Mycoplasma pulmonis is an organism that it is believed all pet rats in Australia carry. It causes respiratory problems of varying severity.
Early symptoms include snuffling, sneezing and porphyrin staining around the eyes and nose. More advanced symptoms include a rough coat and occasionally head tilting if the inner ear becomes affected, although head tilting can also be caused by stroke and and Pituitary tumours.
If left untreated an infection can take hold in the lungs, at which point more severe symptoms present. Laboured breathing, choking/gasping, hunched posture, weight loss and finally death results.
When a rat is showing mild respiratory symptoms, it is usually referred to as a flare-up. Some rats are lucky enough to never have any flare ups, but most will have at least mild flare ups throughout their life and some will live with a constant sneeze.
As Mycoplasma pulmonis is an organism with no cell wall, only certain medications will be effective against it. One of the most popular is Baytril™, I do not medicate with Baytril™ for minor snuffles as a tolerance is built up to the medication the more it is used. However, if your rat is sneezing often, with porphyrin discharge coming out of the nostrils and/or eyes, a course of Baytril™ is recommended. A course of both Baytril™ & Vibravet™ (also called doxycycline™) might be necessary in severe cases. It is important to give the full course of antibiotics to completely kill the infection.
See your vet if you are at all worried. Baytril™, and other drugs used to treat respiratory problems can only be prescribed by a vet, and are not over the counter medications.
Unfortunately tumours are not uncommon in rats, particularly mammary tumours and pituitary gland tumours. Having your does spayed prevents mammary tumours.
Some tumours that cannot be removed can be controlled with steroids. In all cases, the earlier the trip to the vet the more chance of survival.
Worms & Mites
These are very common in rodents and can be brought in on new arrivals or hidden in substrate such as chaff. Most breeders will have treated your pet prior to rehoming. Some however may not so it is a good idea to check. If you buy animals from a petshop, chances are the animals will have one or both and treatment as a precaution is highly recommended.
Revolution™ can be used to treat both worms and mites. The Kitten and Puppy pack has the lowest strength formula. The amount is best worked out by weight to ensure that you don’t under or overdose your rat.
There have been many reported deaths of both mice and rats due to the flea and mite sprays that are sold in pet shops. Should you choose to use these sprays, use with extreme causion.
An ivermectin based horse wormer can also be used, and is much cheaper than Revolution. An uncooked rice grain sized amount should be given for an adult rat. We use Equimec brand, which our rats actually eat readily meaning it does not have to be hidden in food making it much easier to dose the correct amount. Horse wormers are available from Produce stores and from Horse shops.
Cuts and abrasions
Rats heal amazingly fast due to their fast metabolism, and even deep wounds that seem to need a vet visit can be greatly improved within 24 hours. For cuts/wounds, we generally leave the rat alone and watch carefully for any sign of inflammation or infection.
In all cases the wound has healed incredibly quickly without the need for any intervention. Common sense denotes that keeping the environment the rat is kept in clean will aid in the healing of wounds.
Some rats are sensitive to protein in their diet. This manifests itself in the form of sore, itchy, scabby skin. If you find that your rat has a skin condition, try removing excess protein from his diet. If the problem is protein intolerance, you will see a marked improvement within two weeks.
It is possible to have both does and bucks neutered. Having does neutered removes the risk of an unwanted pregnancy, and it removes the risk of mammory tumours.
Bucks will become less aggressive, and lose their ‘buck grease’, leaving them with a soft clean coat. We have noted that neutered bucks are somewhat more prone to weight gain.
Bucks are still fertile for up to six weeks after being neutered, therefore do not put a neutered buck with a doe until at least six weeks after surgery.