Can we catch diseases from pet rabbits?

Can we catch diseases from pet rabbits?

There is potential to catch quite a few illnesses from pets, particularly those you really want to cuddle and make a fuss of. They can vary from mild to more infectious diseases, so a certain amount of caution should be adhered to.

Pet rabbits can transfer various infections to humans, but there are many that will never be picked up by adults or children. Overall, pet rabbits are delightful to own and generally good around children, although they can give a nip to little fingers, particularly if they are hungry!

Rabbits overall are extremely clean pets to keep, and generally they are safe pets to keep domestically. However, it is wise to be vigilant, as with any pet.

If your rabbit is allowed to roam free, they are more likely to pick up other infections that could be more dangerous to them, but not necessarily to you.

Here are some potential illnesses you can pick up from rabbits.


It is less likely that you will pick up allergies from rabbits if you are not already allergic to certain external issues. However, if you do suffer from allergic reactions to certain stimuli, then you can feel somewhat under the weather with allergies such as rhinitis and asthmatic conditions. A form of ‘hay fever’ is also possible with persistent sneezing, itchy throat and eyes and redness around the nose and eyes. Quite often, conjunctivitis can develop along with these reactions, making it a thoroughly miserable time. People most susceptible to this are laboratory workers, veterinary surgeons and animal handlers, but almost anyone can react this way.

The cause of these allergies is normally the protein within your rabbit’s saliva and skin cells, not because of the fur. Once a rabbit is cleaning and grooming himself, saliva will spread to almost all parts of their body. If you cuddle your rabbit or pet them in any way, the proteins will make contact with your skin and cause the sensitive reaction around your face. With rabbits, most people are allergic to a protein in their saliva or dander (skin cells)–not the fur! As the rabbit grooms, its saliva is spread over its body. Petting or touching a rabbit, then your face, spreads these proteins to sensitive areas such as your nose and eyes. If you do not have allergies, nothing will happen. But, if you happen to be allergic to a specific protein, your body will react by trying to fight it off, which will make you feel as if you have a cold.

If within a couple of days, the symptoms wear off, it is more likely that you did indeed have a cold!


Now this is obviously a serious issue. Potentially it can be transmitted to humans and can be contracted by handling contaminated food or water and even bedding. The salmonella is transported by stools that are infected with the virus and you then handle feed or water bowls without correct precautions. Wear gloves when handling equipment or bedding, and thoroughly wash with a disinfectant soap after – take your time in cleaning your hands, it is important. If you rabbit has diarrhoea of any form, veterinary attention is needed as soon as possible.


Pasteurella is a severe respiratory infection, that is obtained from the nasal cavities and the mouth of many rabbits. It can live there quite happily causing them no problems, but it can be transmitted to humans by a bite, even affectionately, from your rabbit. If this wound becomes infected, then Pasteurella may develop.

This quite unlikely, but once again, any bite wounds should be cleaned thoroughly as soon as they occur. You are more likely to have an infected wound from a dog or cat, than from a rabbit, since their diet is herbivore, not carnivore or omnivore!

A word of wisdom – keep your tetanus jabs up to date, and you should have no worries from animal bites or scratches.

Ringworm (Dermatophytosis)

This is a fungal skin infection caused by various microspores that you can pick up from your rabbit – that is the simple explanation. It is more likely to occur if you have broken skin on your hands, for instance, or even if you sweat. Potentially you will develop ring-like rashes that can be itchy, red and sore on your body. If your rabbit develops patches of hair loss and dry, scaly skin, you need to get veterinary treatment as soon as possible to prevent this being passed on to you.

Is there cause for concern if I am normally healthy?

The above infections are all potential cases, and certainly not a major cause of concern.

Individuals who have limited immune systems need to be more concerned, particularly if they have undergone any form of drug therapy (such as chemotherapy) or diseases such as AIDS/HIV. The risk is far greater with any pet animal if bacterial resistance is low. Whilst it may be a source of comfort to anyone who is sick, it is better to avoid most forms of close animal contact.

Controlling infection

It should go without saying, but whilst rabbits are fairly low risk in their ability to transmit infection or disease to their owners, there is still potential for this to happen. This potential can be limited with certain simple precautions such as routine health checks on your rabbit, tip top ‘rabbit husbandry or management’, and strict hygiene precautions. You and your rabbit can live happily together in most circumstances.

Finally, more diligence is needed when it comes to children, who are more likely to have less knowledge of hygiene than parents. Get them into the habit of regular hand washing when playing with their pet, and under no circumstances allow them to take their rabbit to bed at night!



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