The Pet Directory Smal Animal Article - Rats & Respiratory Disease

As published in The Pet Directory NSW & ACT Edition
by Michelle Marquardt - BVSc(Hons) MRCVS
Sydney Animal Hospital - Newtown

Rats make great pets; they’re intelligent, social and very rewarding to keep. But, like any animal, they can develop health problems which require prompt veterinary attention to avoid serious illness.

In our practice, the most common problem we see in rats is respiratory disease. This is usually in the form of chronic respiratory disease or acute pneumonia. Affected rats may snuffle and sneeze, make noise as they breathe, lose weight and secrete red porphyrins from their eyes and nose (a general sign of stress). Some rats can become very ill very quickly.

Infections can involve both bacteria and viruses, often together. Viruses don’t respond to antibiotics, and the most commonly involved bacterium, Mycoplasma pneumonae, is often not eliminated despite long courses of medication. Despite this, most rats respond well to a combination of antibiotics. A visit to your vet for a checkup and possibly medication is vital if your rat is showing any of the signs listed above.

A lot of apparently healthy rats are carriers of the bacteria and viruses that cause respiratory problems, and rats who have recovered post antibiotics are always at risk of relapsing. The best thing you can do to ensure your rats stay healthy is to minimise the sorts of stresses that help the disease to take hold in the first place.
Ensure good air quality. Ammonia buildup in cages is a big factor in respiratory disease. Change bedding (including that in nests) at least twice a week and ensure the cage is well ventilated. Avoid overcrowding.
• Feed a balanced diet. Respiratory problems have been linked to deficiencies in vitamin A and E and a rat who’s run down due to poor diet is at risk from all types of disease. A good quality rat cube should contain everything your rat needs (protein levels in the cubes should be 20-27%). This can be supplemented by occasional healthy treats such as vegetables and some nuts and seeds, but don’t overdo it. Avoid mixes; rats tend to pick out the tasty bits and leave the rest.
• Avoid obesity. Overweight rats are more prone to disease and have more trouble recovering once they become ill.
• Watch for red tears or nasal secretions. These are a sign that your rats are stressed. If you’re seeing them, look for the reason why.
As a general rule, if you’re worried talk to your vet; good management and early intervention are the keys to maintaining your rats in good health.


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