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,