How to Stop Your Rat's Congestion

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Nearly all pet rats carry a bacterium called Mycoplasma pulmonis that normally lives in the mucosal cells of their respiratory tract. While mycoplasma is typically inactive, in some rats the bacterium causes a respiratory congestion that leads to pneumonia. Clinical symptoms of sneezing, nasal congestion, eye squinting and face and/or ear rubbing increase as the rat ages, according to the Rat Health Guide. As the disease progresses, signs may include “rattling moist breath sounds, labored breathing, gasping, chattering and coughing.” Because mycoplasma disease is considered chronic, it is important that owners learn how to alleviate the symptoms and keep their pet rats comfortable.

Things You'll Need

  • Medicine dropper
  • Prescribed veterinary antibiotics
  • Respiratory humidifier
  • Towel
  • Clean bedding
  • Heating pad or heating lamp

Have your rat examined by your veterinarian. The vet may take a nasal culture to determine if mycoplasma is causing your pet’s disease and recommend the appropriate medications.

Use a medicine dropper to administer the proper dose of veterinary antibiotics for as long as your veterinarian recommends.

Shelter your rat’s cage by placing it in a warm room away from drafts.

Direct humidified air from a respiratory humidifier into your pet’s cage by tenting both the cage and humidifier with a towel.

Clean the cage and replace bedding daily. The ammonia smell of old urine irritates the rat’s respiratory tract and exacerbates the infection.

Consider separating your rat from his cage mates so he won't have to compete for food.

Place a heating pad or heating lamp set on low in your pet rat's cage, close to the sleeping area, to keep him comfortable.

Tips & Warnings

  • The Rat and Mouse Club of America recommends giving your rat liquid echinacea at regular intervals to boost his immune system.
  • If you don’t have a respiratory humidifier, take your rat in his cage with you into your bathroom when you shower so he can get the benefits of the steam.
  • Give your rat his medicine in baby food if you find it difficult to administer with a medicine dropper.
  • Because rats with respiratory issues tend to stop eating and lose weight quickly, it may become necessary for you to force-feed your rat a high-calorie, high-protein food like baby food using a syringe without a needle.
  • You may need to administer subcutaneous fluids if your rat develops diarrhea and becomes dehydrated; long-term antibiotics tend to irritate the digestive system. Dehydration is considered a veterinary emergency in pet rats.

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  • "A Technician's Guide to Exotic Animal Care;" T.N. Tully, Jr. DVM, Mark A. Mitchell, DVM; 2001
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