How vitamins can help control respiratory disease in rats

Respiratory disease is sadly very common in rats and can be fatal. Rats can live with the disease – normally controlled with aggressive medication as discussed in our Guide to Respiratory disease .

However, the use of vitamins can also be beneficial when controlling respiratory disease. Our vet has seen lots of research that says that this particular combination of vitamins A, C and E can help ratties with this horrible disease.

So, without getting too technical here and in layman’s terms, vitamins A, C and E can help repair damage to the respiratory system and if your rat has respiratory problems, then it would be worth investing in a pot of these vitamins.

Rather than use human versions of these vitamins, you should get one specifically for mammals. There is an excellent product called ACE High which we use for all our rats who have respiratory problems or who are generally unwell. You sprinkle a tiny bit of the product over wet food (such as cucumber or in a bit of porridge) once a day (or we mix it with baby food – a firm favourite at the rescue!). The rats certainly enjoy it!

Of course, you must continue to use any medications that your vet has given you to help control/treat respiratory problems in your rats, and the ACE High is an ideal complementary treatment.

You can ring and order ACE High from Vet-Ark on 01962-844316 (make sure you ask for the ACE High for rodents that comes with a green label on it) or order it online from one of the pet prescription websites. As it has a shelf life of six months once opened, unless you have a huge amount of rats, you may want to opt for the 50g size.

Becky’s Malocclusion

Becky was 7 weeks old when she came to us from a local vet. Her owner brought her in because she thought Becky was dying. Becky had a swollen face and concussion where she had been dropped by the owner’s unsupervised young child and somehow landed on her head.

When she came to CavyRescue, poor little Becky – who was riddled with lice – showed signs of neurological damage. Luckily, this has improved gradually over time and with using special medications.

Becky Eating

However, due to being dropped on her face, her teeth started quickly to grow skew-wiff – the top incisors right under back into the roof of mouth and the lower incisors at a ‘v’ shape growing straight up into her upper jaw.

Becky’s teeth needed cutting every 10 days which meant vets trips and being ‘put under’ every time. As with all such treatments, there are risks involved and with Becky being underweight and not being 100% healthy (due to not being able to eat properly; the lice infestation; literally forgetting to eat due to her short attention span caused by brain damage); and lack of proper care from her previous owner), after much deliberation and research, we agreed with our vet to remove the lower incisors at the end of September 2005.

Becky’s Extracted Top Teeth

Here is a rather fuzzy photo showing Becky’s top two teeth after removal. You can see how they were growing curved. If we had left it and continue having her teeth trimmed very 10 days, she could have died – either from the continual cutting of her teeth would have eventually cause bleeding (meaning she could have bled to death); the risks of regularly going under an anaesthetic; and, of course, the stress. Because it is such a big operation, we waited until she was older and stronger to remove her top incisors. (We were ecstatic when they were successfully removed early 2006, though Becky is still at risk from abscesses).

Due to complications resulting from the first lot of surgery (such as abscesses, nerve damage etc), poor little Becky has spent a lot of time at the vets, but she still remains a sweet, happy little girl.

However, she can never be rehomed due to her needing a special diet (mainly soft food), her ongoing health problems (both her teeth and the neurological damage) and therefore her need for constant monitoring.


Every day she makes great progress, both learning to pick up and then eat with her paws then pushing food to the back of her mouth to chew, (rats tend to pick up using their incisors to grasp food). Mentally she has less skittish moments and is getting more confident day by day.

Now 7 months old and with a whole month having passed without seeing the vet (the longest she has ever been away from there in the whole of her life!) Becky is doing great! She is playful, gregarious and is getting bigger every day – she is even the proud owner of a little tummy. She is a little miracle!

The Pox Virus

The Pox Virus is a very rare and nasty viral disease. Here ratty lover Kaz shares her amazing story of living with her pet rats who have the virus.

I brought Ebony and Savannah home from a pet shop on the 4th September 2004. No more than 2 weeks later I noticed a small wart type lump on Savannah’s back foot, on one of her toes. The next day, there was one on Ebony too, this time on her front foot, on one of her toes.

I thought it could have been some sort of hereditary trait because none of my other six girls had it and they had been successfully introduced so were all living as a group of eight so I took them to the vets. They thought it may be a nail bed infection or similar so Ebony and Savannah were prescribed antibiotics.

The antibiotics we tried were septrin peadiactirc, baytril for infections that got in the lumps, and purple spray because it is used for bumble foot and, clutching at straws, we would try anything.

The girls’ had the toes removed aged 10 weeks after failed attempts with antibiotics and these were sent off to the labs. Two weeks later they were diagnosed as having the pox virus. The original lab even got a second opinion and sent the lesions off, off their own back. But they agreed with what he had been diagnosed.

Some people have suggested that the lumps/sores looks like bumble foot, but after lengthy discussions with my vet, he has seen these lumps in real life and he says yes it takes a similar form to bumble foot because the lumps are constantly being walked on and having pressure on them.

But he has seen them when they start to appear, and the only way to find out 100% that it is the pox virus is to amputate limbs. When we basically already know what we are facing, why take such a big step to get the same answers we already know. Plus the fact all my rats had these lumps appear, and Orchid’s appeared on her tail (see further down the article to read about Orchid).

I don’t know how the girls got the virus – all I can hazard a guess at is wild rats, and this is only simply because the pathology report stated it’s from wild rats and cattle. But no more is known.

I notified the pet shop about the virus and they notified the breeder they got there rats from. I am not sure if it’s related but soon after they stopped getting there rats from her.

There are three types of the virus that affect rats. It is thought my girls have the dermal form of the virus:

  1. Pulmonary form. Rats became anorexic, extremely dyspneic, and moribund, with death occurring uniformly by the third or fourth day of clinical signs.
  2. Dermal form. Relatively mild. Partial anorexia; papular rash on tail, paws, and muzzle, with transition to dry crusts in 1-2 days; sometimes partial amputation of the tail and possibly also the paws; and deaths occurring rarely
  3. Mixed form. Symptoms are transient, lasting only two to three days. Suckling rats are most susceptible. Adults most often had the dermal form of the disease and survived.

The girls lead a normal life. We didn’t know how long they would live because this virus can be fatal but Ebony and Savannah are still here at 20 months old.

Savannah has massive pox lumps on both back feet, up the sides of her foot and underneath. Ebony surprisingly hasn’t shown any more signs of this virus, although it will still be laying dormant in her system. They can still run, jump and climb etc!

However, I think it has shortened the lives of my other girls who caught it.

After Eb and Sav were diagnosed with having the pox virus I was told to separate them from my other girls, which I did. But they had already caught it and it was lying dormant in there systems, because weeks later, I saw similar lumps on them all, one by one.

Rico was about 2 when I noticed her lump, on her back foot, this grew at an alarming rate, and being old, her immune system couldn’t even begin to fight it, she had lymph node tumours come up, 3/4 in one area, then she had a stroke.

My vets said because of the virus, the lymph nodes came up because of infections, then because the tumours caused her blood pressure to fluctuate this caused a stroke.

She was put to sleep two weeks before her 3rd birthday. I have no doubt in my mind if it wasn’t for the virus she might still be here now aged 3 years and 3 months.

Orchid was about a year old when I noticed her lump, this time it was on the middle of her tail. I took her to the vets along with Rico, because I spotted Orchid’s literally days after Rico’s lump came up, and my vets said the pox was back. The lumps were identical to Eb’s and Sav’s.

We could amputate feet and tails to find out for sure but if you are 99% sure why bother with all the stress? Not even a month later and Orchid’s lump had split open presumably from having caught it on something, it was bleeding profusely, not just drips but gushing out.

I phoned the emergency vets and apart from give me tips on how to stop the bleeding they couldn’t do a lot more than I was already doing. Thankfully 3 hours after it started bleeding, it stopped.

But then she started producing thick red blobs from her vagina, losing weight fast, grunting and not eating. I was thinking of spaying because the antibiotics for the bleeding didn’t help but she was a very poorly girl, one night she sat there gasping for breath.

That’s when I knew I had to let her go. The pox virus can cause pneumonia and weight loss (the site called it anorexia). Again, I believe the virus weakened her immune system and she couldn’t fight off everything that was happening.

My other girls all had lumps on their feet, we don’t know if the virus contributed to there nasty deaths (especially Domino) but I will explain what happened.

Domino. One Thursday night she was fine, Friday I woke up and she wasn’t. I rushed her to the vets that afternoon, he gave her an anti-inflammatory and baytril injection. Over the weekend I had to dose her on baytril.

Her symptoms were, retching, gasping, grunting, and weight loss. Over the weekend her breathing improved but every time she tried to take 1 drop of water she would choke, she couldn’t even swallow. She would take it go to swallow but choke and it would all come out her mouth again. I had her put to sleep Monday afternoon.

Lily had a suspected pituitary tumour, which was treated with steroids but she stopped eating after being on them 6 weeks and I let her go.

Fern had a swollen face, x-rays showed a bone tumour in her cheek. She was never woken up from the anaesthetic.

It’s not just poor rodents that can suffer from this rare virus – humans can also catch the virus. I don’t think that I have had any effects from it, although just under 12 months ago, I had a strange rash. I went to the out of hours doctors at the hospital and she said it was shingles (a form of the pox virus-chicken pox etc) but when I asked my mum after I had been to the doctors she said I haven’t had chicken pox (which lays dormant in the system and leads to shingles).

Also a month or so ago, I had the same sort of rash appear and again I went to the doctors, told him I have had it before but I haven’t had chicken pox and he couldn’t really tell me what it was! He prescribed cream which cleared it up. So whether it is all related I don’t know.

Recently we have tried using fuciderm gel. Sav was put on this not that long ago to see if we could shrink the lumps so that we could freeze them off – which would be better than amputation – but it didn’t help anyway.

We cannot freeze them now as the lumps are so big and the foot so small, we are in danger of freezing the nerves in the foot..

So all I can do is leave it – I’ve been there for her when they split open and bleed, and given her antibiotics when it looks like infections may get in.

The only thing I can be thankful for is that my girls who have already left me and one girl who I have here now, 2 year old Dotty, their lumps never got to the size that Sav’s have before they died. I can’t see inside them, to see what damage has been done, but they don’t have any sores on their feet that constantly split open.

When the girls were first diagnosed, at first it did change quite a few things when it came to cleaning them out. I had to clean out more often, use vet bed on all the shelves, and clean that weekly. However, through all of this, the lumps continued to get worse, none of it helping at all.

So now I do the usual routine which I would do with any rats, spot clean the shelves daily (I took off the vet bed), and give it a thorough clean out once a week.

Whether any of the other rats were affected at the pet shop where I got Eb and Sav, I don’t know but I haven’t spread it around myself. My girls don’t go to shows and since I found out about the virus, I haven’t got any more rats. So I hope after this, this is the last I see and hear of the virus. Of course I don’t want to lose my girls but I do want them to be free of it.

I love my girls and pox virus or no pox virus, I wouldn’t change them for the World.

By Kaz Smith


Domino. When she was poorly that weekend.¤t=poorlydom003.jpg¤t=poorlydom001.jpg

Savannahs amputated toe.¤t=savtoe.jpg

Savs lumps don’t have time to scab over and form a warty type cover because they are constantly having pressure on them.¤t=poxlumps013.jpg¤t=feetpox009.jpg¤t=feetpox010.jpg¤t=51205022.jpg

Ricos lymph node tumours¤t=rico301105003.jpg

You can see her foot in this one¤t=rico301105001.jpg¤t=141105005.jpg

This is what the lumps look like when they are just forming¤t=rats031.jpg¤t=feetpox002.jpg

Both feet affected¤t=51205020.jpg

Orchids lump¤t=100_2616.jpg¤t=100_2715.jpg

This is the site that tells you a bit about the virus,

Fatal food allergies in rats

Running a rat rescue we come across many different illnesses – however, Rosie was a first. When Rosie’s owner telephoned us to say that Rosie (a 15 month old female rescue who we had rehomed had a swollen face, our first thought was that it could be an abscess or even liver problems.

A trip to the vet found nothing wrong and the swelling went down.

Two weeks later Rosie and her two cage mates came to stay with us for a few weeks while their owners went on holiday. We were especially pleased to see Rosie as she was of the few surviving rats from what had turned out to be a sickly bunch of rat kittens that we had taken in when they were just a few days old.

Rosie’s mum, aunt and five sisters had all died prematurely from a whole hot potch of horrible illnesses – respiratory disease, internal tumours, mammary tumours, degenerative disease and two who had died suddenly – foaming from the mouth, swollen tongues – cause unknown.

On the third morning of her stay, Rosie’s face was swollen up really badly – she had huge cheeks that looked like hamster pouches, though seemed fine in her self. The swelling was equal on both sides, so we knew that it was not an abscess. We rushed her to the vets and she was given an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic drug and we racked our brains as to what had caused such a reaction.

We assumed it was nuts as we’d given her a brazil nut the night before (which the owner had left with us a part of the normal ratty treats) and went home and sterilised her cage and food bowls etc. We then gave her fresh food as this seemed the safest option for her with the plan of reintroducing her normal food stuffs – minus any nuts – over the next few days.

That night Rosie looked normal again, all the swelling had gone and she was fine in herself. As she ran around on the settee I saw her clock a rat chocolate treat on the sofa – I tried to grab it but she beat me to I and stuffed her face with it.

The next day her face was swollen again in the morning which made us think that nuts (and by products such as nut oils) and the small animal chocolates were a possible cause of Rosie’s allergy.

Having spoken that night to a friend who’d rehomed two of Rosie’s sisters that had both died ‘mysteriously’, it all fell in to place. Rosie had been lucky – so far. The two sisters (Mia and Spot) had both had on and off bouts of swelling around the face and times where they seemed like they had something ‘stuck’ in their mouth throughout their lives. But they never showed these symptoms at the same time which would have possibly made a connection that it was something they’d eaten.

The vet had found nothing wrong and then one day Mia started foaming at the mouth, her tongue swelled up and she was dead – all the space of two hours and with the vet administering drugs, too.

The same thing happened with Spot around 4 months later, but without the foaming at the mouth – she’s collapsed and started gasping and by the time she got to the vet, her swollen tongue had literally choked her to death. All this without any warning.

Suddenly it all made sense what was wrong with Rosie – and just how serious ‘a little swelling’ as the owner had put it, can be. We have never personally experienced his before, but what happens is that the face swells up (as Rosie’s did) and depending on the severity of the reaction, so can her tongue, airways etc and/or she can foam at the mouth and she can literally choke to death.

So, what can you do if your rat has a serious allergy like Rosie and her sisters?

First of all it is imperative that your rat is put on a strictly monitored diet and doesn’t come into contact with any foods that may cause a problem.

This means that he or she must not under any circumstance have these foods or even foods that have ‘touched’ what you believe triggers an allergy. Even food that has rubbed against nuts for example can be dangerous to a rat with a nut allergy. Similarly, before picking up your rats, you should wash your hands thoroughly in case you have something residual on them.

Also, it means that any cage mates cannot have these treats either as they may store it in their cage or get it stolen by the rat with the allergy. It may seem ‘mean’ but it is better than your rat dying.

Monitor your rat constantly and keep him or her on the same rat food (don’t mix and match brands in case a new one triggers off an allergy) and feed fresh food plentifully. I know it will be tempting to give him or her a treat – a piece of bread for example – but if you are not 100% sure what is causing the problem this could be fatal.

If your rat shows any signs of having an allergy – maybe they are foaming at the mouth or their face swells up or you can see that their tongue is swollen, you must get him or her taken to the vet immediately for an injection – no matter what time day or night. Leaving it could be fatal.

Your vet will need to inject an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic drug such as Dexafort which should hopefully calm down any reaction and save your rat’s life.

Whenever your rat has an allergic reaction, to be on the safe side we’d suggest that you completely clean out the cage, change hammocks etc and empty and sterilise the food bowl, water bottle and any toys in case they have come in contact with the substance that is causing the problem.

Line the cage with old towels/t-shirts in case it is something in the bedding (you really have to be strict here as anything could be triggering it off). Feed your rat fresh food only for a few days and then see how they go e goes and gradually reintroduce bedding etc.

I know this sounds all very sombre, but it is so very serious. Rosie has been lucky in that her reactions she has had so far haven’t been bad – however, the next reaction could be the one that kills her.

Finally, if your rat suddenly gets a swollen face but is still acting normally, don’t assume that they are not at risk. Just like children with allergies to nuts, just one brush with the wrong thing and your rat could be dead.


Please note that this article is written from our experience only and should not be taken as a medical diagnosis and treatment. It’s aim is to give information and ideas on what could be wrong with your pet and what your vet can try. Always speak to your vet.

Operations & Post Operative Care

Is Surgery Necessary?

If you have a rat that needs an operation, try to discuss the surgery with your vet beforehand. Some vets may not have had much experience with small mammals, and may have only had a few hours of ‘exotics’ training, being only familiar with the more common pets and livestock – so it might be worth asking around for one with rodent experience. Talk to your vet about the possible risks of surgery – if you have an overweight rat, or one with extensive respiratory problems or heart disease – the vet may possibly advise you against surgery, unless it is absolutely necessary to save life.

These days, the anaesthetic risks are much lower than they used to be in the past, and operations such as mammary tumour removal are considered fairly routine, very safe and only take a few minutes. It is preferable to get a tumour removed than it is to have to euthanise the rat just because the tumour has grown too large or has ulcerated.

Neutering (other than for health reasons) is not generally considered to be essential operations, but a castration may be necessary in a hormonally aggressive buck. Perhaps you may just want to keep a mixed-sex cage of rats, that is personal choice but not considered a necessary surgery.

If your buck is having a castration, ask your vet if he has performed this operation on a rodent before – not all vets realise that rats have an open inguinal canal which must be closed off afterwards! Some vets will remove the testicles through the abdominal wall, but this is less common than through the scrotum.

If you have a doe that needs spaying, it is extremely important that you ask about post-operative analgesia before your rat has the op. They are given a pain killer whilst under anaesthetic, but this will have worn off by the following morning, and females can
suffer from painful abdominal cramps (visible as the rats sides sucking in and out) for several days after a spay. I recommend 1 drop of oral Metacam (meloxicam – an NSAID) once a day until the cramps stop, which is usually from 3 to 5 days max. If the cramps are really bad, it is possible to give the Metacam twice on the first day after the op, morning and evening.

Anaesthesia & Analgesia

Rats do not need to ‘fast’ before surgery like other mammals do. A rat cannot vomit, so you can provide food and water right up until they are ready for the surgery. Not all vets and their assistants realise this! Some rats will start to eat right after they come round from the anaesthetic too, this can help them to keep warm, as well as comfort themselves.

It would also be a good idea to discuss the method of anaesthesia, and what type of stitches the vet intends to use beforehand. Injectable anaesthetic is too dangerous for such a small animal, and is not generally used anymore. Anaesthesia used to be considered a major problem when operating on rodents, but now in the 21st century, this is no longer the case. Inhalation anaesthesia is now the accepted method. Gaseous anaesthesia is usually given in the form of Isoflurane, Methoxyflurane or Halothane, and is very safe. For analgesia – the usual pain-killers used are Butorphanol or an opiate such as morphine, which is normally administered with before the rat is revived from the anaesthetic. Metacam or Rimadyl are sometimes prescribed post-operatively. If a rat chews at their stitches after surgery, some vets will give another shot of an opiate based drug, which makes the rat sleepy, and this hopefully gives the op site and muscles enough time to knit back together and the inflammation to subside before the rat is alert again.

Types of Sutures

Ask your vet what type of sutures he intends to use. For small incisions subcuticular dissolvable stitches are best – these are hidden under the skin so more difficult to chew. These sutures are usually dissolved away from a week to 10 days later. For larger incisions staples may be better. Vets will assure you staples are not painful, and one vet even stapled his own finger to prove this! Some rats will not worry their wounds and will heal surprisingly well, but it is worth being prepared for the rat who wants to chew its stitches out and worry the wound if it is reachable. I have known vets to add a small gauze pad to the incision for the rat to ‘worry’, thereby leaving the incision alone to heal.

Collars are notoriously difficult to attach to a rat and very easy for the rat to remove. I do not recommend them because it can cause the rat to become depressed as it is unable to groom or feed normally, but in some cases it might be the only option to allow the rat to heal. A body sock may work well on a rat determined to chew – if you can get it to stay on! If the incision is on the main body – you can wrap gauze around the torso and hold in place with surgical tape.

I have found that rats are more likely to chew at an operation site if it has skin glue. Internal soluble stitches are preferred, with external stitches holding the wound together until everything has knitted back together underneath. Rarely, a rat can have an allergic reaction to internal stitches, so do keep an eye out for sudden swelling or signs of infection.

Post Operative Care

Your vets should monitor your rat for a couple of hours after the surgery before allowing them to go home, and will know how to give fluid replacement for your rat if necessary, as dehydration is common. Glucose/saline solution is usually warmed to body temperature and given by subcutaneous injection. It is standard practice for some vets to prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection after a surgery, but it is not always deemed necessary, for example a mammary tumour removed with aseptic techniques is very unlikely to have the incision become infected.

It is most important to keep the patient warm after surgery, your vet will normally use a heat-mat or an overhead light source to provide warmth after surgery and until they are ready to go home. When you collect your rat you can ask your vet to fill a latex glove with warm water as a makeshift ‘hot water bottle’ to keep it warm if it is cold outside, or you may already own a microwavable heat-pad which can be taken with you.

At home you should have a ‘hospital’ tank set up, where your rat will recover until well enough to be re-united with cage mate. A one level glass or plastic tank is ideal. You can purchase a heat mat used for tropical animals such as reptiles, or a microwavable heat pad for pets. Place it under a small part of the tank, so your rat can choose whether to sit over it or not. Your rat will probably be groggy after the op and want to sleep so put the hospital tank somewhere quiet.

Check on the rat every hour or so to begin with and ensure they drink. You can offer your rat baby food or other soft foods when awake – it should stimulate the appetite and has a high water content, so will help to avoid dehydration. Offer fluids from a dropper or from the tip of your finger. The dropper from a cleaned empty bottle of Echinacea is good for this. Some rats will go off their food, so try to encourage them every couple of hours to start with. It would be a good idea to add a few drops of Bach’s Rescue Remedy to their water. If they still seem reluctant to move to the water bottle, continue to offer water via dropper, finger or syringe.

A vitamin supplement such as Nutrical or Ferretvite can be offered if appetite seems smaller than usual – only give a pea-sized blob once a day to avoid overdose of the fat-soluble vitamins. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as grapes and broccoli, are believed to help the healing process.

Give your rat plenty of love and attention – this too really helps with the healing process, and get them back with their cage-mates as soon as possible. Most rats can go back in with their cagemates the day following the surgery if they have had minor surgery – but it’s always best to clean out the cage first.

Some vets will try to tell you to isolate them for a week or more – this is unnecessary! A young adult is ready to go back to a cleaned out cage with cagemates the next morning after tumour removals, castrations and even some spays, unless they were very sick before the op and need a few days to recover their strength. If the castration was for aggression or to go into a mixed sex cage, you need to wait at least 3 weeks to ensure any residual sperm and hormones have dissipated!

Author : Joolz

Anti Lump Mix for Rats

It is always best to have mammary tumours removed by an experienced veterinary surgeon – but on rare occasion, you may be told by your vet that the tumour is inoperable for one reason or another.

The initial outlay to buy all the ingredients for the following recipe can cost as much, or sometimes more than a tumour removal surgery, so please do not consider it as a cheap alternative to your rat being seen by a vet!

The following mix has been found to help shrink or slow the growth of benign tumours in pet rats. It has been tried by quite a few people in the UK, USA and Australia with favourable reports in the last few years.

Mix together the following ingredients:-

3 capsules of CLA (Tonalin) (1000mg)
3 capsule shark cartilage (650mg)
1 capsule Co-enzyme Q10 (10mg)
10 drops of echinacea/goldenseal liquid herbal extract
1ml of sublingual B vitamin complex liquid
1 capsule Super antioxidant formula (has vit C, E, beta-carotene and selenium – do not give this if Enervite or any other vitamin supplements are being given)
3 capsule Pau d’arco (500mg)
1 capsule Flaxseed oil (1000mg)
1″ square of miso paste (pure organic, not flavoured)

I buy it all from Holland & Barrett (keep an eye out for their 1/2 price sales!) , except the miso paste which can be bought online. I buy mine here:-

It turns out a bit like mud, so I divide it into 14 bits and store in fridge. This will last for 7 to 14 days, depending on whether you give once or twice a day. Start off with one dose per day for a small doe, and increase to twice if the lump continues to grow or once a day for slow-growing lumps. Twice a day for fast growing lumps (and also for larger does).

Some rats will happily eat it neat, others do not like the taste. Disguise it by mixing it with a blob of Enervite, or try stirring it into babyfood or yoghurt.

If you try this mix after a lump removal to try to prevent further growth of tumours, please omit the shark cartilage for the first week after surgery, as it works by preventing growth of new blood vessels.

Author : Joolz

Rats Get Heatstroke Too

It’s well known that dogs should not be left in cars on hot days as they can die from the heat, but it’s less well known that rats are very prone to heat stroke. Every year pet rats are killed by the heat and last year was no exception.

Rats can only regulate their temperature in a very limited way, in that their only method of losing heat is through their tails and paw pads. Their only other option to stop themselves overheating, is to get somewhere cooler and if they’re confined to a cage or travel carrier they can’t do this.

I was caught in a tricky situation last summer when a 10 minute car journey to the vets with a rat, turned into three quarters of an hour in a traffic jam. Luckily the car had air conditioning so I could keep the rat cool. Without air conditioning cars can become ovens even with the windows open. I really feel that if the temperatures are forecast to go up, rats should be left in the cool at home unless the trip is essential, such as getting them to the vet.

Of course car journeys aren’t the only time rats can overheat. Any rat left in full sun or a hot place even for only a short time is at risk of heat stroke. They can overheat and die incredibly quickly. Rats in glass tanks are at even higher risk, as are rats kept in sheds which can get stiflingly hot even at night. Another place where it can get unbearably hot is tents at agricultural shows where sometimes classes for rat shows are held.

The temperature at which a rats starts to overheat varies. Humid conditions increase the risk. A rat with respiratory problems or which is overweight will succumb to heatstroke sooner.

Early symptoms of heat stroke are variable but one sure sign is a warm or even hot tail. Rat’s tails should be cool to the touch. The rat may also be lethargic and depressed. Their breathing will be far more noticeable as unlike dogs, rats can’t pant to help cool themselves down. They may drool saliva from their mouths. In under half an hour a rat can have passed into a coma and died.

Obviously a rat with heat stroke needs to get to a vet fast. First aid measures should aim to bring the rats temperature down. It’s sometimes suggested to submerge the rat in cool water up to it’s neck. However the rat can die of shock or become very stressed by this so you’re better to sponge cold water over the rat particularly where main blood vessels come close to the skin; round the rats neck, it’s limbs and put the tail in cold water. The rat will be very dehydrated, so encourage it to drink and give electrolytes such as ‘Dioralyte’ or add pinches of sugar/salt to the water.

Clearly it’s far better to prevent the rat getting heat stroke in the first place. So do keep a close eye on your rats and the weather forecast this summer, put their cages in the coolest place and consider providing fans if necessary.

Finally do speak up if you see an animal left in the heat. You may save it’s life. Last summer one local pet shop had rats and mice in glass tanks with a strip light in the roof of each tank. The rats were so hot they had draped themselves over their water bottle. Some of the mice looked very ill indeed. I and several other customers couldn’t persuade the shop to at least switch the strip lights off. I came home and rang the RSPCA, who said they’d send an inspector round. By the next day the strip lights were off and one glass panel of each tank had been replaced by mesh.

So let’s try and make it a cool summer for us and our rats.

Web sites giving information on heat stroke include:

Author: Sally Clark 2005

What are the best foods for giving antibiotics to my rattie?

If you have a rat who needs to have medicine, it can be a nightmare trying to get them to eat the crushed up tablet disguised in food or if it is a liquid medication, to syringe it down them. Here are some tried and tested tips from members of the Fancy Rats forum at: with some or our own added too..

If you have any tried and tested foods that you hide your rats’ medications in, please email

  • I’ve bought some soya milk and choc pudding to try and bribe him as I read its best not to put it in a bottle. I thought I might put it on small piece of wholemeal bread as it soaks it up?
  • Mine don’t like it soaked onto bread or anything like that as they can still taste it. Stirred into 1/2 teaspoon of the choc pudding works well, you need to keep cage mates away of course.
  • My failsafe method is put the baytril onto the teaspoon, add a few biscuit crumbs, cake or scone crumbs to it and mush it in with the handle of another teaspoon until it makes a little dough ball and then hand that to your patient who will take it from you and munch on it happily
  • I always use a blob of EMP
  • The trick I’ve found is to vary it – a bit of cookie one day, blob of jam the next and so on otherwise they get suspicious.
  • I make ratty jam sandwiches. A blob of jam on the baytril soaked bread has always worked. Peanut butter works even better, they go mad for it!
  • I used to put it on bread and then dunk the bread in chocolate powder
  • When Jess was very ill we ended up melting a few chocolate or yogurt drops over a boiling kettle in a teaspoon adding medicine and then freezing it.
  • Babyfood was foolproof for Ping and her concoction of meds. Hot chocolate powder (sprinkle a pinch over the meds, add a drop of water if necessary) 99.9% effectily. Half a malteser worked well but not in big groups. Kiwi, banana mush, porridge were other successes with Ping when she fancied a change. Ribena worked with some, but was foiled quite quickly.
  • Gravy Bones, with one end snapped off and the meds (watered down a bit to make the biscuit soak it up better) syringed inside (though no good for stashers)
  • Peachy porridge baby food works time after time and rat after rat for me – to have a rat jumping up and down desperate to take his meds is a relief
  • My two never fail to take their baytril on a small piece of digestive biscuit, it’s so successful that I’ve never tried anything else.
  • Melted mint choc chip ice cream they cant resist it
  • I use biscuits. Mocha refuses anything ‘on a spoon’, despite usually being so greedy. In fact, he was so ‘flippin fussy that I *attempted* syringing it, but he spat it out.
  • I’ve had ratties do that before, so no more syringing for me (or the rats, lol!). Biscuits work best for me, though have to give the other rattie unbaytrilled bits of biscuit to stop fights…..
  • Soya yoghurt with crumbled digestive and a blob of jam on top. Add the drugs and you have a ratty cheesecake!
  • Smooth apple sauce on a teaspoon with the meds mixed in really well works for me. Or chocolate soya milk in a little bowl if they are caged alone whilst ill, that way they can have a little at a time over a few hours.
  • If appetite is really too poor to eat, maybe mix with a sweet liquid such a blackcurrent first before syringing? You’ll need to get the syringe in the back of the mouth and quickly squirt to avoid side dribble. Trouble is, no matter how ill they are they always have enough energy to wriggle, so maybe someone else can do the rat holding whilst you syringe?
  • I just wanted to add that loose porridge (made with soya milk) and a bit of maple syrup is an easy way to get medicine like Baytrill into a rattie. Rats do love porridge with maple syrup and the maple syrup helps hide the taste of the baytrill.
  • Also a hob-nob (or similar) biscuit soaked in some coffee (again with soya milk), add the baytrill or crushed tablet. The coffee is a bit naughty but if they are sick enough to need medicine then being a bit naughty and offering coffee is worthwhile if it gets it into them without a fight.
  • Another tip I have found to get a rattie to ingest medicine in a soft boiled egg, the favourite part for a rat is the yellow so the soft boiled yellow with the medicine for the sick rat, this has the bonus that you can give the egg white to the healthy sibling rats.

Foods to buy and try:

  • Digestive biscuits
  • Soya yogurt
  • Baby food
  • Farley’s rusk (break up into a bowl, pour hot water over the top and mash until it makes a mush). Add complan to the mix for sick ratties
  • Porridge
  • Swiss roll or any other spongey / absorbent cake

Rat Respiratory Guide

Respiratory disease is a horrible disease, and one of the most common causes of death in pet rats. While we certainly do not profess to be vets, we have had lots of experience of dealing with this ‘curse’.

Also, many fellow rat lovers we talk to have often lost a pet rat due to respiratory problems, despite having seen their vet and trying various medications. However, with new research and treatments for respiratory disease in rats coming along – a lot of it from the US –this article may help your vet and be a useful resource for your vet.

While we cannot profess that the medications and treatments that we will speak about do cure respiratory problems in rats 100%, we’ve had hundreds of rats with this disease who have lived a full and comfortable long life. Many of these have often been on full time medication or the disease has gone into remission.

Here we highlight how we treat our rats – all treatments and methods are approved and under supervision by our own vet. Under NO circumstances are we suggesting you go out and try these treatments and methods without first consulting your vet, it’s just that these tried and tested treatments may give your vet other avenues to try when treating your pet rat.

As a rat rescue, whenever we rehome rats, we make sure the new homers are fully aware of what it is; what to look out for; and what to do next.

There are different strains of the disease, but basically it is something all domestic rats are born with. It can lay dormant until something triggers it off – stress, poor husbandry, or simply nothing. We often see it in rats where their cage mate has died and the survivor is grieving.

It can be fatal if left untreated, or a rat can live with it, but may experience lung damage or abscesses may develop on the lung which will eventually lead to death.

Or, a rat can be ‘cured’ (we use ‘cured’ in quotation marks as a rat can never really be cured of the disease but the symptoms can be controlled) and go onto to a live and a full and healthy life. Some rats may experience a permanent head tilt from the infection, but adapt easily (such as our very first rat, Baz, who died a very old rat from old age.

When he arrived at CavyRescue, he had a head tilt due to respiratory disease).

What to look for

The symptoms can come out of minute your rat is fine, the next day, the symptoms are there:

  • noisy breathing – you may first hear it when they sleep
  • a rattly or watery sound when they breathe/move around
  • excessive sneezing accompanied with red staining around the eyes and/or nose
  • lethargy and loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • a silent ‘hiccupping’
  • breathing not just from their sides (which is normal) but where their head moves too

If your rat shows any of these symptoms, get them to your vet as soon as possible. The earlier you start treatment, the better prognosis for your rat.


The type of bedding that your rat is on could be causing a problem. NEVER use woodshavings or sawdust, nor anything ‘scented’. Dusty products like woodshavings can be breathed in and irritate the lungs and scented products – particularly pine – can do the same. If you use sawdust or wood shavings in their cage, stop using it and switch to a safe product such as paper based cat litter – Biocatolet – or a cardboard bedding such as we use from Ecopetbed or Finacard.


Some vets recommend putting antibiotics in the rat’s drinking water. However, you cannot guarantee that the rat will get enough of the antibiotic in their system this way, and as it is watered down, it does lose it’s potency.

Also, rats do ‘pee’ a lot, so the antibiotics will move through their system too fast to do a lot of good.

First of all, check out your rat’s environment. Rats are susceptible to draughts, direct sunlight, and smells. Their cage should be somewhere airy, but not close to a radiator as the heat can dry out their lungs, causing – or exacerbating – respiratory problems.

While the room should be humid, the cage should not be in a room where washing is dried. The right temperature for a ratty is ideally around 21 degrees (around 70) and we recommend you place a fresh bowl of water next to their cage to increase humidity.

Medication-wise, we administer 0.3ml of 2.5% oral baytril twice a day to the affected adult rat, (for smaller rats, we use 0.2ml. For kittens and juveniles under 12 weeks of age, baytril is not recommended as it can affect bone growth. We have never used it, but Septrin is used by a lot of rat owners with rats under 12 weeks of age). The dose should be dosed either via syringe, being careful not to choke the rat on their own tongue as they have no gag reflex or, if they refuse or get stressed, we syringe it into a small piece of bread, cheese, jam or similar. (Anything to mask the taste).

Refrigerate the baytril – this tones down the bitter taste and will make your rat more likely to take it.

If the rats sound like they are mucus-y, we also add a generous pinch of bisolvon – a powder mucus-fighting drug – to their food twice a day.

We now also use metacam. Used alongside baytril, one or two drops of metacam twice a day can help reduce inflammation and it is has been used successfully in the States on rodents for some while now. However, if your rat is on steroids, you cannot use metacam and steroids together as they can cause gastric bleeding which will lead to death.

This combination of drugs we do twice day for 10 days. We normally see an improvement after 3-5 days. If after ten days there is no obvious improvement, after getting the rat checked over by the vet again, we take one of three avenues:

Treatment 1

We use this combination of drugs for at least three weeks. We have had great success in controlling respiratory problems in rats with this and currently have 20 rats on this permanently:

  • half a marbocyl 5mg once a day
  • an eighth of ronanxan 20 twice a day
  • Plus, either prednisolone* (1mg tablets), typically half a tablet twice a day OR one or two drops of metacam twice a day. (See further on for more information).
  • We have also started using Corvental D capsules, a drug that helps open up the bronchial airways allowing the rat to breathe more easy. The capsule consists of tiny ‘balls’ and an average size rat we give 5 ‘balls’ twice a day.
  • Any rat on steroids needs to be carefully weaned off them, so make sure you never run out of tablets. By stopping them without weaning a rat off them, can be fatal.

Treatment 2

In 2003 we also started using a drug called Zithromax Suspension. (Your vet will need to calculate the measurements for you. as to make it up, you mix the powder with water). We have used it two different ways…for a short-term case, you administer 0.3ml of the mixture once a day, orally, for three days, then it stays in the system for up to 10 days, attacking the bacteria.

For long term treatment, we administer 0.2ml once a day for 20 days. One of our rats, George, showed a vast improvement on using this method, his weight increasing by 25% in just over a month and the other symptoms lessening drastically!

Treatment 3

We get the rat’s chest x-rayed. This will confirm what is actually going on inside the rat and in most cases, it will be respiratory disease. However, we have had instances where the symptoms – normally lethargy and a rattly or unusual sound when breathing – have actually been something else.

Doris came to with her sister and was a year old rat whose breathing was very noisy. When baytril didn’t work, we had her x-rayed which showed a lung tumour. While we couldn’t actually treat the tumour, we knew then what we were dealing with so made her as comfortable and happy as possible. She lived another 6 months.

Kolin was a tiny rat in a pet shop when we saw him. He was hunched over, breathing heavily and when you got him out, he just sat there (definitely not normal for a 6 week old rat). An x-ray showed a tumour in his thymus (which is situated in the neck area and plays an important role in the development of the immune system).

Our vet’s prognosis wasn’t good, but we started Kolin on a course of prednisolone as well as keeping a close eye on him for infections as his immune system wasn’t obviously working well. Kolin is now 22 months old and while another tumour has now developed under his back leg that cannot be removed, he is still thriving.

Lisa and Sabe also had this condition which is not so uncommon in rats. Sadly, Lisa only lived to 4 months old, but Sabe went on to aged 3?, being put to sleep after suffering a severe stroke.

We are firm advocates of having rats x-rayed as it gives us a good basis on which treatments and medications to use.

Treatment 4

If the vet agrees – as each rat is different and nebulising may have an adverse affect on them – we nebulise the rat. Depending on the severity of the problem, we start off 3 – 4 times a day for the first three days, dropping down to 2 – 3 times for another four if there are signs of improvement.

By putting them into a nebulising chamber, they are breathing in ONLY the treatment, meaning it can get right into the system and, hopefully, deal with the problem.
We use 4ml of 2.5% injectable baytril with 10ml of water. For a more aggressive treatment, we use .05ml of Tylan (a drug used to treat a similar bacteria in birds) with 10ml of water.

However, it should be noted that while we have used this treatment for the last three years, recent studies in the States show that while nebulising does get the drugs deep into the system, it only goes so far internally. These studies suggest that even using saline on its own is just as good as it moistens the lungs.

Could it be a heart problem?

Many rats show signs of respiratory disease which are in fact heart disease/fluid around the lungs. With such similar symptoms, it is very difficult to diagnose which it is. However, if a rat sounds ‘watery’ or has fluid coming out of his nose – it could be fluid around the lungs causing the heart not to work properly. Your vet can prescribe some Furosemide (40mg/5ml solution) – a liquid drug that we give to some of our rats. We give 15 units twice a day using a 0.5ml syringe.

If your rat picks up after a week or so, you know that the Furosemide is working. It is a diuretic and so your rat will need lots of fresh water. It is okay to use long term, though it is better to get your rat down to a 10 unit dose twice a day if you can.

Complementary medication

There are other drugs that we have used along side the various treatments such as:

  • Metacam – one to two drops twice a day can help ease inflammation in the lungs. WARNING: It must never be used in conjunction with prednisolone as it can cause gastric bleeding
  • Prednisolone (which is part of the steroid family that can be used to treat inflammatory conditions) in 1mg tablet form. This can help ease the symptoms, using approximately half of one tablet twice a day for 10 days with the aim of reducing the dose gradually over several weeks to half a tablet every other day. WARNING: Any rat on steroids needs to be carefully weaned off them, so make sure you never run out of tablets. By stopping them without weaning a rat off them, can be fatal.
  • Bricaynl – syrup form – (a bronchodilator). On an average 400g rat, you start with 0.1ml twice a day gradually increasing over to a week to 0.3ml twice a day). We have used this long term with success
  • Bisolvon – powder form – this helps thin the mucus in air passages. We use a pinch once or twice a day for a week
  • Aminophylline – 225mg tablet form – another bronchodilator where we crush up a tablet and use just a pinch once a day to ease symptoms

Case Studies


Otis, a big, brown 9 month old rat who suddenly developed a severe respiratory infection that antibiotics could not shift. You could hear him ‘rattling’ from the room next door and we genuinely believed we would lose him.

At the same time our wonderful vet put Otis on his nebuliser 3 times a day for a week. Otis went on to live to the ripe old age of 2? years, having sporadic reoccurrences of slight respiratory problems. This we treated with oral medication.

Oral Baytril administered by mouth or in the food

Kojak, Luther, Stripe…our list of rats who we have successfully treated this way goes on and on. (Remember, we run a rescue so have rats coming out of our ears!)
As soon as a rat shows symptoms of respiratory disease, we start them on a course of oral baytril. In 80% of these cases, after a week on antibiotics, no further treatment is needed. The other 20% go on to have alternative treatments and medicines.

Marbocyl and Ronaxan combination

Hutch came to us aged 9 weeks old and severely ill with respiratory problems. X-rays showed cloudy, unhealthy lungs. After 3 months of the above combination, his symptoms disappeared! Like Otis, he had reoccurrences of the disease throughout his life and he went straight back onto the medication when this happened. We recently lost Hutch aged 28 months due to fluid around his lungs but he really could not have had a fuller, happier life if it wasn’t for the drugs.

Roland came to us in January 2005 aged 4 months, underweight and hardly moving as he was so breathless. An x-ray showed just one lung was working – the other was so severely scarred due to respiratory problems that it was useless. He reached the grand old age of 28 months and was a confident, chunky little rat who could keep up with his brother Baldrick racing around the place. He was on the marbocyl/ronanxan combination with a low dose of prednisolone.


We hope this has helped. While we have given doses for medications and names of drugs, these are for you to discuss with your vet and never to be tried out without consulting your vet first. It may also give him or her other ideas on treating this nasty disease.

As with humans drugs, even if your rat shows signs great signs of improvement, make sure that you finish the course!

This guide is no way intended to undermine your vet’s recommendations for treatment or expertise..these are just different ideas that they may find helpful.

For a version of this guide written specifially for Vets please visit Vet Rat Respiratory Guide

Pituitary Tumours in Rats

Written by a vet and for vets, the Guide discusses the symptoms and possible causes of Pituitary Tumours in rats as well as treatments.

To date there has been very little information available about Pituitary Tumours in rats, so we felt the need to share our vet’s knowledge in order to help reduce the amount of unnecessary deaths and suffering caused by this sadly very common affliction which can often be hard to diagnose.

Please download your copy here.

The author of the Guide, Mark N Rowland BVSc CertZooMed MRCVS, can be contacted via: