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Pet Rats/Respiratory Issues


I have a female rat that is pregnant and I've had her for going on 2 years on June 28th. She recently started sneezing and now it has become a deep cough and very loud wheezing, with what looks like blood discharge from her nose which just started this morning. She is eating and drinking but just by looking at her she is very tired and not her playful active self. I am in the process of making a vet appointment due to the severe change in her health but I would like to know if there is anything I could possible do to jump start her immune system and ease some of the pain.
Thank you for your help!!!

I'm going to provide you with some information about treating respiratory distress and also information about what to do regarding lethargy.  This information is taken from a trusted source that is experienced in rat care. I am hoping that your vet is skilled in treating rats so that he will know what to do as treating a pregnant female may be quite different than a non-pregnanat one.

Respiratory Distress:
A rat can experience respiratory distress without any warning, whether or not she has had previous respiratory symptoms.  The signs of respiratory distress are gasping through the mouth, or dashing about in a panic.  Severe labored breathing can also be considered respiratory distress. The rat may or may not have blue extremities.  Respiratory distress is extremely unpleasant—one of the most distressing experiences there is—and must be treated immediately.  
One of the first things to try is to get the rat to breathe air moistened by a humidifier or a shower running in the bathroom.  You can also boil water on the stove, but do not let the rat inhale the steam directly, as that can burn the lungs.  Hold the rat at least 3' away from the steam.
If the rat is still having trouble breathing, and the problem is constricted breathing passages (like asthma) a bronchodilator will help.  The best treatment is a subcutaneous (subQ) injection of aminophylline, which will expand the breathing passages.  In most cases, this will stop the respiratory distress within a matter of minutes.  It is also recommended that the rat be given a subQ injection of dexamethasone to reduce inflammation in the lungs.  If dexamethasone isn’t available, you can give ibuprofen at 60 mg/lb twice a day.
If aminophylline isn’t available, you can try an asthma inhaler. You can buy one called Primatene Mist at a drug store without a prescription.  Take a empty cardboard toilet paper roll and put the inhaler on one end and the other over the rat’s face. Put one puff of the medication in the tube.  Try to keep the rat there for as long as possible to make sure she inhales the medicine.  
If a bronchodialator doesn’t help within 15 minutes, you can try an injection of furosemide, a diuretic that will quickly flush excess fluid out of the lungs.  
If none of these treatments work, the rat must be put in oxygen.  If the rat doesn’t improve on oxygen it means her lungs are no longer able to work and she should be euthanized.  If the rat does improve on oxygen, then you have some time to wait for other medications to work.  
Once you get the rat out of respiratory distress, she should be put on both amoxicillin and Baytril.  She may need continued treatment twice a day with aminophylline, an anti-inflammatory (either prednisone or an NSAID), furosemide, and perhaps even enalapril and atenolol.

  Lethargy in rats is a serious symptom that needs immediate attention.  Give your rat a full exam to look for other signs, especially dehydration and lumps in the abdomen.  Even if your rat is not dehydrated, he might have low blood sugar or an electrolyte imbalance.  Try to get him to drink some juice, a sports drink, or sugar water with a pinch of salt.  If your rat is dehydrated, try to get him to drink 1-2 ounces.  If he refuses to drink, warmed saline solution for injections must be given under the skin.
One rare cause of lethargy is pesticide poisoning.  This will also cause the pupils to be constricted so they do not expand in the dark.  If your home has recently been sprayed with pesticides you’ll need to rush your rat to the vet for an injection of atropine.
If the sugary drink does not cause your rat to improve within 30 minutes, it is very important that your rat be treated with amoxicillin ASAP.  One of the main causes of lethargy in rats is a secondary bacterial infection.  Mycoplasma is the primary bacterial infection in most rats but does not usually cause symptoms of lethargy.  In my experience (of over 23 years) the best treatment for secondary infections in rats is amoxicillin.  Baytril, which most vets prescribe for rats, is not as effective for most cases of secondary infection in rats, and doxycycline, which can be quite effective in treating mycoplasma, is absolutely not effective for secondary infections.  I know of many many cases of rats who seemed to be dying who recovered within just a day or two of treatment with amoxicillin, while I also know of many cases of rats who died within 12-24 hours of exhibiting lethargy that went untreated.  For this reason, I recommend that all rat owners have amoxicillin capsules on hand.  For more information on using amoxicillin see

Hopefully this information will help you to treat your girl temporarily prior to your vet visit.  I wish you and your girl the very best.

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Irene Murphy


I can answer a variety of questions regarding adoption and care of pet rats throughout their lifetimes, including questions about their health and well being, temperment, diet, bedding, cages, toys, etc. I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability in a timely manner and I have an abundant amount of resources to help me to help you with your pet rats. I love rattie pictures, so include pics with your question if you can. You may ask me medical questions, but please be advised that I am not a vet. I may use my resources to answer some medical questions, however, I will need to refer you to your local vet with medical questions that I feel I am not qualified to address.


I have been a huge rat enthusiast for many years. Since becoming a rat owner, I have educated myself in all areas of pet rats from every resource I could find including the internet, books, conversations with local exotic vets, as well as several local rat breeders.

I have a college degree but not in the area of animals. I have obtained my extensive experience and knowlege of pet rats all on my own because in my eyes, pet rats are the most interesting and fascinating creatures you can ever imagine to have as pets. I also am saddened by how mislabeled and misunderstood these amazing and extremely smart animals are by the majority, and my mission in life has become to educate and change as many people's perceptions of rats as I possibly can.

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