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Question
Hi, I recently emailed Natasha, but she said it would be best to email you too. So here is my forwarded message. Thanks.
Hope you are well. I have a rat dilemma. I think my rat has a pituitary tumor but I'm hoping it's an infection! He has been on baytril for sometime for suspected myco but as I have been on a placement for Uni in another city for 4 months my dad has been looking after my rats for me. Unfortunately my dad has not been doing his job properly and my rats have been a bit neglected and I'm not sure they had baytril regularly! I was very angry when I've been to see them. But anyway, my hairless rat had a sebaceous cyst on his shoulder which grew to almost 1cm wide even though I took him to a vet. So I came home on Friday, haven't been able to see my rats for 3 weeks and two of them are fine.. But fat.. But my poor little Ripper the hairless one was sitting in his house looking skinny, dirty, had the big cyst and was covered in scratches all over his back where the other rats have beaten him up! I separated him from the other two as he looked scared of them, split the cage into two so he can still smell them. I saw he was looking very ill and was dragging his front feet a bit on his knuckles, and he is walking a bit funny as if he's gone a bit blind and limp and so I thought it may be an infection from the cyst. So I squeezed it. This all was fine and seemed not to be infected. Didnt smell. But now he doesn't seem any better. I took him to the vet, the vet had no clue what was wrong and ended up cutting my rat accidentally! Long story! so I asked for some metacam to reduce swelling if his brain is swelling and pain and got more baytril. Rat is on 0.20ml baytril twice a day. Weighs 460 g. And I gave him one tiny drop of metacam for the last two days. Should i stop metacam after 3 days as i read?I heard pituitary tumors shrink with prednisone?steroid but I am reluctant to give this as I had a rat a few years ago who had a massive seizure after taking this (at correct dose) and died. Or what about carbolene? Oh and if anyone reads this beware as the vet told me to give 10 - 20 drops of metacam! Luckily I read the instructions in the packet and realised that he only needed 1 drop! Always check before giving drugs! Also my rat has enlarged front nails, they look wider but not longer than normal and he feels very cold. He is about 1.3 years old. Thanks I can't seem to find a decent vet so really need help. Sorry it's such a long message. Steph

Answer
Hi Steph,
I'm so sorry that it sounds like your hairless rat might have a pituitary tumor. He's pretty young to have one, though. I think a more likely diagnosis would be a secondary infection, and maybe even meningitis, although it is very rare. I recommend asking the vet to put him on chloremphenical, a strong antibiotic that can enter the brain, for 2 weeks to see if that helps.  If you don't seem improvement within a few day, then I recommend switching to amoxicillin.  See more info below.  I hope you can find the right treatment for him.  Also see the info below on giving him powdered soy infant formula.

One drop of Metacam is not nearly enough for rats. That is the dog dose, which has to be really low. The Metacam dose I recommend for rats is 0.6 to 1.5 ml/lb twice a day (when the concentration is 1.5 mg/ml). Since 0.1 ml is about 2 1/2 drops, the vet's dose of 10-20 drops was actually correct! So he might actually be a decent rat vet. See more info below. Also, it is not necessary to stop Metacam after 3 days. You can use it as long as it is needed, as long as it is given with food.

I have used prednisone in many many rats and never had a serious problem with it. It's unfortunate that you had a rat who was apparently allergic to it. Please don't let this turn you off using prednisone when it is called for.  
Deb

The best supplement for rats who aren’t eating well or who are losing weight is powdered soy infant formula from the grocery store.  (The liquid form goes bad too fast.)  The brand doesn’t matter because they’re all about the same (Wal-mart's store brand is cheapest).  They contain pretty much all the nutrients a baby needs, and they are 50% fat, so they help put the weight back on them fast.

Mix a little of the powder in water, pedialyte, or juice.  You can mix it as thick or as thin as you need to.  Thick encourages intake of nutrients and can be fed off your finger, thin encourages intake of fluids.  Most rats love it and will lick it out of a little dish. You can also give it with an eyedropper or syringe. You can also soak or mix ground rat blocks in it.

The infant formula is nearly a complete diet for rats. The only nutrients the formula is short on for rats is the B vitamins.  When giving the formula longterm, add enough liquid vitamin B complex supplement to supply 1 mcg of B12 to each scoop of formula, or you can add ¼ Tablespoon of nutritional yeast (available at health food stores) per scoop of powder.  If your rat doesn’t like it, try adding a tiny drop of vanilla extract or other flavoring.  If that doesn’t work, try adding some whipped cream or ice cream.

If the formula is pretty much all your rat is eating, give one scoop of the powder in the morning and another scoop at night.  One scoop a day is enough if the rat is eating other foods.


Metacam Dose by Debbie Ducommun
I have been doing some research on the best dose of Metacam for rats. The dose most vets prescribe for rats is too low. Metacam (generic name meloxicam) is an NSAID, and therefore works the same way as ibuprofen. The liquid sold by vets is for dogs, and since dogs do not metabolize NSAIDs well, the dog dose is very low (only 0.1 mg/lb). Rats metabolize NSAIDs very well, in fact, so well that the dose of ibuprofen for inflammation in rats is 60 mg/lb 2-4 times a day. (Exotic Animal Formulary, AAHA, 1995, 2001 and Drug Dosage in Laboratory Animals, 3rd ed. Borchard et al, 1990)

By comparing the human dose of ibuprofen to that for rats, and then looking at the human dose of meloxicam (which is 7.5 to 15 mg a day), it appears that the best dose of Metacam for rats is 1 to 2.25 mg/lb. Since the concentration of the Metacam liquid is 1.5 mg/ml, a 1-lb rat would need 0.6 to 1.5 ml. In addition, although meloxicam is only given once a day to humans and dogs, because the rat’s metabolism is so much higher, it needs to be given more often to rats. I recently talked with a rat owner giving Metacam to a rat with severe pain, and she reports that once a day was not often enough.

Amoxicillin
For a rat who is sick, no matter the symptoms, amoxicillin is the first treatment I recommend.  Secondary infections, which can include respiratory symptoms, lethargy, poor appetite, and other symptoms, are common in rats, especially young rats and those from pet shops. Older rats can also get secondary infections on top of mycoplasma. In my experience, amoxicillin is the best treatment for secondary infections in rats.  Amoxicillin capsules are good to have on hand for secondary infections, which can get very severe very quickly, killing a rat in a matter of hours or days, and require immediate treatment.  Amoxicillin is also best for skin infections. (However, amoxicillin does not work against mycoplasma. For that I recommend doxycycline, and maybe also Baytril.)

All vets will have amoxicillin, and you can also get amoxicillin over the counter as aquarium fish capsules from some feed stores and specialty aquarium stores. Call the stores in your area and ask before driving there.  Do NOT tell them you are buying it for your rats!  It is legal for them sell it over the counter only for fish.  You will not find it at Petco, PetSmart, etc.  If you can’t find amoxicillin, you can use ampicillin which is basically the same thing, it just isn’t absorbed as well, so just double the dose to 20 mg/lb twice a day.

Some vets won’t prescribe amoxicillin for rats because they learn in vet school that you can't give amoxicillin to hamsters or guinea pigs (it will kill them) so they sometimes generalize this to all rodents.  But amoxicillin is fine for rats and mice, whose digestive systems are very different from quinea pigs and hamsters.  I use it all the time.  (For more about getting your vet to prescribe amoxicillin, see the info at the bottom.)

Rarely you will have an individual who will be allergic or sensitive to amoxicillin, and the most common side effect is diarrhea.  In most cases, this diarrhea is mild enough to be controlled with probiotics (good bacteria for the intestines) but if the diarrhea is severe it will stop when you discontinue the treatment with amoxicillin.

You can order amoxicillin capsules from www.aquaticpharmacy.com. If your rat is already sick, be sure to ask for overnight delivery!

You can also get amoxicillin mail order from Jedd’s Pigeon Supplies at 800-659-5928.  Ask for Greg, and be sure to order CAPSULES.  Also, you can get it from Doctors Fosters & Smith, 800-826-7206.  Order the capsules for aquarium fish, item #CD-18876.  (Please note that they sometimes change the item number, so just search for amoxicillin in the fish department.)  

You need to know about how much your rat weighs.  The dose is 10 mg/lb twice a day but you can safely go as high as 50 mg/lb.  In most cases (check the package) each amoxicillin capsule contains 250 mg, which is 25  1-lb doses.  

If you have access to small syringes for measuring you can mix the amoxicillin in a liquid.  Amoxicillin does not dissolve but forms a suspension.  The powder will sink to the bottom, so before taking out a dose, you need to stir the mixture with the syringe extremely well, being sure to scrape up all the powder off the bottom so it is in suspension.

Mix one capsule of 250 mg amoxicillin in 7.5 ml of liquid such as Ensure or slightly diluted Hershey’s strawberry syrup. (If you have 500 mg capsules, use twice the amount of flavoring: 15 ml.) A small pill bottle is about the right size to mix it in.  Keep in the refrigerator.  Amoxicillin doesn’t taste too bad to most rats and most rats will eagerly lick this right from the tip of the syringe.  The normal dose is 0.3 ml/lb twice a day.  (Note: 1 cc = 1 ml = 100 units on an insulin syringe, so 0.3 ml = 30 units.)  You can go as high as 5 times that normal dose if necessary, and it’s a good idea to give a double dose the first time.

If your rat won’t take the amoxicillin mixture voluntarily, you can make the dose 0.1 ml which is too small for them to spit out when you put it in the back of their mouth.  Mix one capsule with 2.5 ml of flavoring. Then the dose is only 0.1 ml/lb twice a day.

If you don’t have small syringes, you can mix it in food.  Dump a capsule out on a plate.  If it is granular, grind it to a powder.  Divide the powder in half, and half again, etc.  Until you have 24 piles. Since it’s hard to divide it more than this, you can give the 1-lb dose to rats who weigh less than a pound.   It’s better to give too much than not enough.  Scrape a pile into a little bit of food such as baby food, mashed avocado, etc.  

Give the dose twice a day.  If it's going to work the symptoms should improve within 2-3 days.  If it does work you need to continue the treatment for at least 2-3 weeks.  If it doesn’t work then you need to try a different treatment.  

If this treatment is going to help you should see improvement within 2-3 days.  If the symptoms are all gone within 3 days you should continue the treatment for 3 weeks.  If it takes longer for all the symptoms to go away, give it for 4-8 weeks and maybe longer.  The longer it takes for all the symptoms to go away, the longer you should continue the treatment.  If the symptoms stop improving, or if the amoxicillin doesn't help at all, you will need to try something else.

You can buy 100 ml of 10% oral generic Baytril (enrofloxacin but they call it Enroxil) from Jedd's Pigeon Supply for $40 plus shipping.  The dose for a 1-lb rat is 0.1 ml, which means that 100 ml is 1000 rat doses!  Very economical.   You need to give it twice a day.  Do not refrigerate the Baytril!
I’ve had the best luck giving it in in 4-6 ml of a product such as strawberry Ensure or Boost in a baby food jar lid, or in 1/8 teaspoon of the soy baby formula powder, making a paste.  It helps if you put the baby food jar lid on a small magnet to help keep your rat from tipping it over.  

Jedd’s Pigeon Supplies is 800-659-5928. If you order by phone ask for Greg. When ordering, just ask for the 10% Enroxil.  Do not say “for my rats” because it is available without a prescription for pigeons only.  Greg is cool about it though.  You can also order it on their website at http://www.jedds.com/StoreFront.bok. If ordering online, order item #5002.  It won’t say it’s Baytril, as they keep it quiet.

You can also get doxycycline capsules from Jedd's.  Ask for Greg.  Be sure to ask for CAPSULES otherwise they will send loose powder.  It will cost about $35 for 100 capsules of 100 mg each plus shipping.  Don’t say “It is for my rats.”  You can only buy them over the counter for birds. However, Greg is very cool about it.

To mix doxycycline capsules:

In a small pill bottle, put 12 cc (12 ml) of liquid such as Hershey’s strawberry syrup.  Open and dump in the contents of one 100 mg doxycycline capsule.  Stir well.  The amount for the typical dose of 2.5 mg/lb is 0.3 ml/lb (0.3 cc or 30 units on an insulin syringe) twice a day.  For 5 mg/lb give twice that.  To use an insulin syringe for oral dosing, break off the whole needle assembly.  Be sure to refrigerate the mixture.

If you don’t have the proper syringes for dosing, dump the capsule out on small plate and divide the powder into 40 equal piles.  (Divide in half, then in half again, etc.)  Each pile is a dose and can be scraped into soft food.

You will find more info about treating respiratory infections on my website at www.ratfanclub.org on the Rat Info page.  I also highly recommend you order my Rat Health Care booklet.  It is only $7 plus $2 shipping (CA residents add 58 cents tax.)  The address is Rat Fan Club, 857 Lindo Lane, Chico CA 95973.


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Concerning amoxicillin and veterininarians:  Many vets don’t want to use amoxicillin on rats.  This is probably because in vet school they learn that amoxicillin can’t be used in guinea pigs, rabbits or hamsters (because it kills the good bacteria in their intestines), and they probably generalize this to rats and mice.  However, rats and mice usually tolerate amoxicillin quite well.  In my experience only a very small percentage of them will get diarrhea from it, and this is not life-threatening; it will usually clear up with a probiotic, or the amoxicillin can be stopped.

Here are some references for using amoxicillin in rats for your vet to check if they are reluctant to prescribe amoxicillin:

Exotic Animal Formulary, Third Edition, James W. Carpenter, MS, DVM editor, Elsevier Saunders Publishing
Page 377, Antimicrobial and antifungal agents used in rodents.
Ampicillin for mice and rats: dosage 20-50 mg/kg PO, SC, IM q12h
(Note: ampicillin and amoxicillin have essentially the same adverse reactions and effectiveness, so they can be used interchangeably)

ViN (Veterinary Information Network, Inc.) Website

Thomas Donnelly, BVSc on 02/05/2006  “Amoxicillin is safe to give rats.”

Johanna Briscoe, VMD, on 07/08/2004  “I have used Clavamox liquid in a rat and it worked beautifully on an abscess that I thought may have been from a bite….  Clavamox dose same as in other mammals—13.75 mg/kg PO BID.”
(Note: Clavamox is the brand name for a mixture of amoxicillin and clavulanic acid.)

Elizabeth Mitchell on 06/01/2007  “I have used Clavamox a few times in rats without problems, although I am always very careful to warn owners to watch for diarrhea.  I  generally have gone with a dose more similar to dogs and cats (20-30 mg/kg BID) but if you search on PubMed you will find all sorts of much higher doses.”
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Debbie Ducommun

Expertise

I can answer any questions about pet rats, but you will probably be able find answers to simple questions more quickly on my website at www.ratfanclub.org/helpfinfo.html. If you have a life-threatening emergency you can try calling me at 530-899-0605. I am not usually on the computer on the weekend.

Experience

I have been "The Rat Lady" since 1985 and am recognized as one of the world's experts on pet rats. I have 3 published books and already answer lots of questions about rats daily.

Organizations
President of Rat Assistance & Teaching Society

Publications
I am a monthly columnist for Pet Business magazine, and my writing has appeared in other magazines. I have 3 published books.

Education/Credentials
BA in Animal Behavior

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