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Question
I have a 1.5 year old pet rat who I noticed has been sneezing a lot and as of last night started having a rattling sound to her breathing. The rattling noise doesn't happen very often, just occasionally when she is sleeping, but it is still worrying. I also feel as though she hasn't been eating as much as of late but I'm not sure if I'm just being paranoid, because she doesn't appear to have lost any weight.
I made an appointment with the vet yesterday but they are booked up till Christmas Eve. I'm just worried that her condition could worsen in that period. She had a sister who died of pneumonia a few months ago (4?) and her sister went from just sneezing to extremely ill in only a few days. I was just wondering if you had any advice on how I can keep her as healthy as possible until the vet sees her, because I really don't want for the vet to tell me that it's too late.

Thank you :)

Answer
Hi Grace,
You cannot wait a week before treating your rat with antibiotics. She may die. She needs to be put on amoxicillin ASAP. Try calling them back and tell them is a matter of life or death. I don't know if there is any other way of getting the amoxicillin there. Here in the U.S. we can buy amoxicillin over-the-counter for fish.  See more info below. Unfortunately, I don't think they will send the amoxi out of the U.S.
Deb

For a rat who is sick, no matter the symptoms, amoxicillin is the first treatment I recommend. This is because amoxicillin is best for secondary infections, which can get very severe very quickly, killing a rat in a matter of hours or days, and require immediate treatment. Baytril is not always effective for secondary infections, so if you try it first, the could die. Therefore, I recommend all rat owners have amoxicillin on hand. If the amoxicillin doesnít work within 2-3 days, then you can try doxycycline or Baytril for mycoplasma, which is a slow chronic disease, so you usually have more time for treatment. Secondary infections can cause respiratory symptoms (but not always), lethargy, poor appetite, and other symptoms, and are common in rats, especially young rats and those from pet shops. Older rats can also get secondary infections on top of mycoplasma. Amoxicillin is also best for abscesses.

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 canít find amoxicillin, you can use ampicillin which is basically the same thing, it just isnít absorbed as well, so just double the dose to 20 mg/lb twice a day.

Some vets wonít 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 and doxycycline 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 Jeddís Pigeon Supplies at 800-659-5928.  Ask for Greg, and be sure to order CAPSULES.  

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 (a 1 ml syringe or insulin syringes with the top broken off) 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 flavoring such as Ensure or slightly diluted Hersheyís 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 doesnít 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 itís a good idea to give a double dose the first time.

If your rat wonít 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 donít 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 itís hard to divide it more than this, you can give the 1-lb dose to rats who weigh less than a pound.   Itís 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 doesnít work then you need to try a different treatment.  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 doxycycline instead.

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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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