This article is from the WSSF 2008 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
Tina, AZ, e-mail
Q I got my two rats at Christmas time from Petco. They do sneeze, not all the time, but sometimes they do it a lot. Should I get some antibiotics online? I can’t afford to take them to the vet right now. What should I give them so the condition doesn’t get worse? Thanks for your time.
Jennifer Fox, e-mail
Q I just purchased a male rat today and it has been constantly sneezing throughout the day, but it is very frisky, playful, and looks all right. I don’t know if he’s just sniffing around his new area and that makes him sneeze or what. The guy at the pet shop said I could return the rat and get a refund but I have already gotten attached to it. What should I do?
Answer to Constantly Sneezing Rat by Karen Robbins
A What type of bedding are you using? The rat should be on an aspen or paper bedding such as CareFRESH™. Do you have any strong smelling substances in your house such as perfumes, cleaning products, air deodorizers, carpet/furniture sanitizers, cigarettes, scented candles, etc.? Rats have very sensitive respiratory systems and what smells good to some people, are very irritating and harmful to rodents. He could have a respiratory problem and will need medication which requires a trip to your veterinarian. If he is on the proper bedding and you have eliminated all odors from your house and he is still sneezing in a couple days, then a trip to your vet is in order. Most pet shop rats are sick and the stress of going to a new home will bring out what illnesses they are carrying. These always require veterinary treatment to get the proper medication to get your rat better.
Answer to Rat Sneezing and Constantly Sneezing Rat by Carmen Jane Booth, D.V.M., Ph.D.
A Rats that come from pet stores are commonly infected with a number of different bacteria and sometimes also infected with viruses that can cause respiratory disease. When they are taken from the pet store and moved to a new home, this causes a great deal of stress to the rats. Although this is normal, the stress causes an increase in the release of stress-related hormones and the rats become less able to keep these bacteria (particularly Mycoplasma) in check and the result is that they develop the active signs of a respiratory infection that they already had at the pet store. Unfortunately, even with treatment, it is difficult to impossible to completely clear their respiratory tract and environment of the offending bacteria, especially Mycoplasma pulmonis. There are a number of antibiotic therapies that can help relive the symptoms of acute or chronic respiratory infection. My preference is to use either Baytril (acute) or Tylan or Tetracycline for chronic.
Baytril is often the most successful medication in calming things down. However, there is not a long term cure for this bacteria and there are reports of antibiotic resistance of Mycoplasma to various antibiotics including Baytril.
The red nasal and eye discharge seen in rats with chronic sneezing is actually mucus with a red iron-rich pigment (Porphyrin) from the Harderian gland behind the eye. Sialodachyroadenitis virus causes marked irritation to the Harderian gland. Rats with SDAV may have copious amounts of red mucous discharge from their eyes.
In general, no matter the cause, the respiratory symptoms may be lessened by keeping the cage clean, using a non pine or cedar bedding, and keeping the cage in a draft-free location. A dirty cage causes a build up of ammonia from breakdown of urea (from the urine) by bacteria. Ammonia is very irritating to the respiratory tract. Drafts and large temperature changes also exacerbate the damage caused to the respiratory tract.
As Karen mentions, rats should be kept away from secondary cigarette smoke as secondary smoke does cause cancer in rats.
Ideally, rats with acute or chronic sneezing should be examined and treated by a veterinarian experienced with rodents.