What causes respiratory disease in rats?
· The most commonly involved bacteria is Mycoplasma. This bacteria is very resistant to medication.
· Following Mycoplasma infection, rats become more susceptible to other bacteria and viruses. These multiple infectious organisms form a respiratory disease complex. Because there are multiple organisms involved numerous medications are often required.
What clinical signs are seen?
· Sneezing, wheezing, coughing
· Excess nasal discharge and tears which may be red in colour
· Weight loss
· Heart failure and death
What treatment is involved?
· Most rats will first be treated with oral antibiotics and then changed to a combination of oral and injectable medications as the disease progresses.
· ‘Pulse-therapy’ (periods on medication followed by periods off the medication) is often used to provide long-term relief from symptoms.
· Bronchodilators (drugs to make breathing easier) may be required in the early to mid stages of disease.
· In the later stages of disease,diuretics (drugs to remove fluid) will often be used to remove fluid from the lungs and assistheart function.
· Regular rechecks are required as the treatment regime may need to be frequently updated to suit the individual rat.
What is the prognosis?
· Very few rats completely recover from respiratory disease.
· Medications are used to slow the progression of disease and improve the quality of life for as long as possible.
· Most rats will decline after a number of months or years despite an initial response to medications.
· Radiographs may assist in determining the severity of the respiratory disease.
How can we prevent respiratory disease in rats?
· Many rats will contract Mycoplasma at a very young age. Newly acquired ratsare often alreadyin the early non-symptomatic stages of the disease.
· Prevent disease spread by making sure there is no contact between diseased and healthy rats.
· Quarantinefor at least 2 months all new rats that are brought into a household.
· Overweight rats have more trouble coping with disease than those at a healthy weight. Feed a well balanced low fat diet.
· High levels of ammonia in the urine and dust in the air will predispose rats to developing respiratory problems. Clean out enclosures daily, make sure they have good ventilation, and do not use wood shavings as litter.
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