American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the WSSF 2010 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.


Rat with Cocked Head; Rat with Inner Ear Infection; Labyrinthitis in Rats
Rat with Cocked Head

Tom Moring, e-mail
Q I seek advice with one of my rats. She was put to sleep at the vet’s office today. She was about 2 years old and lived a full and productive life. I still have two of her children and one of her grand children. I could not afford the fees the vet wanted to charge to look at my rat and she could not promise or guarantee anything but could only attempt treatment, so I had my rat put down.

I really need to start treating my rats myself, as much as possible. This is where I need some advice. Cherise had a lot of red discharge coming out of her eyes. She also could not walk without falling over. She held her head cocked way to one side. I assume these symptoms indicated an inner ear infection. Towards the end she was wheezing a lot too. Can these respiratory and ear problems be treated at home? I have six more rats and I never want to go through this horrible decision making process again. Please advise.

Rat with Inner Ear Infection

Tessa Rigby, e-mail
Q I have two female rats who are approximately 9 months old. A few weeks ago I noticed one of them started to lose her co-ordination and it has gotten increasingly worse. Her head is also severely tilted to one side. We have visited the vets a few times now. Initially the vet thought it was ear mites and she was given treatment but it didn’t help. We then saw a vet again and this time the vet thought that it may be an inner ear infection. She has now been having injections every other day for 6 days but with no improvement. She is eating and drinking fine and is completely happy in herself but has lost her balance and still has the head tilt. Is there anything at all that you can think of that may help? Any help at all would be appreciated as I do not want to lose a dearly loved pet and friend.

Answer to Rat with Cocked Head and Rat with Inner Ear Infection by Carmen Jane Booth, D.V.M., Ph.D.
A With this being a two year old female rat and without necropsy results, the most likely cause of the wheezing is chronic respiratory infection (Mycoplasmosis, presumptive). For this age rat, the primary differential for a head tilt and difficulty walking are pituitary adenoma. Although the tumor is usually a benign chromophobe cell tumor, the growth impinges on important structures in the brain and eventually causes serious problems. Inner ear infections can cause a head tilt and can be diagnosed by taking a radiograph of the rat and looking for changes in the tympanic bullae. There is no treatment for pituitary tumors in rats. Early spay or neuter may result in fewer tumors as rats age; however, this is impractical in most cases. Inner ear infections can be very difficult to treat—a course of oral antibiotics and topical antibiotics can be successful. However, you have to be sure that you truly have an inner ear infection before initiating therapy and choose the appropriate medications.

Veterinary medicine is no different than human medicine, you can only give your best estimate and probabilities. The time it takes to get a history, do a physical exam are the same or longer for pocket pets. The last clinic where I did relief work in WA, gave birds and pocket pets a standard 45 minute appointment with only a $10 increase over the 30 min office visit. I understand your frustration concerning finances from both sides of the fence. Rats are small and do not cost much to own or maintain; however, veterinary costs can be very high on an individual basis. A clinic has to be profitable or it will fail and most veterinarians have to meet a minimum per client fee for a clinic to be a successful business. The cost to radiograph a rat is the same as any other pet, no matter that the pet is small. Although there are low cost clinics for dogs and cat, I do not know if any exist for rats and mice.

Answer to Rat with Inner Ear Infection by Karen Robbins
A Sounds like your rat has an inner ear infection. A lot of times they won’t recover the head tilt and will have a tilted head for the rest of their life. As long as it isn’t too bad and they can still get around, eat, drink, etc., they do fine. If it is so tilted that they roll around, there isn’t much you can do for them. Some people have tried Gentocin Otic Solution in the ear and Baytril, chloremphenicol, or gentamicin orally. Your vet would prescribe the best treatment.

Labyrinthitis in Rats

Q I have a question about certain diseases in rats. One of my rats that I just purchased (10–12 week old female) appeared to have an inner ear infection, so I made a trip to the vet and they gave me two prescriptions—one to be taken orally and the other an eye/ear drop (tobrex).

The rat had the ear infection for only a day and a half before I started administering the medicines prescribed to me by my vet (she had the head tilt). On the third day (within a time frame of 6 hours) she had become paralyzed on the left size of her body and her eye had clouded over with what looked like blood. I rushed her to the animal hospital, and they didn’t know what was wrong with her. She had to be put to rest.

Does Labyrinthitis cause death in some situations? The vet said something had attacked her body from the spinal cord, her ears looked clean, which rules out the inner ear infection. Is there a disease I am overlooking? Is it possible it is contagious to my other rats?

A Although there are details missing, I am assuming that this rat had a head tilt because of the diagnosis of an ear infection. I can’t tell if a necropsy was performed or not. Because of the small size of a rat’s head, the easiest way to diagnose an inner ear infection is by taking a radiograph and looking for changes in the tympanic bullae. If there is an abundant ear discharge with pus, than you can be sure that there is an external ear infection without a radiograph. The standard treatment for a severe inner ear infection where the animal has a head tilt (torticollis) is oral antibiotics as well as topical antibiotics in the ear canal. Without knowing the specific medications that were given, I cannot comment further if they could have contributed to the neurologic signs. The young age and progression of the symptoms to paralysis suggest that this rat had a problem in the central nervous system, not the inner ear/vestibular system. There is no way to know exactly what happened to this rat. Outside of inner ear infections, there are few causes of torticollis in 10–12 week old rats. Uncommon causes in a rat of this age include: brain tumor, meningitis, viral infection. Without doing a complete necropsy, serology, microbiology, it is impossible to know if an infectious agent, cancer, or other problem caused the death in the juvenile rat. In my experience, all non-research rodents harbor infectious diseases, it is just a matter of which ones and how severe. Carmen Jane Booth, D.V.M., Ph.D. *

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Updated March 19, 2014