Rats by nature are generally healthy, but can be prone to things such as lump removals in does are common, sometimes neutering is needed for Bucks and both can be prone to respiratory problems.
Coat – free from white flecks (may be lice eggs), scabs-may be mites, bald patches, rough fur, thinning fur etc, should look healthy and shiny.
Nose/chest - check for redness or crusting and listen for noisy breathing.
Discharge/mucus from a rat’s nose or eyes is known as Porphyrin and is red in colour, which can easily be confused with a nosebleed.
Rats do sneeze from time to time i.e. with temporary irritants, smells etc, but regular sneezing may possibly be a symptom of a respiratory issue, and there should be no noises/snuffling/`wet` sounds from the nasal passages when a rat is breathing, their breathing is pretty silent when healthy.
Then hold the rats chest against your ear to listen for unusual noises and wheeziness/clicking etc.
Feet and Legs -check for limping and walking correctly and bitten toes or toenails and bumblefoot/lumps on the underside of feet. Check grasping reflexes too.
Eyes - check for staining and redness, eyes should be clear and no sign of cloudiness, Again the Porphyrin from the eyes is red and can crust. Eyes on a rat which are cloudy/dull/squinty may be a sign of injury or illness especially when accompanied by Porphyrin.
Cloudy eyes can often be damaged, such as a scratch on the surface of an eye, or even a detached retina but also can be indicative of something more serious, such as SDAV, as one of the symptoms is gunky/runny/weepy eyes and infection.
Tail – smooth and free from scabs, not necessarily clean in the case of most male rats! Check for cuts and damage/kinks/bends too.
Mouth - check teeth not overgrown, check for any sores around the mouth area that could be caused by overgrown teeth and also check for malocclusion/teeth out of alignment.
This can cause eating problems and mouth injuries as they cannot wear down naturally and may need clipping/burring by a vet. Rat teeth are not white by nature; they are a pale yellow-orange in colour.
Ears - clean and free from scabs, scabs in the ear area may be sarcoptic mange mites. Waxy build up/foul smelling discharge/crusts may be indicative on an ear infection, to which a vet visit is often required as well as antibiotic treatment.
Body - free from scabs and wounds, also check regularly on the underside for mammary lumps. Check fur for mite scabs and lice.
Anything like the following should be seen by a vet within a day or 2 at the latest;
Rats can go downhill very quickly, so quick treatment can save their life
Although Mycoplasmosis in rats is basically incurable, treatment with antibiotics can help control the damage. Antibiotics are also vital in treating secondary bacterial infections. In cases of bad abscesses, head tilts/ear infections or similar, antibiotics are also a very useful tool. There are a few kinds of antibiotics available, in various categories.
In my experience, the best antibiotics to use against Mycoplasma are Doxycycline and/or Baytril, or Azithromycin in combination with either Doxycycline or Baytril.
If a particular antibiotic is effective against the infectious organism, you should see an improvement in acute symptoms within 4/5 days or in chronic symptoms within a week or 2. If you don’t see any improvement within this time, you can try a different antibiotic.
When treating a secondary respiratory infection, antibiotics should be continued for at least 2 weeks, or at least a week after all the symptoms disappear to prevent an immediate relapse. Treatment should be reinstated if the symptoms come back.
If one antibiotic is no longer effective, try another one.
Groups of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are divided into two groups as to how they work.
Bacteriostatic antibiotics prevent the bacteria from growing, so the immune system can kill them off.
Bactericidal antibiotics actually kill the bacteria, but they only kill growing bacteria.
A Bacteriostatic antibiotic can interfere with the action of a bacteriocidal antibiotic though. Because bacteriocidal types actually kill the bacteria, they should be used for serious acute infections when possible.
Synulox and similar antibiotics are regarded as safe for use in pregnant rats but most other antibiotics will pass through the placenta into the developing babies and are not recommended for use during pregnancy as they can cause damage and growth defects.
Similar to Baytril, Broad spectrum, effective against Mycoplasma.
Good for skin infections also. Can be used long term.
2.5mg/kg SID but can be increased dependant on severity of infection.
Amoxicillin with clavulanate/Synulox
More broad spectrum than amoxicillin alone and good for urinary infections and preventing infection after injury or surgery.
Can cause allergic reactions although rare.
10 mg/lb BID
Broad spectrum and same family as amoxicillin, but a little stronger.
10 mg/lb BID.
Can be very effective against Mycoplasma. Good for skin, intestinal, and urinary infections. Okay for long term usage too.
2.5 mg/kg to 15 mg/kg BID orally dependant on severity of infection. Injections of Baytril can cause skin ulcers.
Same type as erythromycin but stronger and also absorbed better, tastes good too!
Dose: 4-14 mg/lb BID for 2 weeks, then SID for 2 weeks dependant on severity of infection.
Broad spectrum, related to tetracycline, but stronger and very good against Mycoplasma. Can be used long term too
2.5-10 mg/lb BID.
Broad spectrum, effective against Mycoplasma, Pasteurella abscesses etc.
10-20 mg/kg BID dependant on severity of infection.
A note on dosages
SID = once daily
BID = twice daily
TID = 3X a day
SQ = subcutaneous injection
Skin and Coat conditions
Scabs are generally always caused by either mites or lice. Lice are visible to the human eye as small red dots, whilst mites are not.
Both will cause scabs, usually shoulders, chin and necks are the worst hit areas. Many people think the scabs are war wounds from fighting so it's well worth treating any scratch marks and scabs as mites initially before resorting to separating rats from each other!
Lice and mites can be treated without seeing a vet, as ivermectin is marketed under the small animal exemption scheme, and is available under various brand names, i.e. Beaphar spot on, Easimec, PharmaQ etc with instructions on the packet.
The most common reason for this is barbering, a behavior where a rat obsessively grooms itself or another rat to the point of nibbling off the hair. The result is bald patches or areas where the hair looks like it had a bad haircut!
The most common areas for self-barbering are the front legs and stomach. The most common areas for barbering another rat are on the head, face, neck, and shoulders.
Another type of hair loss is a general thinning of the hair. This can occur in a rat infested with lice or mites. Although in these cases the rat usually doesn't self-inflict scabs, constant scratching can cause general hair loss, most commonly on the back.
Abscesses are a defence mechanism, usually caused by the presence of bacteria/infection in an open wound, or dirt, splinters, stones, glass etc still stuck in the wound.
Basically the body recognises there is infection, and subsequently the release of toxins around the area, and gets swollen as a reaction, and full of white blood cells which create pus.
The body creates a `layer` around the infected area, so the infection and toxins cannot enter the bloodstream, i.e. like a `bubble` around it to keep all the nastiness in, hence why it’s incredibly rare to get further problems from abscesses, as its pretty much insulated.
This makes it really hard for the body to actually use its own defences against the infection in the abscess, as it cant get past its own insulation alone, hence the use of antibiotics to increase the `helpers` so to speak!
Keeping abscesses clean and extracting them without rupturing the insulation, is hard work, as you should never press down over an abscess, always press from the outside towards the middle.....holding the rat well away from you in case of explosion!
Baytril can also be used topically/directly on abscesses, and is sometimes more effective than orally alone.
Abscesses usually feel harder and less mobile under the skin than mammary lumps and tumours and feel more 'attached` and often in the area of the lump you may find a small wound, although it is not unusual to find nothing, hence the sometimes confusion with tumours and other lumps described below.
There are two main types of tumors, Benign and Malignant.
Benign tumors are almost always encapsulated in a membrane and separate from nearby tissues. Although they can grow as fast as malignant tumors, they don't usually cause as much damage and they don't metastasize (spread to other parts of the body). Benign tumors can cause death by pressing on vital organs, bleeding internally, or by growing so large that the rat has difficulty moving around and can't eat enough to support both the tumor and normal body functions. Benign tumors can often be removed by surgery depending on their location.
Malignant tumors also called cancer, usually invade and damage nearby tissues. They sometimes also metastasize, or spread, but not always. Death can be caused by failure of damaged organs. The symptoms of cancer can include a skin ulcer, an ulcerated or bleeding tumor, an infected lump, an abscess that won't heal, a distended abdomen, weight loss, and lethargy.
In some cases, cancer involves the internal organs, so symptoms often aren't seen until the disease is well advanced and euthanasia is the only alternative.
Both are more common in does than bucks, and there is evidence to show that spaying a doe can reduce the chance of mammary tumours occurring.
Lump removals are often successful temporarily but often another lump grows back to take its place which creates a vicious cycle, and so, some owners decide to have their does spayed at the time of lumpectomy.
Head tilts, Balance and Infections
Most head tilts are caused by ear infections, as is loss of balance, but sometimes can be caused by other things too.
Ear infection – commonly shown as balance/head tilt problems and rapid treatment is essential. Rats roll from lack of balance and often circle, but if it is an ear infection, getting the rat injected with steroid and on a hefty course of antibiotics will improve the condition, but it may take a week or so before symptoms start to diminish, but often a art is left with a permanent head tilt after the infections has gone, but it is not unusual for them to make a complete recovery.
Strokes – tend to have the same symptoms as ear infection, but the treatment will not have the same effect as it would for an ear infection ie no effect from antibiotics, but to help diagnose, a steroid injection plus antibiotics is the general initial treatment. The steroid injection should help a bit but often will show signs of weakness of a limb or continued slight balance problems, but they may well live on for quite a while after the first stroke, repeated and subsequent strokes can happen, and are often quite damaging, and the question of quality of life comes into play.
Viruses and Infections
It appears that SDAV (Sialodacryoadenitis Virus) is abound again for the second time in a very short period.
It could potentially be picked up at pet shops, shows, re-homes, collecting rats, dropping rats off etc, not just rat-to-rat contact.
There's varying symptoms from really bad ones, to practically nothing as it has different strains, but some are:
squinting in younger rats/kittens
Bulgy, gunky eyes, can lose eyes due to scratching them
masses of porphyrin
and finally the fact that it can lead onto other things, like secondary infections with sneezing, chest noises, pneumonia, death due to it activating mycoplasmosis and CAR-bacillus, due to all the gunk and mucous building up and the immune system being bogged down by the Virus.
the incubation period is between 5 and 14 days generally, and there isn't much you can do except blanket treat with antibiotics(usually a combination) to ward off any secondary infection, but the antibiotics will not help shift the virus.
Eye drops can also help ease eye issues, and high calorie foods are a must to help them keep weight on, as are plenty fluids.
it can be `shed` for a few weeks after symptoms start easing off though, so quarantine and lock down is recommended for up to 6 weeks post-infection
Its spread through surface transfer, carriers, hands, rat-to-rat contact, bedding etc etc, and can be passed on by us, so showering after being near other peoples rats etc is essential. the virus is not `motile ` and therefore cannot travel off its own steam from host to host, but keeping infected rats in a different room than non-infected ones, probably wont work in terms of quarantine as no doubt surface transfer will occur somehow.
Most disinfectants will be okay for cleaning and killing the virus on equipment such as cages, carriers etc especially if they have come from another household, or are shared between groups of rats.
The virus itself isn't usually a killer but the secondary infections can be, but saying that, I found SDAV to be horrific this time around and it does make me wonder if the Virus has mutated.
Alot of rat owners and ratteries have lost rats in such a short time-frame, it only takes 1 bad decision, or mistake and the cases of this virus can be on the up and up, so please be careful.