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QUESTION: My daughter's pet rat was being a little noisy for about a week but otherwise seemed fine. On Tuesday morning we saw her sides were heaving and she was gasping occasionally, and we made an appointment to take her to the vet. Until the morning of the vet appointment, she was otherwise acting fine -- running around, eating, drinking, cuddling with her sister. Yesterday morning she ate fine but was a little more tired, and we noticed she had lost some weight. When we were at the vet, she started gasping for air and didn't stop the whole time we were there.

The vet did an x-ray on her chest and found she has very little air in there. She saw what she looks like an obstruction and said it was probably a tumor. She gave us antibiotics and steroids and sent us home with the understanding she would not be getting much better, we could just keep her comfortable, and that we might be back as soon as the following day (today) to euthanize her. My girls stayed home form school today to be with her.

The thing is, she stopped gasping as soon as we got out of the vet's office. When we got home, she hardly ate or drank or took or medicine, but she wasn't gasping, and she slept. This morning she woke up and ate and drank and had her medicine and cleaned herself and has been moving around a bit although sleeping a lot. She is still breathing heavily but not nearly as bad and not gasping. Her sides are still heaving. She would rather be in her cage than on our laps, but she is coming out a little bit.

We decided that since she was doing a little better, we would wait over the weekend and keep her comfortable. My daughter is making sure she eats and drinks regularly and keeping her comfortable and warm. The rat's sister is cuddling with her. We are keeping a bowl of steaming hot water outside her cage to help her breathe.

I want to know whether there is any chance she will actually recover fully or partially from this? I hope so for all the usual reasons, and I would also like to have an idea of whether it is more humane, at this point, for us to have her put to sleep or to wait and see what happens.

Thank you.

ANSWER: Hi Deirdre,
You didn't say how old this rat is. Also, it would be helpful for me to know what antibiotics the vet put her on. Yes, there is a chance she can get better and be comfortable if she receives the correct medications.  I would recommend she be on both amoxicillin and either doxycycline and/or Baytril.  See more info below.  Also see the article on my website at www.ratfanclub.org called Respiratory and Heart Disease, and the Respiratory Distress section under First Aid, both on the Rat Info page.
Deb

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 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 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 (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 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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---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Debbie, thank you SO much for your response.

I am having a problem with this site though --
the right side of the response is cut off. It is happening when
I type, too, which is why I am putting a hard return at the end
of every line, other wise my lines keep going and going and going, like this: (I'm going off the side...)
I also had a problem responding because the spam code is going off
the left side. Leaving and coming back is helping with that though.

So I am unfortunately missing quite a bit. I can understand some of your
response and will answer/ask you questions based on what I understand.

Hazel is almost 2. She is on Baytril. Do you suggest both
Baytril AND amoxycillin? Unfortunately our vet is closed for the weekend
and all others are unknown and far, and we only have a petsmart here. I will
see if I can get amoxycillin some other way. I hope Baytril is enough.

We are having trouble getting her to take it in the evening. She's been drinking
homemade fruit/yogurt smoothie, and I will try getting her to have some in that.

Thank you again.

Answer
I'm sorry you could not read my entire answer. Is there a way you can report
this problem to AllExperts? I have added my phone number to my profile so
people can contact me in case of emergency.

I hope Hazel was okay over the weekend. Yes, I recommended trying both
amoxicillin and Baytril, because amoxicillin treats the secondary infections
that Baytril cannot.

It's also possible that Hazel might need additional medications. I recommend
you read and print out the article called Respiratory and Heart Disease
on my website at www.ratfanclub.org on the Rat Info page and take it with you
to your vet. It lists several other medications that can help when a rat is having
respiratory distress.  Also, see the section on Respiratory Distress in the First
Aid article.
Deb

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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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