"Pocket pets" are cute but potential disease carriers, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns. The term refers to small animals, often rodents, that are kept as pets and could fit in your pocket.

Small pets have sickened as many as 30 people -- many of them children -- with dangerous, multidrug-resistant bacteria in at least 10 states, federal health officials are warning.

Lately, the definition of pocket pets has expanded to include a few animals that are not quite that little, but that are housed in cages. Common pocket pets include rats, mice, rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and ferrets as well as rodents bought to feed other animals such as snakes.

Unfortunately, owning a pocket pet can be hazardous to your health. The little critters can carry Salmonella and other diseases.

The Salmonella germ is a group of bacteria that can cause diarrheal illness in humans. They are microscopic living creatures that pass from the feces of people or animals, to other people or other animals. Animals can carry this germ and not appear to be ill. Rodents, like reptiles, may spread Salmonella to people.

Choosing a Pocket Pet

When choosing a pocket pet, dont pick one that is quiet, tired, has diarrhea, or looks sickly. The pet should be lively and alert with a glossy coat free of droppings. The animals breathing should be normal. There should be no discharge from the eyes or nose.

If one of the animals in the cage in a pet store has diarrhea or looks sick, the others may have been exposed to an infectious disease. Do not choose any of these animals as your pet. Wash your hands immediately after handling pet store animals or after touching animal cages or bedding.

If your pet dies soon after you buy it, it could have been ill with a disease that could also make people sick. Tell the pet store and do not reuse the cage until it has been cleaned and disinfected.

Tips for Preventing Salmonella from Rodents

• Washing hands with soap and water after handling rodents or their cages and bedding is the most important thing you can do to reduce the risk of Salmonella transmission.
• When cleaning up droppings from your pet, always wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Young children, especially those younger than five years old, should be closely supervised when cleaning cages and should wash their hands immediately following handling rodent feces.
• Do not eat food or smoke while handling your pet.
• Do not handle pets in food preparation areas.
• Do not kiss your pet or hold it close to your mouth.

More information is available on the CDC Web site. Learn more about keeping yourself and your pet healthy by visiting CDCs Healthy Pets Healthy People web page.