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Pet Rats/rat shaking head periodically sneezing


I'll try to keep it on topic but want to give as much info to give you a better picture of our situation.
Back in May 2011 we adopted two rats from the humane society. They were abandoned in their parking lot.Now they did not know a lot about rats, I say this because they told us they were boys and just until recently did I finally confirm my suspicions they are actually females. They also told us they were 10 months old by the teeth.I can't trust this estimate just by the sexing aspect. I bring all this up because our brown girl died back in June and she was a lot bigger than our girl we have now. She died in a day of becoming sick. We never even knew she was acting sick until it was too late. I feel horrible that we couldn't have taken her pain away by putting her down.
Which makes me hyper vigilant about my babies now, back to our baby Mrs.White. When Mrs.Brown died we wanted to get our baby a friend. We took a really long time doing this. We finally adopted another rat from the humane society, a baby at 2months old. She was all alone so I picked her. Our rat was not having fun already due to being hauled to the original humane society to have them correctly sex her as we almost got a boy rat. I kept saying ours are missing some special features if you catch my drift.  ;-)
We brought her there and back which was over 2hrs in the car. She wasn't happy. Then we bring a baby into the mix and she was even more unhappy. To add more drama to her life we split the cage in half. We had two cages put together. Each cage is 2ft L by 2ft W and 3ftH. Our baby just gets to run out of her cage pretty much the whole day so we didn't think she'd be to mad.Boy was I wrong! She started acting sick, just depressed really. I brought her to the vet & told them I honestly think she's mad about the other rat, which btw we adooted ANOTHER rat for her. Totally was not the plan! This new rat was listed alone but when we drove 2hrs one way to get her there were 2 rats & we decided to just get the one-I know its bad to split them but I can't have that many rats-we only wanted 2.I was concerned that having 2 against the 1 we had at our home would be a bad combo if they bullied her.So we brought her home and I really wanted to know more about her history as it was all mixed up when we picked her up. Turns out they split a whole box full of rats that were abandoned in a high school parking lot with their mother. We adopted Rosie and then Rocky a week later at two different places and they turned out to be sisters! I asked them to hold the other girl as that made my heart ache, but she had been adopted right after we left. Now I had brought Rocky into the vet because she was extremely stressed out. I had to use a gel for her eyes and put drops in their water. She's completely healed and allows my girls to play with her now with no problems.
With all this going on I was super worried about Mrs.White. Back to bringing her to the vet, he said she's in perfect health. Aside from some cataracts and a healed scratch on her other eye which he had prescribed her drops about 1.5yrs ago, everything looked great. I also mentioned to him that her back legs/feet shake, more of a twitching really and she's been sneezing more often. He again said she's in great health. That degenerative diseases happen in older rats, which she looked to be around 3.5yrs to him. No tumors, no noises in her lungs and her ability to use her legs was perfect. I begged him to give her some pain meds, I just don't want ber to suffer. He did. We gave her one dose and have decided against that. Before I brought her in I had given ber baby advil but this stuff was making her super weird.
She refused the dropper when I put it to her face the 2nd time. I just wanted to see her reaction.

I know in my heart that she's acting different. So after I brought her home about 3days later she has a whole bunch of the red stuff in her hammock. She only has a bit in her nose but I never see it otherwise. She is still sneezing but a whole new thing started. She shakes her head and often. Digs in her ears mostly her right ear.I called my vet up and told him about this and I said I think its an ear infection. He prescribed smx. She's been on it for 5days now and is not stopping with any of the symptoms. Shaking her head digging and scratching her ears. My son was itching her ear and said he felt ear wax. Can I put hydrogen peroxide in her ears like I do for my kids to get it out? Will this medication do the trick and when should it kick in? She does NOT like taking medicine, almost more than she hates baths. She is however back to being her cuddly self even curling up onto my hubby's shoulder and sleeping there. She never has cared for him much. She loves laying in our laps.
One more thing, sbould I force some pain meds in her for the pain? I know she hates the stuff but she is shaking a lot and if it were me or my kids I'd give a pain med to make the pain stop.

I've looked everywhere for answers and am so grateful I found this site! Hopefully I can get somewhere with her symptoms to know my next step to take. I don't know anything about rats so this is very welcomed help!

Hi Jill,
First, I never use SMX in rats because I think amoxicillin works much better. I'll attach more info below about that. Since the SMX doesn't seem to be helping, I say stop it.  Does her ear stink?  Because if it doesn't stink, then it's probably not infected. Yes, you can use the peroxide in her ear for wax.  Why don't you do that and then we'll see how she behaves.

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 doesn’t 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 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 and doxycycline capsules from 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.  

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 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 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.

You can normally also get doxycycline capsules from Currently there is a world-wide shortage of doxycycline capsules, so instead you can get doxy tablets from Jedds Pigeon Supply.
To mix doxycycline capsules (or crushed tablets):

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 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 If ordering online, order item #5002.  It won’t say it’s Baytril, as they keep it quiet.

You will find more info about treating respiratory infections on my website at 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.

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


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 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.


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.

President of Rat Assistance & Teaching Society

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

BA in Animal Behavior

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