in already. 

Main Image Credit: George Dolgikh / Canva Pro / License created using Canva Pro

Andréa Butler

Andréa Butler has a passion for writing and editing — but a phobia of bees and wasps. Living near the woods, she's dealt with her fair share of mice, skinks, and other outside critters that sometimes find their way inside. Besides learning new ways to keep homes pest-free, she also enjoys singing, reading, and binge-watching just about every show that ever existed.