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Our Experience - Respiratory Disease in Rats
Contributed by Jason Hulott
 Related Resources
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Respiratory disease is a horrible disease, and one of the most common causes of death in pet rats. While we certainly do not profess to be vets, we have had lots of experience of dealing with this 'curse'.

Also, many fellow rat lovers we talk to have often lost a pet rat due to respiratory problems, despite having seen their vet. However, often the vet has limited experience in dealing with respiratory problems and their treatment may not be aggressive enough to cure or send the problem into remission.

Here we highlight how we treat our rats - all treatments and methods are approved and under supervision by our own vet. Under NO circumstances are we suggesting you go out and try these treatments and methods without first consulting your vet..it's just that these tried and tested treatments may give your vet other avenues to try when treating your pet rat.

As a rat rescue, whenever we rehome rats, we make sure the new homers are fully aware of what it is; what to look out for; and what to do next.

There are different strains of the disease, but basically it is something all domestic rats are born with. It can lay dormant until something triggers it off - stress, poor husbandry, or simply nothing. We often see it in rats where their cage mate has died and the survivor is grieving.

It can be fatal, or a rat can live with it, but may experience lung damage or an abscess may develop on the lung which could eventually kill it.

Or, a rat can be 'cured' and go onto to a live and a full and healthy life. Some rats may experience a permanent head tilt from the infection, but adapt easily (such as our very first rat, Baz, who died a very old rat from old age. When he arrived at CavyRescue, he had a head tilt due to respiratory disease).

The symptoms can come out of nowhere..one minute your rat is fine, the next day, the symptoms are there:

  • noisy breathing - you may first hear it when they sleep
  • a rattling or watery sound when they breathe/move around
  • excessive sneezing accompanied with red staining around the eyes and/or nose
  • lethargy and loss of appetite
  • If your rat shows any of these symptoms, get them to your vet as soon as possible. The earlier you start treatment, the better prognosis for your rat.

Some vets recommend putting antibiotics in the rat's drinking water. However, you cannot guarantee that the rat will get enough of the antibiotic in their system this way, and as it is watered down, it does lose it's potency.

Also, rats do 'pee' a lot, so the antibiotics will move through their system too fast to do a lot of good.

We administer oral Baytril twice a day to the affected rat, either via syringe or, if they refuse or get stressed, we syringe it into a small piece of bread, cheese, jam or similar. (Anything to mask the taste).

This we do twice day for a week. We normally see an improvement after 3 days.

If this doesn't work, we nebulise the rat. Depending on the severity of the problem, we start off 3 - 4 times a day for the first three days, dropping down to 2 - 3 times for another four.

By putting them into a nebulising chamber, they are breathing in ONLY the treatment, meaning it can get right into the system and, hopefully, deal with the problem. We use injectable Baytril with in water. For a more aggressive treatment, we use Tylan (a drug used to treat a similar bacteria in birds) with of water.

We have also started using a drug called Zithromax. It is administered once a day, orally, for three days, then it stays in the system for up to 10 days, attacking the bacteria.


Otis, a big, brown 9 month old rat who suddenly developed a severe respiratory infection that antibiotics could not shift. You could hear him 'rattling' from the room next door and we genuinely believed we would lose him.

At the same time our wonderful vet put Otis on his nebuliser 3 times a day for a week. Now, Otis is back home with his brothers and is absolutely perfect. Since then, several other of our rats have been treated successfully by being 'nebulised'.

Oral Baytril administered by mouth or in the food:
Kojak, Luther, Stripe...our list of rats who we have successfully treated this way goes on and on. (Remember, we run a rescue so have rats coming out of our ears!)

As soon as a rat shows symptoms of respiratory disease, we start them on a course of oral Baytril. In 80% of these cases, after a week on antibiotics, no further treatment is needed. The other 20% go on to be nebulised.

We are fairly new to using this treatment, but we have heard many glowing reports about it from other rat lovers.

We hope this has helped. Please feel free to show your vet this as it may give him or her other ideas on treating this nasty disease.
It is no way intended to undermine your vet's recommendations for treatment or expertise...these are just different ideas that they may find helpful.


Contributed by Jason Hulott. For more information see the Cavy Rescue Site. If your vet is unsure about dosing for these drugs, some the doses used by Cavy Rescue are given on their site in the Respiratory Disease Article.

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